After 42 years, retired nurse thanks men who saved her life

It was August, 1980, 34-year-old Head Nurse Marcia Marshall was working at the Mental Health Institute in Mt. Pleasant. She needed to change the dressing on the hands of a patient, “Billy.” Billy had been in a scuffle earlier in the day with another patient and had injured his hands. He was now heavily sedated with his wrists in restraints, attached to a thick belt. He was asleep in the day room. Marcia woke him up and said, “C’mon, Billy, I need to change your dressing.” He lumbered down the hall, following Marcia to the treatment room. Billy was a big man, not obese, but big and hefty. Another patient, was trying to come in the room. Marcia shut the door to keep him out, something she would later regret.

Marcia changed Billy’s bandages. He fell against Marcia, knocking her to the floor. “C’mon, Billy. Wake up,” she said. Before she knew it, Marcia was flat on her back, with Billy straddling her chest, and his hands gripping her throat. “I’m going to kill you,” he said.

Marcia tried to scream, but Billy’s grip on her throat was too tight. She twisted, bucked and kicked. She tried to get her hands to his face but he was too tall. However he bit her thumb so she knows she did some damage to his face.

Marcia was giving up. She couldn’t fight any longer; he was too strong. She had an out-of-body experience. She hovered in a corner of the room looking down. It’s called “dissociation,” when your mind takes you away from the trauma.

An Iowa Wesleyan College student, who was working at MHI for the summer, noticed the closed door, came in, and attempted to pull Billy off. Four or more young men joined the fray. Billy was hitting them and nearly bit off one kid’s fingers. It was a brutal fight before they could get Billy subdued and into full restraints.

A staff member took Marcia to the hospital. Her throat was so swollen she couldn’t talk. Billy had hit her in the face and pounded her head against the floor. She was given a tetanus shot because of her bitten thumb.

Marcia’s husband was in Alaska on a field trip and Marcia was in no condition to go home alone. Dennis Nellor, the business manager at MHI, took Marcia home to his and his wife’s house to spend the night. Kathy Nellor, Dennis’ wife, was friends with Marcia.

Marcia didn’t sleep at all that night. She kept thinking, “He tried to kill me.”

It was a Friday night. On Monday morning, Marcia went to work with two black eyes, two knots on the back of her head, and a raspy voice. She wanted to thank the young men who saved her life but didn’t know who they were. She always wished she could thank them.

Billy was transferred to Oakdale in Iowa City, a psyche facility for mentally ill prisoners, and Marcia lost track of him. Leftover effects for Marcia include “hyper-startle reflex,” especially if she is touched from behind, and heightened personal security measures. In a room full of people, she tries to sit with her back to the wall.

Fast forward to today. Kathy Nellor and now Marcia Wiedemeier from Burlington, renewed their friendship. Kathy Nellor belongs to a book club in Mt. Pleasant and happened to mention the attack on Marcia at MHI years before. A lady in the book club spoke up, “That was my son who helped pull the man off.”

Bingo. Marcia was able to talk to the lady’s son, who is now in his sixties, and get the names of the other men involved. Amazingly, she has since talked to all four of them. All of the men were appreciative of the call, remembered every second of the incident and filled in details Marcia wasn’t aware of. She was finally able to thank them for saving her life. Marcia can now put the incident to rest. “Never give up your search,” she says. “Whatever it is.”


Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.


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