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  • Maureen Dempsey

You Never Know Which Backpack Has the Bomb in it!

My ex worked as a stagehand during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He was part of the crew that built Centennial park, and he worked as a spot light operator during the nightly concerts at the park during the games.


I don't remember when he started complaining about one of the security guards. The guy was a real stickler for the rules and my ex, well, wasn't. He used to come home so ANGRY. One day the guy searched his backpack. Another time he wouldn’t let him in the park because he forgot his credentials in the car. Another time he wouldn’t let him even park in the lot.  


On July 27, my ex was working one of the spotlights during a concert. The guard shouted up to him to evacuate, there was an emergent security threat. He evacuated because he had to, but he didn’t take it seriously. He left all of his stuff in the tower, didn’t even take his keys! 

As he got further away from the tower, he realized that something serious was happening and he turned around to go back and get his keys.


Right then, the Centennial Park bomb exploded -- it had been under a bench next to his tower. And the security guard’s name? Richard Jewell.  


The attitude that my ex and his coworkers had toward Richard reminds me so much of how we sometimes treat really vigilant nurses in maternity care.  


There are approximately 700 maternal deaths per year in the US and according to the CDC, 55% of them are preventable. Why aren’t we preventing them? I don’t pretend to know the whole answer to that question. But I know that the way we treat vigilance plays a part. We have normalized a postpartum nursing culture that is ok with hypertension, that blames serious symptoms on anxiety and sleep deprivation, and that routinely dismisses edema. So when a vigilant nurse expresses concern and asks for lab work, or a bedside assessment, or an increase in medication...she is often met with incivility, ridicule, and condescending attitude.

But here is what we can learn from Richard Jewell:

YOU NEVER KNOW WHICH BACKPACK HAS THE BOMB IN IT!  

And we don’t know which women will go home to develop life-threatening complications. If we want to save lives, we have to adopt an attitude of heightened concern. We have to investigate every symptom. We have to search every backpack! And we need to encourage vigilance in our team.

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