Breaking the Silence

I’ve worked in Healthcare in some capacity going on 10 years now, and something happened at work this week that reminded me of the dangers of nursing. Nursing is often seen as the caring profession, but who would have thought it a dangerous one?

It could have happened to anyone but this week, it happened to her. A needle stick. I seen the terror in her eyes, and I was brought back to a time where I was exposed to blood in a previous work environment. I comforted her, encouraging her to speak up. She was afraid. Just like I had been afraid. “Management will think I was being reckless. After all it was my fault for not putting the safety device on immediately. I should have been wearing gloves, but it was just so busy. Maybe I shouldn’t speak up.” I told her, I never spoke up. After thinking about it, she decided to tell the manager and was able to receive medical care to ensure her safety and wellbeing.

But I never told, my supervisor told me it was just a lot of paperwork and I was probably fine. And for months I would lay awake at night thinking I might have the Hepatitis C virus. The patient’s blood I came in contact with carried a deadly virus. But I was new, and didn’t want to seem incompetent. After five months I decided that I didn’t care the cost, I needed to get tested. The hours waiting for the test results were agonizing.

The test came back negative. I breathed a sign of relief. My worst nightmare for the past five months was over. I was going to be ok. You might ask why it took me that long to get tested, and the first was that I was nervous the test would be too expensive for me to afford and it was too late to tell the hospital so they could reimburse me. The other, more prominent reason, was that I was afraid the test would be positive and it was almost easier not knowing the truth. Until not knowing started eating me alive. To this very day I only ever told one person what happened, the nurse this week who needed the encouragement to speak up.

A snipet of the American Nurses Association article Needlesticks and Sharps Prevention Injury from 2004, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of health care workers are exposed to deadly viruses such as hepatitis and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as a result of needlestick and sharps injuries. These preventable injuries expose workers to over 20 different bloodborne pathogens (CDC, 1998a) and result in an estimated 1,000 infections per year, the most common being hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (International Health Care Worker Safety Center, 1998). In November 2002, the World Health Report published data demonstrating that 2.5 % of HIV cases among health care workers and 40% of hepatitis B and C cases among health care workers worldwide are the result of occupational exposure (WHO, 2002). A WHO report describing the global burden of disease from sharps injuries to health-care workers detailed the data from the previous year’s World Health Report (Prüss-Üstün, Rapiti, & Hutin, 2003).” Interested in reading the whole article? 

According to the CDC only 40-70% of all needlestick injuries are unreported.

In healthcare we need to stand up and break the silence. If I work until retirement as a nurse, what are the odds I wouldn’t make just one mistake in 45+ years that would put me at risk? The problem is, one mistake is life threatening in nursing when it involves deadly viruses.

So I’ve learned to be diligent in my use of personal protective equipment, and if (and when) this happens again, I know I will speak up. Not only for my health and safety, but so that the hospital can use my experience to possibly improve safety practices and training.

Let’s speak up together,


Also, be an encourager to your co-workers. They will be terrified if this happens to them, and YOU need to be the one to inform them and tell them to speak up.

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