The recovery room had been very quiet for the last 3 hours.  I was the “charge nurse” for the 3-11 shift, which meant I was by myself.  The hospital justified having only one nurse on duty at this time because there was not supposed to be any scheduled surgery during this shift.  The key word here is “scheduled”.  I was working in an inner-city teaching hospital in a large city in the south.  All the trauma cases arrived at this hospital at all hours of the day and night.  I was busy getting ready for the patient that was due to arrive from surgery any minute.  I was sure I knew everything and had been trained to handle any and every emergency that might come my way.  I was 22 years old and had just completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.  I had been working in this recovery room for the last 2 years as a “professional student nurse”, and I knew it all.  This night would be different and my view and understanding of nursing and healthcare was about to be changed forever.

The call from surgery, telling me my next patient was on his way up, came around 10:00 PM.  When I asked for details about the patient, I was told he was a white male in his early 30’s who had attempted a jail break that afternoon.  He had jumped out of an 8th story window to gain his freedom.  What he had gotten was a fractured pelvis and both legs shattered.  He had been in surgery for hours and was coming to the recovery room in a full body plaster cast from his chin to his toes.

A few minutes later, Clyde rolled in.  He was indeed in a full body cast and because he was a fugitive, his leg, in the cast, was handcuffed to the bed.  At the time I remember thinking how absurd this seemed.  The man was barely conscious, and with his cast he certainly wasn’t going anywhere!  After checking him in and giving me the report of how the surgery had proceeded, the operating nurses left me to go back downstairs.  I was left alone with my patient.  I jumped into action taking his vital signs, asking him if he was in any pain, and trying to make him comfortable while he breathed off the anesthesia, and so I was surprised to hear a noise at the door.  At first it sounded like a tentative knock, which I ignored.  No visitors were allowed in the recovery room.

The next thing I knew a white male was standing beside me with a gun pointed at my face.  He looked more frightened than I felt.  I stood there wondering which drugs this man wanted to steal.  My mind was racing with the thought that I had not been taught how to deal with a robber, and I was indignant that this man was in “my recovery room”.  I did not want to get hurt, and I was not stupid.   I was prepared to give him whatever he wanted to take, except the one thing I was amazed he requested.

He looked around to be sure we were alone and then he demanded that I hand over Clyde!  He told me he had come to break Clyde out and finish the job that Clyde had attempted that afternoon.  I could not believe my ears.  This man was going to kidnap my unconscious patient!  I calmly told him that his friend was in a full body cast and was handcuffed to the bed.  The man came to the bedside to examine Clyde.  Clyde was not awake enough to acknowledge his rescuer and I told the man that he was more than welcome to take Clyde and the bed, which he was going to need to transport Clyde.  I even volunteered to help disconnect Clyde from the monitors and push him out the door to the elevators for the ride to the first floor and the door to “freedom”.

As soon as the door to the elevator closed I walked back into the recovery room and called the policeman who was sitting at his usual station at the entrance to the hospital.  I informed him that a man had just robbed me at gunpoint and had taken my most precious possession at that moment, my patient.  I told him the patient was stable, barely conscious, in a full body cast, and handcuffed to the bed.  I also stated that his friend was obviously stupid, unstable, armed, and headed his way.

Thirty long minutes later, my patient was returned to me.  He was now awake, in pain, and visibly upset.  His friend was on his way to jail.  The police officer assured me he would be staying with me in the recovery room and Clyde would have a full time guard until he was returned to jail.  Many hospital policies were created as a result of this incident.

Today, nobody would believe it could have happened, and I’m sure this story could win a spot on America’s Dumbest Criminals.  When I think back on this incident now, I just laugh.  I have forgotten how afraid I was at the time, and how angry I was that I had not been trained to deal with this kind of situation.  I often wonder what ever happened to Clyde.  He is not the only patient I have ever lost, but he was my first, and luckily the only one to leave at gunpoint!  He never knew the role he played in my growth as a person and a nurse.

Renee P. McLeod BSN, RN
City of Memphis Hospital

– excerpted from Touched By a Nurse©