I was born and raised in a loving family in South Boston. Both my parents needed to work to support their four daughters. My mother was an operating room nurse, and my father had his own plumbing business. He used to joke that they were doing the same thing—rewiring the plumbing—only from a different perspective. “Laughter is the best medicine,” my mother would say, and often it filled our rooms and never was a voice raised. They respected each other. “Whatever your mother says goes. She knows best,” and every Friday night after work, he brought home a dozen red roses for her and arranged them in a cut glass vase before all of us sat down at the table for dinner.
I was the eldest, and from an early age, I wanted to be a nurse just like my mother. “There’s no nobler profession,” she would say in between lively stories about her experiences with some of the surgeons. “They’re a different breed all together.”
After I graduated from nursing school, I applied for several positions and got a job working the night shift in the emergency room of a Boston hospital. The night shift or “the graveyard” shift as we called it, and not because it was quiet, sometimes began as early as 8:00pm and finished at 7:00am. Most of the time, it was so busy, I had to remember to breathe—especially Friday and Saturday nights and certain holidays like the 4th of July or Christmas—I saw gunshot wounds, stabbings, burns, overdoses and battered women from every background—most survived and some died.
When I first started working in the emergency room, I didn’t know any of the other nurses, doctors or staff. I felt insecure and intimidated—maybe I’d made the wrong choice. The environment was too intense—no let up with doctors yelling orders, patients screaming and nurses running from one gurney to the next taking blood, vitals and pressuring wounds. On my breaks, I would go to the cafeteria to get something to eat and drink—to sit and take in the relative quiet. Often nurses from other floors would sit down next to me and give their opinions. “Are you crazy? How can you take all that pressure night after night?” Then another would chime in, “Come see how it is on my floor. Internal medicine is a piece of cake in comparison.” One more added, “Even cardiac would be easier then what’s going on down there. Why don’t you become an operating room nurse like your mother? —no working weekends, 9 to 5 with good benefits—intense if that’s what you like.”
I visited the different floors at their invitation and watched, but I decided that I didn’t want to do exactly what my mother had. It was enough that I had carried on the tradition of being a nurse. I wanted to carve out my own territory, and in spite of the obstacles, I was drawn to the constant excitement and intensity of dealing with life and death situations. I practiced taking blood and perfected the technique, and in the emergency room I earned the nickname, Blood Sucker. I learned to stay calm, focused and to use all my senses with the patient: to listen carefully and observe, to touch and smell their essence in the air—and if I tasted sour in my mouth or my body stiffened—I paid attention.
My first encounter with a victim of domestic violence happened one early morning in the ER a month after I’d started. I saw a young woman with a black eye, pushing her body through the doors as she held onto her baby. Blood streamed down her face from a cut. “I can’t stop the bleeding,” she whispered. As I began to clean her up and apply pressure to the wound to stop the blood flow, I asked her how it happened. I thought maybe she’d been in a car accident. “I walked into a door,” she said. Later, one of the other nurses said, “She walks into a door almost every week. It’s called wife battering. She’s too afraid to report him or leave—she needs to feed her baby, so she stays.” I entered this new world in shock and disbelief. I had only known unconditional love in my family. Domestic violence didn’t exist in my universe.
As more and more battered women came into the emergency room by ambulance, car or on foot, I saw the magnitude of a problem no one wanted to address. I witnessed and treated abused women from all backgrounds and saw the devastating effects of mental and physical violence it had on them. I began to speak to some of the women who would talk. Others were too afraid or hurt. I wanted to learn about it, to understand and to help. There was a common thread regardless of where they came from: they loved their abusers, they had children and blamed themselves and they were cut off from family, friends and money.
After twenty years, I retired as an emergency room nurse from the large Boston hospital where I’d started my career, and it was their stories and experiences that inspired me to write this novel. I created a young heroine from the upper echelons of medical society to demonstrate that abuse has no boundaries—even with those who are supposed to be healing the sick and have wealth. I wanted to spotlight domestic violence as a tribute to the victims with the goal of bringing attention to this on-going epidemic and to helping women escape and heal. They are not alone. They have a voice, and I will continue to help bring attention to this blight on humanity.
Priscilla Bennett is the author of Something To Be Brave For, a spellbinding and unique story of survival. Get your copy for only 0.99 now! To read more about Priscilla, visit her website!