The hero nurse embodies the spirit of the nursing profession

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The medical staff who helped Sr Seale. (back row) Beven Masshedi (facilities manager) Sr Diane Seale, Prof Roger Dickerson. (Front row) Vanessa van Wyk (operational director: medical service), Salama Basardien (assistant nurse) and Ohlen Ohlson (operational director). PHOTO: provided

She is praised for her heroism. But Sr Diane Seale says that when she hugged an armed patient who shot three people minutes before he arrived at the surgical ward at New Somerset Hospital (NSH), she saw the person and “wasn’t focused on what he had done or could still do”.

When Seale showed up for work on Saturday, May 7, she could never have anticipated that she would have to disarm a patient at the start of her 12-hour shift.

Seale was busy with her routine transfer process on Saturday evening when a call came in from a colleague in distress.

“I could hear him screaming and my colleague who had answered the phone informed me that there had been an altercation on the second floor.”

Unaware of the magnitude of the traumatic event she was about to face, Seale told her co-worker that she had to continue her work while Seale dealt with it.

“As I entered the second floor, I noticed a body on the floor in the hallway, but my eye caught the patient with the gun in his hand. I proceeded to walk straight towards him and made contact visual. I walked over to him, and kissed him. I escorted him into the cabin. He told me to close the door. This also allowed our staff to then deal with the policeman who had been shot. I felt I could calm him down a bit.

She says that although she noted that two patients had been shot and killed, there were still two patients alive that she had to save.

“I kept him seated, standing in front of him, so these patients were safe from harm.”

Seale shared how her focus and energy remained solely on the patient. She continuously made eye contact with him.

“I kept telling him we needed to talk. I treated him like a person. I wasn’t focused on what he had done or could still do. I asked him, ‘What happened?’ I reached out and touched him, and he allowed me to. It gave me confidence and I knew he trusted me. He looked at me while my hands were still on his shoulders and said, ‘You’re brave, you’re the only one who’s come here’, at this point all I wanted to do was keep him focused and calm .

Seale remembers that she repeatedly asked him to put down his gun.

“I took him to my chest, held him tight and he allowed me to hold him again. At least I knew there was this connection between us.

During this exchange, Seale was initially unaware that the tactical unit had arrived and was armed and ready outside the cabin doors.

“My main goal was to isolate him from other staff and patients. He finally agreed, and while remaining seated, I moved towards the cabin doors and then realized that the tactical team was outside. I thought I had some control over the situation. There were times when the abuser and I struck up a conversation, and I might even crack a joke. If he spoke to me, I gave him that opportunity, but I always came back to the request to lay down the weapon.

She says that during their conversation, she assured him that her role was to save lives. It was his calm demeanor that ultimately drove the attacker to surrender.

“During our exchanges, I raised my face and said, do you see this uniform, I am here to save lives and limbs. Finally, he agreed that I calm him down. All the while, I sat with him, stroking his forehead until he was finally sedated. At this point, I could call the tactical team to subdue him. When I came out, everyone was there. My team was there and safe. It gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going.

Although she had just gone through this traumatic experience, Seale immediately engaged with her team and threw herself into debriefing the nurses as well as the patients. Metropolitan Counseling Services, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital Psychosocial Support and the Western Cape Health and Wellness Team were all on hand to offer support.

“Throughout all of this, my main concern was that our patients would be settled.”

Professor Roger Dickerson, head of the clinical unit at the NSH Emergency Centre, praised the nursing team for their professionalism, dedication and humanity.

Dickerson also thanked EC staff who responded to calls to the ward and cared for casualties who needed treatment, anesthetic staff who assisted in stabilization, disaster management, EMS, porters from the hospital who helped.

Seale says that as a team, they acted on divine intervention.

“Prayers and God got us through this. It’s part and parcel of us and nurses, no matter how traumatic the event, when you’re in that moment, you’re doing what needs to be done. Yes, it’s a big thing, but it didn’t take Diane alone, it took a team to put it all together.

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