As a young student nurse, I gave my first ever intramuscular injection to a Rochester, NY, Mafia boss.
I was a junior year nursing student at SUNY Brockport in western NY. Even though we practiced the procedure in the nursing lab with oranges as the victims, nothing really prepares you to push a needle into human flesh.
My clinical instructor, Mrs. Wood, was with me. This was 1973, and in those days, preoperative medications were given by injection, unlike today’s nice and easy IV Versed. The order was for Compazine, to prevent nausea, and Demerol, a narcotic pain med.
And since each medication was 2 ml, I couldn’t combine them into one IM injection. The rule was to give no more than 3 ml in one injection, because it would be too painful. So that meant I had to give not one, but two injections.
So, after preparing the medications with trembling fingers, we proceeded to the patient’s room. This Mafia boss, Mr. X, as I will call him, had come from the state prison under armed guard for surgery. There were policemen at the door and two inside the room. This was a dangerous man. Talk about intimidating!
I had Mr. X roll onto his left side and I partially exposed the right buttock. Then, with Mrs. Wood watching, I drew the imaginary cross in the air over the skin, isolated the “upper, outer corner,” and looked at Mrs. Woods. She nodded encouragingly. I wiped the skin with the alcohol pad, positioned my fingers, and poised the needle. When giving an injection you “dart” the needle – a very quick movement- to get the needle through the flesh.
But I couldn’t do it. Several times I made darting motions at the buttock, but I couldn’t bring the needle down. By this time, Mr. X was trying to look at me over his shoulder, no doubt wondering what the heck was taking so long.
I was intensely conscious of the two policemen watching my efforts, perspiration was running down my back, and my hands were shaking. Finally, Mrs. Wood put her hand over mine and firmly pushed the needle into the patient. Mr. X moved a bit, but didn’t say anything as I pushed the first medication in.
Then I picked up the second injection. It was do or die now, so with a determined shove I darted that needle like I was throwing a javelin. I know I did it with more force than necessary because Mr. X jumped. “You’re a bad girl,” he said.
I couldn’t get out of that room fast enough!
In my latest historic novel, set against the background of WWI and the Pandemic Flu of 1918, my main character, Kitty Winthrop, is a student nurse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. It was so much fun to give her funny experiences like the one I had above. Nursing was much different in 1918, but many things about being a nurse remain the same. We care about our patients and always try to do the best for them.