How do we prevent violence? That has been one of the myriad questions that have been asked on this Tuesday following that awful Monday on which so many died. I have no idea how what happened yesterday could have been prevented. But I have some thoughts and I'll share them.
I worked fourteen years in mental health. I have many stories to tell. Here are two.
I was a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit in western Massachusetts. One day, as I was about to walk off the unit and go to lunch, another counselor rushed out of a room.
" She's in the bathroom, she has a razor! "
I walked into the room and saw the patient, a woman named Tina, sitting on the floor of the bathroom. She had a double edged razor in her hand and was holding it to her wrist.
" Tina, what are you...! "
Then I caught myself. My tone of voice was all wrong. Anger and authority had no place here. I calmed down and said, " Talk to me, Tina. What's going on here? "
She said a few words. I said a few words. Then I looked over my shoulder at the crowd that had gathered behind me. Two psychiatrists, five or six nurses, three or four counselors and a social worker stood there. Watching me talk to Tina. Who continued to hold the blade to her wrist.
One of the shrinks edged his way into the doorway. Said something to Tina, I can't recall exactly what he said. Then a nurse said something. Tina wasn't responding with words, but her body language spoke to me and I didn't like what it said.
Fuck this, I said to myself. Way too much talk and no action. I walked over to to one of the two beds in the room. Grabbed a blanket. Wrapped the blanket around my right arm. Walked back over to the the bathroom and said, " Excuse me. "
I reached into the bathroom, extended my arm, which was wrapped in that blanket, toward where Tina was sitting on the floor.
" I want you to place the razor blade here, on my arm, " I said. " I want you to do it right now. "
And she did.
A potentially violent situation defused.
About an hour after this happened the charge nurse came up to me. Said he heard the medical director say to the nursing supervisor, " Terry did a hell of a job. "
The medical director never said anything to me. The nursing supervisor never said anything to me. I didn't get a pat on the back. And the charge nurse? He didn't comment on the job I had done. All he did was pass on the information about what the medical director said to the nursing supervisor.
That's story #1. Here's story #2.
I was working part-time at a group home in Rhode Island. I was working alone, the other staff who was supposed to be there had taken a break. Left to run some kind of errand. It was dinner time. The eight residents were all in one room, the dining room, eating dinner. I was in the living room, observing the residents. Making sure they didn't choke on the food. Trying to make sure they didn't start fighting.
When two of them starting yelling at each other. The resident who was being called names got up from her chair, rushed over to the guy who was calling her names, and started to punch him. She was a large woman, a strong woman, an angry woman who, I think, would have killed him...
If I didn't rush up behind her and grab her arms. I'd been in situations like this before, on the pysch unit. I'd been a certified violence prevention instructor. I knew what to do and I did it. Long story short, I got the two separated and got someone to call 911. The cops came.
This happened in November of 2004. Since then I never heard from the higher ups in the organization. No one in charge of the residential program ever acknowledged what I had done. A rank and file staffer told me, after the incident occurred...
" You saved his life! "
But as far as the powers that be were concerned, the incident never happened. No one said, " Nice job. "
Sour grapes? Far from it. I don't need validation. But some people might. Some people, who are working hard to prevent violence from happening. In their workplace. In the home. On the campus...
Need to get a pat on the back. Need to hear, " Nice job. "
How do we prevent violence? It's a large question. I have no idea what could or should have been done in Virginia. All I know is what I know from my own experience.
I did a good job. And wasn't recognized for having done a good job.
What's wrong with that picture?