Aw, geez. Here we go again. So, if you will, allow me to step up on my soapbox and get settled in, because I believe I’ll have to hang out here for a while with this one.
If you don’t know the name Alex Wubbels by now, let me tell you what I know about her. Even though I don’t personally know her at all and have never met her, I know a good bit about who she is and what makes her tick because, like myself, she is a nurse. Alex is a nurse who went to work one day this past July in the role of Charge Nurse at the University of Utah Hospital’s Emergency Department. Before she even got her car parked in the lot that morning, she already knew there would be roughly 10,000 duties to complete in the span of 12 hours, if she was lucky. 12 hour shifts can morph into 14 or 16 hour shifts in the blink of an eye in our line of work. She knows she’s on the front lines of the healthcare world. And just like every other nurse in every ER in every hospital all over the planet 24/7/365, she constantly stands at the ready because no one ever knows what’s coming at you through those double doors. There’s always a little bit of underlying fear partnered with adrenaline that makes you hyper-alert at all times. You learn to routinely expect the unexpected. She knows every day she will see horrible things, families torn apart, people leaving this world far too young, far too soon. There might be hilarious misadventures that bring people in and cause the staff to snicker behind their computer screens or burst out into full-blown laughter in the break room. There will be patients who will steal a piece of your heart from the first moment your eyes meet and there will be those who will curse you or become violent. The one thing that was NOT on her mind that morning was that the person she needed to fear most would be wearing a police officer’s uniform.
Alex, like myself, and every single other nurse I know, knows that she works in many varied roles. The Number One role for every nurse everywhere is to be a Patient Advocate. Alex had an unconscious patient that morning that was NOT under arrest, yet Det. Jeff Payne insisted that he be allowed to draw blood from him. Alex went through all the proper channels. She printed off the Hospital’s Policy and showed it to the Detective. Policy stated that in order for the officer to obtain the blood sample the patient either A) had to give consent (he was unconscious) B) he had to be formally under arrest (he was not) or C) the police needed to have a search warrant (they did not). None of the 3 requirements were in place, so Alex simply said, No. She protected her patient and his rights. The officer threatened her with arrest if she didn’t comply. So Alex, doing as she has been trained to do, contacted the Nursing Supervisor of the hospital, put him on speaker phone so the officer could hear, and her superior confirmed her decision. According to hospital policy, which is how we ALL function as a team to provide the best patient care that we can, Alex didn’t do one thing wrong. The officer was warned by the Nursing Supervisor, “you don’t want to do this” at which time Det Payne went (for lack of a better term) ballistic, behaved like a bratty child that hadn’t gotten his way, forcefully grabbed Alex, put her in handcuffs and dragged her out of the ER, while she screamed for help, pleaded, sobbed and begged him not to do this.
The video is absolutely heart-wrenching to watch. But I watched it in its 20 minute entirety with tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat. I could not believe what I was seeing. I was heartbroken for her.
And then I got angry. Furious, actually.
So I watched it again. Fast -forwarded to the part where she’s in the police cruiser and Det Payne and another officer are lecturing her. I assume the other officer is Det Payne’s superior, I am unclear about that. I really “like” the part where they lecture her about”civil liberties”. (Insert sarcasm font. ) My eyes rolled so far back in my head, I’m surprised they didn’t get stuck there. She repeatedly says “I’m just doing my job. I’m just doing my job.” The officer then goes on to say, while standing above her, arms crossed, legs spread, in that intimidating stance while she cries sitting there in her scrubs, “This place has a bad habit of contravening with MY law.”
Umm, YOUR law? I don’t think so, bucko. Since when did you acquire ownership of the law? I believe YOUR JOB is to enforce the law, serve and PROTECT, and FOLLOW the law just like everyone else is expected to do. Obviously, Det Payne and his officer pal still have some learning left to do.
This incident has raised many questions. Social media is abuzz with petitions in support of Alex, and questions galore. Why did the other officers and hospital security stand idly by and allow this to happen? Why didn’t the officer with the body cam intervene? Why was Det Payne allowed to still be working, wearing a badge and carrying a gun, when he has a history of disciplinary actions against him? And why, everyone wants to know, is he STILL allowed to be working and getting paid after this incident?! (Apparently the only thing they’ve done thus far, at time of this writing, is take away his little blood drawing kit.) Is he one of those people that because he had a class or two on drawing blood that he thinks he knows as much or more than a degreed nurse? I, myself, can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with his fragile male ego getting bruised from being told No by a woman. If that’s the case, here’s a newsflash for Det Payne, just in case he didn’t get the memo: NO MEANS NO, in ALL circumstances. Period. End of discussion.
It’s clear to me, and to anyone else with eyeballs and a functioning brain, that Det Payne has some pretty evident and disturbing anger issues, needs a Psych eval, STAT, and maybe even an extended stay in a Behavioral Health Unit somewhere. His body language throughout the incident clearly portrays it. He stands there, arms folded, jaw clenched, much like my two year old grandson does when he’s reached his allowed limit of popsicles and hears the word no. The main concern and outrage among all of Alex’s millions of colleagues in the nursing profession is, as she repeated many times over, SHE WAS JUST DOING HER JOB. For God’s sake, with everything else nurses deal with on a daily basis, NOW we may have to worry about being arrested for advocating for our patients any time there is police involvement?! I certainly hope not. I cannot fathom any of the LEOs I’ve come into contact with in my career behaving in the manner in which Det Payne behaved.
It’s obvious there was a disconnect in communication and understanding about just exactly what her job was that day. It’s really quite simple. To any nurse, a patient is a patient…another human being for whom we assume full responsibility the moment they appear before us. What they’ve done or might’ve done to break a law is secondary to us. We are there to protect them, take care of them, and speak for them when they are unable to speak for themselves. And will do so at all costs. And, also follow hospital policy and procedure to the letter while we’re doing it. The officers kept referring to the policy as “your policy” when lecturing Alex in the cruiser. She kept responding, “It’s not MY policy. It’s hospital policy.” (Much like the law the law is not YOUR law, Officer, I daresay.)
Alex, if this blog post somehow makes it to you, I want you to know two things. You did the exact same thing, without question, that every nurse in your situation would’ve done…and you just keep right on doing it, girlfriend. The second thing I want you to know is this is not only your battle to fight. I understand that this happened to you and it had to be traumatizing, and for that I am so very sorry. I can assure you when those cuffs closed around your wrists and you were manhandled out of your workplace, 6 million other nurses felt the fear and horror right along with you. We’ve got your back, Alex.
And to Detective Jeff Payne, I have only this to say. Even after your uncalled for mistreatment and degradation of her, had circumstances changed and you had landed in the ER, in front of Alex on a stretcher, she would have stepped up, saved your life, cared for you and advocated for you as well. Nurses are just like that. That’s what we like to call just doing our jobs.