So what about this class I took last week that I keep referring to in kind of roundabout ways? What exactly has all the griping been about?
I'm now, of all things, a forensic nurse. As in collecting and documenting evidence from victims, and then going to court as a (snort) expert witness. What kind of forensic nurse, you ask? Here's a clue. The acronym is SANE, and it stands for Sexual Abuse Nurse Examiner. The three of us who went through the training are now going to join a small handful (approximately ten) of nurses in our community who will take 24/7 call to do exams on rape victims. We will collect evidence off of (and out of) the victim's bodies, document all injuries (both in writing and with two different kinds of photography), and generally try to put together the most comprehensive written, trace and photographic evidence that we can. In the past week we've learned how to preserve almost any kind of evidence, how to take crime shots like a pro, how to follow a legal chain of custody that won't get your case thrown out of court and what it's like to be on the business end of a speculum for once. (Oddly disquieting, I have to admit. And terrifying. Did I mention that?)
What they can't teach you in class, of course, is how to deal with all of this emotionally. One of the good things about these programs is that as soon as a SANE nurse is activated, so is a social worker/advocate, who is there to deal with the patient's emotional state while we (supposedly) focus unhindered on the physical aspect. I've triaged rape victims before, and always been really relieved to turn them over to someone who knew what they were doing, someone who had a warm touch and the right words, someone with the ability to comfort those who were hysterical or to break through a deep wall of shock and denial. I've handed over paperwork and women in the upright version of the fetal position, and gone back to triage, grateful that my part was over, hoping that some nice, juicy trauma was about to come through the door instead. I'm comfortable with trauma, unfazed by blood and gore. But this, I'd always told myself, was just flat out of my realm, nowhere near my area of expertise.
Not anymore. (Snort again). When they come in now, there's a fairly good chance that they'll be mine, while some adrenaline junkie triage nurse practically dances back to their computer. I will walk them through the process step by step, look at and touch the wounds inflicted on them, and listen as they describe the assault to both the police and me. I will properly package bloody clothing and swab for DNA. I will measure bite marks and strangulation patterns. I will try to stay as focused and objective as I possibly can, try to do the best possible job for her (or him) that I can, try to not let my own emotions overwhem me.
I'd really love to know, though, how you can even begin to keep your emotions out of it. Because I don't see that happening for me. I think I've just shot my own personal comfort zone straight out of the water. What the hell was I thinking?