What we can all learn from an arrested nurse

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

On July 26, Alex Wubbels, a nurse at the University of Utah hospital, was wrongfully arrested for trying to protect the rights of a patient. Wubbels was working as the charge nurse in the hospital's burn unit when an officer from the Salt Lake City Police Department arrived and requested a blood sample from a patient, a truck driver who had been struck by a suspect fleeing police in another vehicle. The truck driver was not a suspect of a crime and he was unconscious at the time. The nurse, refusing to obtain the blood sample, was upholding both the hospital's policy and federal law. She was then wrongfully arrested. The exchanged was captured on a police body cam and spread throughout the world via news programs and social media.

At home, my family watched the video replayed on various TV channels. My 11-year-old son asked, "Why did she get arrested for doing the right thing?" My 15-year-old daughter asked if nurses get arrested very often defending their patients. The incident made an impression on them and opened up the opportunity for us as parents to talk about what happened, times of unfairness, our roles as responsible citizens and a host of other topics.

As a nurse myself, this was disturbing to me on various levels. While I could write an entire blog on the role of the nurse or possibly go on a rampage about the abuse of power on the part of the police officer, I choose to, instead, share a few thoughts on what all of us can learn from this:

We need to know what the right thing is, or at least not be embarrassed about finding it out.

When our nursing students are in their clinicals and they have a question about what they are to do with a patient, the instructors will frequently ask them what the institution's guidelines or policies say. No one can know everything. But we need to be okay with saying we aren't sure about something and then know where to discover the answers. Alex Wubbels had the hospital policy in her hand and read it to the police officer. While this was ignored by the officer, she knew her resources and used them.

We can’t do everything alone. Find a supporter!

In the video, the nurse can be seen talking to her supervisor on the phone. She knew she needed reinforcement. While this was also ignored by the police officer, she knew she could use assistance. How often in life do we try do it alone? Maybe we don't want to bother anyone and ask for help. Maybe we don't always realize how over our heads we may be in a situation. But we are all on this planet together – not each on our own planet. Ask for help. Don't be shy, and don't be ashamed.

Doing the right thing is hard sometimes.

Doing what we should is not always easy. It would have made the nurse's life much simpler had she just given into the police officer and drawn the blood like he had asked. She would not have been arrested and could have gone on with her day. It's likely no one would have said anything, or perhaps no one would have even realized she wronged the patient. It's even harder to do the right thing when someone says they will arrest you for doing it!

The police officer, on the other hand, absolutely did the wrong thing. While I don't condone it, I hope it was a momentary lapse in judgment. Maybe he was having a bad day. He might have left the house that morning after having an argument with his significant other and wasn't able to think clearly. He may be stressed from work. It was definitely an ugly moment on his part. In that instant doing the right thing was too hard, and it didn't appear as anyone was telling him otherwise.

We aren't perfect people. Sometimes we don't do the right thing. Maybe it's intentional and maybe it's not. It's helpful to reflect on those times we aren't and grow from them. It's also beneficial to watch someone who did what they should have in a difficult circumstance and learn from them.

We need to stand up for those who cannot do so for themselves.

This seems like a no-brainer. We all know that we need to help one another. In this case, the patient being protected could not protect himself. Alex Wubbels was there for him. Sure, it was her job. But where were the people who were trying to stand up for her? I saw no one come to her aid. Instead, I saw people standing around and observing the situation. I hope that's not the case and I just couldn't see the support around her in the video.

Standing up for someone else can be scary! If I saw my colleague get arrested for doing nothing wrong, I'm pretty sure I'd be weighing my options in that situation. Each of us have possible scenarios that may cause us to pause in a situation. Considering those and reflecting on how we may overcome them can help us prepare for those times when we are needed.

It's great to have an opinion about something. It's also helpful to be familiar with the facts -  and to generally act nice!

I immediately hit the social media scene when told about the video. As I'm always interested in what people think, I scrolled down into the comments posted on sites to explore how the world was reacting to the event. While there were statements in the nurse's favor, there were an equal number of remarks that were against her – saying she should've done what the police officer requested, calling her a "power junky," and implying she was impeding justice. I saw her called names and occasionally witnessed the profession as a whole drug through the mud. I was disheartened – both as a nurse and as a human being. But, also as a nurse, I saw it as an opportunity for the profession to educate the public on what the role of a nurse is. (Unfortunately, not many nursing groups actually capitalized on the chance to do just that. Another lesson learned for my profession.)

I hate to think a nurse getting arrested for protecting her patient's rights happened for no reason. Frequently, we see disturbing news items and think, "Well, that’s too bad." We soon forget about them and go on our way. I choose to do the opposite in this situation. There is so much we can learn from what happened. I can watch movies and TV shows about superheroes. But real heroes are out there, and they are ordinary people. That's all of us. We can all be Alex Wubbels.

La Donna McGohan

La Donna McGohan

La Donna McGohan, Luther College associate professor of nursing, is the head of the nursing department as well as a '95 graduate of the school. She completed her master's degrees in Nursing Education and Nursing Administration at Winona State University, and her Doctorate of Nursing Practice at Minnesota State University, Mankato. LaDonna's nursing interests are primarily in how religions influence the health care practices of their members.

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