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Sticking by SAFE patients' side, Lisa Brengle knows how it's done

January 31, 2018
Lisa Brengle, BSN, RN, FNE-A/P
Early in her career, Lisa Brengle, BSN, RN, FNE-A/P was working in the OR when a young patient came in. The little girl, no more than 3 or 4-years-old, had a hand fracture, the second one in two weeks. Despite being a new nurse, this set off some red flags for Lisa. Little did she know that her sharp instincts would lead her to become a member of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) team.

Sure enough, as Lisa and her team examined the small patient under anesthesia, several other injuries were discovered. A SAFE Nurse was called in and it quickly became evident that the girl had been physically and sexually abused. “Her injuries were above and beyond what one would expect for such a young child,” Lisa said. “I realized the importance of having people to advocate for kids because they can’t always speak up for themselves. It’s tough to interview a child; they want to please you and say what they think you want to hear.”

After seeing how the SAFE nurse on call that day interacted with the girl, socializing with her during the exam, chatting about her hobbies to distract her, Lisa joined the SAFE program at GBMC. Program Manager Laura Clary, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, CPEN, knew she would be a great fit for working with pediatric patients. Though she’s always had a knack for getting along with children, Lisa wondered how she’d be able to handle dealing with kids in such traumatic situations. “They are so young and vulnerable. It’s hard to imagine something like this happening to someone I love,” she said. “I try to put the emotion aside and advocate for them as best as I can.”

It’s not always easy for Lisa to go home after work and forget about her SAFE patients. “It’s frustrating, but the reality of our world is that there are monsters out there,” she said. “When I think about the kids, I try to focus on how I’m helping them grow and flourish. I like thinking about what they might be when they grow up.”

When things do get difficult, Lisa counts on her teammates and can reach out to them for empathy. Venting to them can be a real stress-reliever. “Laura has created a team that feels like a true support system, and we know we can use each other as an outlet,” she says. “They often help me realize when I’ve done as much as I can do to help. At a certain point, it is out of our hands and that can be difficult to accept.”

The SAFE nurses even support each other in court, as going to a sentencing can be nerve-racking. Getting cross-examined by the defense can be particularly scary. “It’s the fear of the unknown – not knowing what you’ll be asked, worrying about your phrasing, not victimizing, and trying to keep the focus on the heinous crime,” she says. “It’s worth it once you see a perpetrator get a deserving sentence. Of course, we always think they should have gotten more time, but seeing that person convicted is extremely rewarding. Getting justice is always the goal.”

Join Lisa and the rest of the SAFE team as they march against rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence on April 21, 2018 at GBMC’s third annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®. Click here to register and fundraise.
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