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Like Sheep to the Slaughter | Freedom of Speech at Work


If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
-George Washington

Speak up for patient safetyAt a recent legislative meeting, as I was physically encouraged to stop speaking and leave the premises.  I have been an outspoken and passionate patient advocate for many years and I make no apologies.

I have been a victim many times over of covert bullying. However, this was the first time someone literally attempted to physically terminate my freedom of expression! I ask the readers, what would you have done if your left shoulder was grabbed by a nurse saying, “That’s enough, Helen…It’s time for you to leave”?

During my 33 years of working in the operating room arena, I had to pick my battles of when to stand up for myself and when not to. Although retreating was never in my makeup, the loss of dignity in the face of fire was not pleasant! The loss of sleep at times was not conducive to my spirit. The loss of my hard earned monies being siphoned off to my attorney to ensure my continued employment at a time when my children were in college was hard to bear. The intentional cajoling whispers behind my back as I passed certain staffers were hurtful.

The saddest realization as a nurse was when it finally dawned on me that some of my nursing managers were part of the lateral violence, as it is called today! Bullying for the most part is the easiest and most simple method to get a nurse to quit her or his job, i.e. no documentation, no precipitating event which would have to be validated in the future by Human Resources and therefore no litigious issue ensues. Being bullied for being outspoken is not a justification for the act.

Later, more bullying came not just by individual nurses but by organizations, i.e. powerful organizations. Those episodes were a real kick in the heart! We all know that eventually one violent act, actual or covert, precipitate and condone more violence in all walks of life when it is done in an effort to thwart free speech.

So now I am a 67-year-old retired operating room nurse who is no less outspoken or no less passionate about patient care and patient safety than I was when I first graduated from nursing in 1974. Patient safety to me is nursing excellence! I never entered nursing to become rich, powerful, or self-serving! Being so naïve for the first few years of my career, I believed this ideal also holds true for my peers. Sadly, I was wrong! When money becomes the god, patient safety becomes the victim.

Why am I so passionate about patient care? The new statistics are unbelievable: one out of every five hospitalized Medicare patients died last year; one out of every seven hospitalized Medicare patients were injured; the figure of 99,000 hospital deaths is a very “old” statistic, i.e. it now shows that there are over 200,000 hospital deaths yearly; the data on infections, medication errors, falls, wrong site surgeries, wrong patient surgeries, retained instruments and retained sponges are astronomical and not “added” properly into the equation since data on “sentinel events” are not able to be fully revealed. Settled “cases” behind closed doors are also not public information. President Clinton supported transparency, but other agendas prevailed.

I don’t need a PhD to understand what bullying is all about. I have lived it! I don’t need to know what freedom of speech in the name of patient safety is. I am still living it and it is our right!

Helen ‘Frenchie’ M. French RN, BSN

[This article has been edited from the original version. You can read it on]

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