I Am Cursed

I’ve been mulling this over for a few days. In the language of the psych nurses, I’ve been perservating, which means fixating or turning a thing over and over in your mind till you’re worn out or need a strong hypnotic.

One of my colleagues, a part-timer RN, told me to fuck off. Just like that. It wasn’t one of those half-sarcastic, half-jokey fuck-offs you sometimes hear in the Emergency Department. It was a real, please-drop-dead-now, pissed off, get-out-of-my-face sort of thing.

I won’t get into the details or circumstances of why this nurse told me to fuck off. Suffice to say, what I asked this particular nurse to do wasn’t out of the routine for the Emergency Department, but she didn’t like it anyway.

Part of me is a bit astonished by her cheek.* Patients have sworn at my before, and meant it; but this is the very first time a nurse has cursed me out, at least to my face. And, sadly, if she wants to rumble, swearing angrily at the charge nurse Clinical Care Leader (who incidentally can make her life a misery in about ten thousand different ways — not that I would, but just saying) in front of three other nurses probably classifies a tactical setback. Calling the manager to object to my “poor” management of the ED was, in hindsight, a definite strategic error, especially when I was sitting in the manager’s office discussing two written complaints from other nurses about her behaviour. In short, this is likely not the hill she wants to die on.

The stupid thing is, I was going to let it go. It wasn’t worth my time or energy worrying about. I mean, I know that casual RNs often get the short end of the stick, and understand horizontal violence, and also, sometimes, even nurses have crappy days and behave ways they are later embarrassed about. But because she tried to defensively twist her behaviour around, and blame me, and also because there are now other complaints, it’s a Thing which requires more documentation and more ugliness.

The manager has basically left the swearing piece for me to deal with, which I am glad about: I am a firm believer in sorting out your own problems. Hence the perservation: what’s the best way to approach an already hostile nurse to tell her she needs to, um, voice her concerns respectfully and professionally?


*In all honesty, a larger part is hurt and dismayed by her behaviour, much more so than I would admit publicly: being in charge means wearing the Charge Nurse game face. In the Emergency Department, elbows are sharp, and the nurses have the self-defined image of being pitbulls with lip gloss — but even pitbulls have feelings.


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  1. #1 by Art Doctor on Sunday 06 June 2010 - 1711

    You say you “I was going to let it go,” and so grammatically, this suggests a subconscious projection of possibly considering doing something about it. Are you thinking of writing her up? I think you have every right, and workplace harassment such as this has no place in your life (period).

    I think you deserve more respect, regardless of her personal situation and I also think she needs to take a course in effective communication.

    Personally, if things like this happen to me, I usually look at the person wide-eyed like an owl and have no immediate retort out of sheer astonishment for their juvenile vocabulary. Simply because there is no room in my life for this style of communication and I know I deserve more respect. Likewise, you deserve more respect and I don’t think it is unprofessional or unwarranted for you to report this woman.

    What if she says this to a patient or family member in a heated argument?

  2. #2 by Art Doctor on Sunday 06 June 2010 - 1713

    …If a student were to tell me to F off next year when teaching, I would certainly write them up no-question. There is no just situation where the use of those words is appropriate.

  3. #3 by mog on Sunday 06 June 2010 - 1715

    I’ve been wondering about how to comment. Staff relations are a minefield. Can you ask HR for advice before you talk to the nurse? Otherwise I was thinking on the lines of finding out what is bugging her- is it that as she is casual she may not be up to speed with changes etc and everyone assumes she knows about them?? Then there are personal problems…Of course she may just be a crabbit person who needs a good slapping but I’m thinking that you are thinking that one of those meaningful chats around the ‘what on earth were you thinking of and if you do it again I’ll skin you alive’ ie it will be on your record is in order. Did that make sense? You know what to do anyway though so I should probably shut up now

    I don’t envy you at all the perils of high office.

  4. #4 by JennJilks on Sunday 06 June 2010 - 2136

    I remember a student telling me I was an F***ing bitch. I told him that you can think I’m an F***ing bitch, and I may well be an F***ing bitch, but you just can’t say it. I took the training, had the job interviews and I was hired to be your teacher. There are consequences.
    Suspension was a great consequence, as he was doing an in-school without friends and attention.
    You have to teach them how to treat you, and those who witnessed it or know of the incident, want there to be ramifications, as well.

    P.S. Isn’t it perseveration? I remember a kid doing this in a personal way in the office once. The Vice Principal was shocked. It is a personal thing, best done in private! :-)
    Love you dearly. You have the most incredible sense of humour, style and manner.

  5. #5 by Terri C on Monday 07 June 2010 - 0117

    Well, you may be cursed but I think she is screwed. Her behavior is not OK–and I think the one thing I’d say is make sure there are witnesses when you talk with her–the manager or someone from Personnel for example. Given her attempt to twist this interaction, you want to make sure she doesn’t have the chance to try that tactic again. It sounds as if this nurse is skating on thin ice, and you have to know that it isn’t “you” if there are other complaints made about her behavior. It’s all well and good to be kind, but there are some people who need a very clear and direct approach. She may indeed have a personal problem, and it may be something like drug or alcohol use that could compromise the safety of patients and fellow staff. (I thought a float nurse I saw who rolled her eyes at a charge nurse was taking her life in her hands, but your situation is MUCH more clear…)

  6. #6 by wilomis on Tuesday 08 June 2010 - 0642

    Back when I was a manager, I had a situation where an employee used foul language at me. I stopped the conversation and when we were in my office I explained to the employee why she was never in a position to use language like that in the work place, especially in public to the manager. I gave the individual the option to apologize. If she had not, I would have started the writing up procedure which can most likely lead to termination. The thing is, no matter how stressful a job may be, it is never appropriate to curse out your boss. You may feel a sense of pride in doing it, but it will in most cases end unfavorably. If you “let it go”, it may unintentionally tell other nurse, “Hey it’s ok to curse me out.” Hope it ends well.

  7. #7 by zingerella on Monday 14 June 2010 - 1729

    I’m here by way of the Galloping Beaver.

    For me, it’s not a question of how dare [[a subordinate]] say that to the person to whom they report. It’s a question of how anyone can think that is appropriate discourse for the workplace. Offensive language creates a climate of disrespect and hostility for everyone.

    It’s okay to not want to do what you’ve been asked to do. It’s even okay to take issue with that request. It’s even more or less okay to kvetch about other team members behind their backs (to an extent, and it depends on how, you know? “Why does she always ask me to do X?” is one thing; “That [[unprintable]][[unprintable]] how dare she?” is quite another.

    So were it me, I’d say something along the lines of “Look, I get that you were not pleased about [[whatever]]. Do you think you might have found a more constructive way to bring that up with me?”


    “Part of working here as part of this team is treating every team member with a certain amount of respect. We all have a tough job. Open hostility makes it worse for everyone. If you’ll talk that way to me, then I have no reason to believe you won’t talk that way to another team member, a paramedic, a doctor, or a patient. I don’t care how upset you are, that kind of language is not acceptable for this workplace. Find a better way to say it, or suck it up and deal, but I will not tolerate a team member who can’t be trusted to speak respectfully to their co-workers.”

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