Jane F. Bolding, a nurse who has been caring for the sick since becoming a candystriper when she was 14, denied charges yesterday that she killed a patient in her care at Prince George's General Hospital and said she had been "put through a living nightmare."

In her first public appearance since being charged with murder last month, she assailed Prince George's County police for arresting her, and the hospital for firing her from her post in the intensive-care unit. Bolding's statements came during a press conference at the office of her lawyer, Fred Joseph.

Police allege Bolding injected intensive-care patient Elinor S. Dickerson 70, with a lethal injection of potassium. Bolding is free on bond.

"I want to express my understanding and compassion for the tremendous pain that the family of Elinor Dickerson must be going through as a result of all the accusations and publicity," Bolding said.

Bolding, 27, seemed a bit nervous as she faced photographers and television cameras, but her voice was crisp and steady. She would not answer questions.

She explained that she had decided to speak publicly because she wanted people to know that she is a "normal human being." She said she objected to the repeated use of television film footage "of me being escorted out of the Prince George's County police station in handcuffs the night after the arrest."

Bolding is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, at which time, she said, "I am looking forward to the possibility this matter may be brought to an end."

She said she was innocent of the charges and added, "I am still very much in the dark as to why I have been wrongly accused and I am still . . . . very uncertain as to why and how they are making these mistaken claims about me."

Police say Bolding confessed to the slaying, but State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall repeatedly has said that in order to pursue the case, he must be able to prove that Dickerson was murdered.

Marshall said yesterday that at Thursday's hearing, his office will ask the judge for a continuance. If that is not granted, he said he will tell the judge that he has no evidence to present at the moment and expects the charges could be dismissed. That will not preclude prosecutors from seeking an indictment from the grand jury, he said.

Several of Bolding's coworkers said they do not believe police charges that Bolding confessed to giving the critically ill Dickerson a lethal injection of potassium to end her "pain and suffering." They describe Bolding as an ardent professional and a caring, although sometimes aloof, woman.

During a recent interview, Bolding's sister, Lee Painter, 23, said her sister's interest in health care seemed to have been launched when she went to Prince George's General to work as a candystriper. That volunteer job eventually led to a stint as an ambulance driver and technican's job before Bolding received her degree from Prince George's Community College.

Two hospital sources said Bolding came to her job apparently eager to prove herself, often volunteering to care for the most seriously ill patients.

"I always thought she was one of the most professional people I ever met," said one former Prince George's nurse who asked that his name not be used. "She seemed to care a lot about the patients . . . she asked the pertinent questions," he added, recalling her first years as an intensive-care nursing aide and later as a registered nurse on the hospital's evening shift.

Some of those who know her added, however, that she was sometimes painfully shy.

James Craun, a former volunteer chief with the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department where Bolding worked as a nonpaid ambulance driver, said she seemed a bit of a loner and did not make friends easily. "She was a funny person to get to know . . . sort of bashful, yet she could walk into a room and take over," he said, adding that she often seemed a bit nervous because she needed to stay busy. "She always had to be doing something."

Craun said, "What impressed me the most was that she'd always lay her cards on the table. You always knew where you stood with her . . . . That's why I wanted her as an officer." Craun, who said he has not seen Bolding in several years, made her a captain on the squad after she became the station's first aid instructor. She left the squad in 1980.

Jessie Test, a nurse who works at another local hospital, graduated from nursing school with Bolding.

While still in training, Test said she once had an opportunity to watch Bolding work on a patient who had been critically injured in a car accident. To break the tension while working on the patient, a number of the staff members exchanged lewd jokes, she said.

"I remember Jane was the only one who was serious, but not morbid . . . . "

Painter said her sister faced one of her biggest tests during the 1983 nurses' strike at the hospital. Bolding, still on probation after having just received her nusing degree, was told by supervisors to cross the picket line or lose her job. Painter recalled, "She . . . wanted to make sure someone was there to make sure the patients were cared for properly." But crossing the picket line also meant that Bolding had to deal with the resentment of some of her coworkers who did strike. "Their behavior changed toward her -- there were snide comments," Painter said.

Painter said her family is still stunned by Bolding's arrest. They are holding up well and praying often, Painter said.

"The thing Jane is most worried about is getting everything cleared up and getting on with her life."