I was at the end of my fifth 12-hour shift in 5 days, and I was whipped. The charge nurse pulled me aside and said, “Listen. I tried to call someone in…but there’s no one to do this sexual assault case, and we really need you to stay over…. After all, it’s a kid.” I nodded in resignation. Then, I cursed my luck and wondered aloud why I do this.
Huddled in the corner
I walked into the room and saw a girl of about 5 wrapped in a ratty blanket, sitting on the floor in the corner. I introduced myself to the mother and kneeled down to say hi to the little girl. She didn’t move.
The mother grabbed my arm, pulled me up, and asked, “How long is this gonna take cuz my boyfriend’s in the car and we got stuff to do.” The little girl didn’t look up. The mother told me the girl was always complaining of someone touching her private area. The only reason they came to the emergency department, the mother explained, was to get the complaint checked out, so Children’s Services wouldn’t make her life a living hell.
The mother asked if she could she go smoke. I told her she could.
Making a connection
I got down on the floor and just sat. After about 10 minutes, the child lifted her head, looked around, and asked, “Is she gone?” “Yes,” I said, “Would you like to color?”
I gave her a stuffed animal, and she hugged it. She said it was the first one she ever had, and she was going to keep it forever. I gave her a snack. And then she told me about the abuse. She said she’d been touched by her mother’s boyfriends. Not just the one here today, but others. She didn’t understand why her mother didn’t believe her. She was so matter of fact about it.
After the exam, she hugged me and didn’t want to let go. She didn’t want to go back to her mother. I carried her around with me, and I called the police and the Children’s Protection Services (CPS) to start the reporting process. She fell asleep in my arms. After 2 hours of phone calls and much coaxing, we got a court order for removal from the home. The mother and boyfriend were found sleeping in the car and were arrested.
When the CPS worker came, the little girl held on tight and cried, saying she didn’t want to leave me. She told me I was the only person who ever loved her. As a nurse, I have taken care of thousands of people and handled hundreds of sexual assault and child abuse cases, and I never cry. When they left, I cried. I cried for the little girl who didn’t have anyone she could trust, no one who cared for her. I cried for her past and her future.
About 2 years later I was called to testify in court about her case. As I finished and turned to leave the courthouse, she ran up to me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for all I did for her. I barely recognized her. She was glowing with life and vitality.
Her mother had died of a cocaine overdose, and she was placed permanently with a foster family. They told me she had named the stuffed animal after me, and she never forgot how I took care of her. She called me her guardian angel.
All I could do was cry. For the first time, I felt a true appreciation of my profession and the work that I do.
I will never forget how that little girl made me realize how deeply you can touch someone with simple human kindness. I felt lucky that I had been in the right place and that I am in the right profession—just where I was meant to be.
Carrie Rawson, BSN, RN, SANE-A, is a Staff RN in the Pediatric Emergency Department at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio.