My Little Deer Hunter

From The Floor

My Little Deer Hunter

Vignettes in Nursing

By Genevieve M. Clavreul, RN, Ph.D.
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magic carpet ride

Genevieve's FamilyMy first introduction to military life in the United States was at Fort Polk, Louisiana. When my husband informed me we’d be leaving our home in Germany for a short stint in the U.S., he failed to mention that we were being stationed at a base that had been decommissioned years ago — for all intents and purposes, abandoned. This meant that everything at Ft. Polk was in poor repair. The neighboring town still had dirt floors in many of its establishments, which was quite a shock to this young woman from Paris. 

My mother and I took stock of our situation and decided that a brand-new doublewide trailer was in order. Some may knock the idea of living in a trailer, but compared to a house with ancient appliances and paint peeling from the walls, a new double-wide was luxurious. It had state-of-the-art appliances and plenty of room for my children (I had three at the time, all under six).

Life at Ft. Polk was enjoyable, and my mother and I came to look forward to our monthly trips to the base commissary (military lingo for “grocery store”) and of course the PX (or post exchange, as in “general store”). If you’ve never had the opportunity to shop at a commissary, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Even in the late 1960s, it offered many staples that were not found in regular grocery stores. This was especially important to many of the foreign wives like myself because we could often find familiar foods from home, such as paté (even if it was in a can) and escargot. Thus my mother and I set aside the whole day for our commissary visit to ensure that we were well-provisioned for the month.

Genevieve's FamilyIt was on one such trip that we ended up at the emergency room of our base hospital. 

That morning, as my mother and I loaded the children into the station wagon, she commented that the tires looked a little odd. I joined her at the rear of the car and agreed they did look “different” but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was wrong. After all, they were only a month or so old, so we shrugged off the nagging feeling and headed for the highway to Ft. Polk. 

Later that day as we prepared to return home, my youngest daughter Chris asked to ride in the back with the groceries. This was not an uncommon request, since I’d placed a thin mattress there so the children could nap on our long trips to and from the base. Thus, Chris was sound asleep when our car had a tire blowout at a high speed (in Louisiana at that time, the speed limit was 100 mph on the highways). The car rolled several times and we landed in a ditch. I can still picture Chris sound asleep on the mattress thrown out of the back of our station wagon as if she were on a flying carpet. She never even woke up when the mattress slammed down several feet away from the car. 

The ensuing panic and sirens of emergency vehicles startled her awake and caused her to cry inconsolably, which is the state I found her in at the emergency room. The doctors were trying to staunch the bleeding that caused her to be covered in blood. That is, until a nurse used one of the most basic nursing skills – her sense of smell. She concluded that the sweet-smelling “blood” that coated my daughter wasn’t what it Genevieve's Carseemed. The team soon figured out that Chris was covered with strawberries from the grocery bags in the back of the station wagon — they had been crushed during the accident. 

Chris survived the accident with nothing more traumatic then the fright of a child waking to find herself separated from her mother and surrounded by white-coated strangers. But I often wonder what else she would have been subjected to if not for the nurse who correctly assessed why my daughter was red from head to toe.


Family Rule Number Two

Like many children of their generation, mine were allowed to roam the neighborhood freely as long as they were home for dinner. That was the first family rule. The second was if they got hurt from doing something they weren’t supposed to do, they couldn’t cry about it.

So when my daughter Pat decided to give my son Eric, who was wearing only sandals on his feet, a lift on her new bicycle, they did so under the threat of Rule Two. Both had been warned to never ride double on a bike seat, and to always wear sneakers while riding. This explains why the doctor was amazed to see Eric sitting on the exam room table with the heel of his foot mangled and bloody, but hardly crying at all. 

Genevieve's FamilyThe doctor commented to me about Eric’s composure while suffering from such an injury. I looked at Eric and then the doctor as I told him about our family rule, and that my son knew he’d have to tough it out with as little drama as possible. The doctor then explained he’d have to clean the heel before he could suture it. Eric stifled a sob and nodded his head. The doctor then said he was going to give a shot of Novocaine to make sure it wouldn’t hurt. Eric bravely accepted the shot and after a few minutes the doctor began to debride the wound. 

As the doctor worked to clean and prepare the wound for suturing, I noticed that Eric’s color began to change to turn beet red, but he refused to complain. Instead he told the doctor in the calmest voice possible, “doctor, you’re burning my blood.” Eric continued to attempt to capture the doctor’s attention about his discomfort. He changed his tone of voice several times and rephrased his comments until he finally captured the doctor’s attention with a firm “doctor, I’m telling you, you’re burning my blood!” At which point the doctor and I realized that Eric was having a allergic reaction to the Novocaine!  

Eric’s composure during this little episode taught me a valuable nursing lesson. Just because a pediatric patient isn’t pitching a fit or having hysterics or sobbing uncontrollably doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering in pain. I always made a point of sharing this story with nursing students and others to help teach them that not all patients present with obvious signs of distress.


hunting accident

The year was 1975 and I was the head nurse for our local public hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I was embroiled in a nasty divorce and found solace in the challenges of managing a entire nursing department. One day, I found myself caring for a young boy admitted to our PICU after a hunting accident. The boy and his father had been out stalking a deer when the animal turned and charged the boy with the full weight of his body. The father shot the deer before he could cause additional harm, bundled up his injured son and drove him to our hospital. The boy was admitted into our unit in a coma with only other minor injuries.

Every day, when I came to check on my young patient I took the time to talk to him. I’d sit at his bedside and speak softly in his ear about the visitors who had come by to wish him a speedy recovery. I’d talk to him as I conducted the various blood draws, changed the IV, and read his blood pressure, just as I would if he were alert and conscious. When I learned that he’d been out hunting deer, I shared with him how much the French loved venison and told him jokingly that perhaps when he was better he might shoot a deer for me. 

The weeks passed by and eventually he came out of his coma and was cleared to return home. Then one night that following year as I prepared to make my rounds, the young boy and his father came into the hospital and greeted me. Like so many young pediatric patients, he asked if I remembered him, to which I responded of course I did. How could I forget my little deer hunter? He gave me a broad smile and informed me that he hadn’t forgotten. Forgotten? I wondered to what he was referring, when he blurted out: “Dad and I just got back from our first hunting trip of deer season,” he announced proudly, “and I caught you a good one. We just need to know where to bring the deer, so you can have your venison.” 

His thoughtful gift kept my family fed for nearly a year, which was a blessing for a newly-single mom with lots of mouths to feed, and it was a treat for me to have the delicious meat. This story is a reminder that even in a coma, our patients can often hear and comprehend what we are saying. It is important to always speak respectfully to them and about them when others are in the room. Your words have an impact.

The holidays may find us looking back over the past year. In doing so, we can sometimes focus too much on the trials and tribulations of life and become overwhelmed by our personal challenges. But I’ve found that the challenges faced by the patients I care for and their families serves to remind me that my problems pale in comparison to many of theirs. Indeed, our patients and our fellow nurses can be a source of strength and comfort. And in the end, my chosen profession has provided me with far greater moments of joy than moments of sorrow.  


Geneviève M. Clavreul RN, Ph.D., is a healthcare management consultant who has experience as a DON and lecturer on hospital and nursing management. She can be reached at: (626) 844-7812;

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