Nurses: Crimefighters Without Capes

The police brought him in, but they didn't solve the mystery of who the unconscious man was, a nurse did.

He was brought into the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the primary county hospital and the only level-1 trauma center in Miami-Dade, with a blunt force injury to the head, found unconscious on the sidewalk, no witnesses, in the middle of the day. What happened? Who was this man? At this point, he was just another victim of the city, seemingly unnamed and unknown. Hours after being admitted, his brain bleed worsened and he was taken to surgery, still unnamed, still unknown.

In the general melee that is a trauma center in a major American city, details can come second to the primary objective of patient care. It turned out that a wallet had been handed in with his belongings, but it was pretty slim. While it provided the basics of name, address and phone number, it yielded little in the way of finding his people, his family, his life. Phone calls were answered by the man's stilted voice recording on a 1990s era answering machine, and went unreturned.

The day after his middle-of-the-night emergency brain surgery, his nurse wondered who was this well-groomed man? Why was he lying alone and unknown in a county hospital, his only company the prisoner chained to the next bed, and his police escort? The scenario just didn't make sense to him. The curious and savvy nurse took to, and soon set off a chain of events that led to truly identifying this man, my father.

A quick search revealed that he was a physician who had practiced medicine in Miami for 50 years, and had even worked at Jackson's satellite hospital, Jackson North. The nurse quickly sprung into action, calling the operating room at Jackson North asking to find out about Dr. Hoffman. Word spread quickly and a nurse got on the phone and said, "give me the info, I know where his ex-wife works, I'll call her." A surprisingly accurate game of telephone ensued across Miami, and within hours, my mom and brother were at his bedside, I was on a plane from New York City and two more siblings were notified and en route. This is because a nurse did more than his part. This is because a nurse added "detective" to his job description.

Nurses contribute to the criminal justice system every day, but they rarely get recognized for it. A friend who is a nurse, remembering my story, used the Internet to help the police identify an unconscious Jane Doe who landed in her ICU, shaving hours off of notifying her family. Another nurse-friend told me of a story where her detective work identified a habitual drug-seeker/identity thief who was using various aliases. She remembered him from three years prior, she remembered him being belligerent, his room number and his "complaint." He was back with the same vague complaint, and she combed through six months of census records to correctly identify him. The ER and admitting physician were notified, and they contacted the police because it turned out that this patient had a history of identity theft and fraud. Upon searching his room, the police found multiple pill bottles with varying combinations of his name and aliases and birthdays, marijuana, and narcotics with prescription labels not belonging to him (or any of his aliases).

From detective work to identifying signs of domestic and/or child abuse, to being responsible for properly handling evidence removed during surgery, i.e. bullets and other foreign bodies, to nurses who work in correctional facilities, nurses are enmeshed in many facets of the criminal justice system. They don't get a badge, or a cape, so how about we give them a little recognition for their contributions?

In honor of National Nurses Week 2015, a collective thank you for your contributions, often unmentioned, to the criminal justice system. You help the innocent, and the guilty, victims and criminals, and know that your commitment to care does not end with filling out a chart.

My story has a bittersweet ending. My father passed away on January 17, 2011 from his injuries after thirteen days in a coma from which he never awoke. That's the bitter part. The sweet part is that he was known. He was surrounded by family and friends, and he was actively loved in his last days. Thank you to the nurse who found us.