Massachusetts Association of Occupational Health Nurses

My Story: Sheila Wilson RN, BSN, MPH

Posted 4 months ago by Nancy Clover

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It was May 1979.

As I stood in line with my classmates to receive our diplomas, I could feel my emotions running high. I looked in the stands and saw the people that supported me and the tears just started running down my face. I am blessed, I am going to be a nurse.

I went back to the same floor I worked at as a medical assistant but this time as a new nurse. It was scary but within a year I was able to move on with a lot of confidence and knowledge.

I transferred to the coronary unit learning about the heart. I never knew the heart was so complicated. I worked with great nurses and learned a lot about the diseases and complications.

One day a young man came into the unit with a problem! A disease that resulted in the nurses to step back and do something different.  

We decided to make videos of problems of the heart and write for contact hours and rent the videos out. Our goal was buy a VCR, TV and table with wheels so we could teach the patient and families about the heart anytime. This wasn’t the easiest but we all had fun. We didn’t stop at just the videos, we went to Cable TV and do a few shows, we also enlisted another hospital to join us.

The best thing that happened was a patient asked to watch the video with his family and I overheard him saying as the video was playing “You see that nurse, you see that nurse she took care of me this morning and she is on the video” He was very excited.

I went back to school in 1985 for the BSN degree and moved out of the unit around that time. I was now working as a float, moving from floor to floor.

 In 1986 we went on strike. I got a job in a detox working nights until the strike was over. That was a great job! 30 drug addicted people to one nurse and one orderly. I loved it. The patients wanted to be there I learned how to medicate to keep the alcoholic from going into the delium tremors and the heroin addict from feeling worse that he was. This was over the top. I knew I would be using this information someday.

I was invited to work with one of my friends in the community. I worked with her but also continued in the hospital after the strike. My time in the community will stay with me forever.

 In this story I will lump this time together to share the highlights.

I worked with outreach workers that showed me the ropes. They would do the leg work. The paper work and I would do the nurse work.

I must have given hundreds of TB tests in the community and in housing developments and then go back and check them.

I was part of the team in a drop-in center and was privileged to be able to be helping the working girls, the homeless, gay, HIV. Lesbian and transgenders of the area. Their life was hard and at times unbearable to them but this drop-in center was there for them and they used it! This center saved people’s lives.

I would pass out condoms. Sandwiches and information, it got to the point that condoms were everywhere like in my pockets, in my purse anywhere I could put then. The sexually transmitted disease was rampart. It is still rampart today. Later in my career I learned STD’s also stood for short term disability. Now that was confusing.

I learned a lot in the community but needed to focus on one job at this time, I left the community setting and went back to one job, the hospital.

I was still in the hospital setting and now in the Emergency Room, working there was fast paced I really needed to step it up a lot. It was like running around with a lot of plates in the air and trying not to drop them.

The issues that people had were tough. I saw a lot of things that will stay in my mind for a long time. The sadness, the people that were so sick and so brave. The anger, the violence the helplessness. The children sick, beaten and killed. These stay a long time in your head.

One of the problems were the amount of intoxicated and addicted patients, they would be brought in by ambulance or would be dropped off by family friends or just come in on their own. Alcohol levels high and would be admitted to the floor.

I felt if I could get them into detox, it would be better but how would I do that? The solution was simple the physician that had the domestic violence program showed me how and before I knew it the alcohol recovery program was started with volunteers that I trained. The volunteers would be asked to talk with a patient. if the patient wanted to talk to the volunteer. It didn’t mean they had to go to detox but maybe learn about the programs that were out there. If they wanted detox the volunteer would help the patient call the detox and if they got a bed they would be driven there by the volunteer. The program was a success and lasted for 5 years.

One of the physicians in the hospital started a Domestic Violence program and we would screen everyone to make sure they would be safe at home. One of the memories I remember was the day a woman with three children came into the emergency room and said to one of the nurses “WE LEFT” with in minutes the physician was called, the nurses and aides that lived close went home and got some clothes, toys and other items they felt the family needed. The physician arrived in moments and places were called and the family left to now be helped by a domestic violence facility. Safe and secure.

By now I have earned my MPH in 1991! We are doing Public health at its finest.

As the years went by,  I can’t believe I stayed working in the ER for 17 years.

Before I left, I needed to do one more thing. The violence against healthcare workers was unacceptable! BUT it was accepted by the healthcare workers and administration. That really needed to change. Change is slow and sometimes not wanted by some. Like the nurse stated after a nurse showed me the mark still on her neck from a patient that slapped her. “I don’t know why she is complaining, she wasn’t hit that hard” Change is very slow.

Presently there is a bill in the third reading committee House Bill 795 a bill that could change the MA. Law from a misdemeanor to a felony for assaulting healthcare workers. 35 other states have a felony in their state for assaulting healthcare workers. Why not MA.

Now I am still working 39 years later I love what I do.

I work in occupational health and have learned so much more. The change from an emergency room to occupation health with Occupational health connections was very different for me. I had to learn not everything is an emergency.

Occupational health is a very important and needed part of healthcare. I hope I can do this until I stop my nursing career.

As one nurse stated to me, I am on the last car of the train abut I am not sure when I am getting off!

Thank You for reading.

Sheila Wilson Rn BSN MPh

President :stophealthcareviolence


Author “The shocking reality of violence in healthcare and what we can do about it”