Nurses are usually the first line of defense in any hospital or doctor's office. While the doctor's swoop in and "save the day" at the last minute, it's the nurses that have to compile all of the information, run tests, and deal with the nonsense that patients like to throw their way. It's truly one of the most underappreciated jobs in our society.
A Reddit thread recently asked nurses to share the most unbelievable thing they had to explain to a patient. Whether it's informing patients that no, they cannot eat right before major surgery or why a baby won't be affected by the father's diet post-conception, these nurses have seen it all. All post have been edited for clarity.
They Couldn’t Believe What This Patient Was Saying
“I had to listen to a dialysis patient explain to me very seriously that he had gained six kilos of water weight in two days because he had ‘sat in the tub for too long’ and had magically absorbed over 13 lbs of fluid. That was not a fun conversation.
With kidney failure, you essentially can’t pee out all of your extra fluids, so it builds up in your tissues, heart, and lungs. Dialysis patients need treatments to pull that extra fluid off of them and need to be on a strict diet that includes fluid restrictions. So if they don’t follow the diet, they can gain so much fluid that we can’t get it all in treatment, and there’s a lot of health complications with that.
With some kinds of dialysis, you can’t bathe or shower without a cover (PD or a chest catheter) but this guy was HD in the center and regularly told tall tales to the staff about his weight gain. Two kilos in between treatments is pretty normal from what I’ve seen, we like to tell patients to keep it under three kilos or it’s pretty hard on their system to pull that much fluid off in a couple hours. But six kilos?”
Yeah, She’s Not All There
“I’m an ER nurse. I had a woman come in one night following a car accident. It was a fairly minor accident, but the side window next to her shattered, showering her with glass. She was pretty shaken, but thankfully not injured.
When we told her she could go home, she became hysterical, sobbing uncontrollably, accusing us of not treating her injuries because she was convinced she had glass in her brain, and kept insisting we remove the glass from her brain. I kept trying to explain that there couldn’t possibly be glass in her brain because there wasn’t any broken skin, lacerations, or a hole where the glass could get in.
Finally, realizing that logic was not going to win here, I called the housekeeper and asked if I could borrow her shop vac. I put this smaller attachment on the end, then spent about 10 minutes vacuuming the patient’s head. When I was finished, she thanked me and calmly went home.
As far as I knew, she didn’t have a history of mental illness. I like to tell myself that she went home, and after she calmed down, she had a total cringe moment about the whole incident back at the hospital.”
I Don’t Think Salt Goes There…
“My mom is a school nurse at a kindergarten and she has some insane stories. One of the most recent ones involved a little boy and rock salt. While he was out on the playground, he found rock salt on the blacktop. He thought it looked cool and wanted to keep it.
When it was time to go back inside, he was afraid his teacher would see it and take it away from him, so he decided to hide it. Unfortunately, his larger gloves, and probably less-developed fine motor skills, kept him from being able to fit the handful of rock salt into his pockets. So being a creative problem solver, he shoved some of his precious rock salt into the only other place he could think of, deep down in his ear. It was so far in, my mom did not feel comfortable attempting the removal in her office (school nurses have lots of training, but limitations on supplies, rules set by the district, and overprotective parents can really keep school nurses’ hands tied).
When you have parents who ‘can’t believe something like this happened to their baby,’ it’s easier and less of a liability to just advise them to go to a doctor. That way, if in fact there is a more serious medical consequence for some unforeseen reason, the school nurse can say, ‘I advised them to seek medical treatment.’ Unfortunately, there are many parents who would gladly blame the school for something they clearly have no control over. On the other hand, some parents don’t seem to care at all about the health of their kids. So saying the words ‘doctor’ or ’emergency room’ are the only way to get them to do anything for their kid. So her advice was more a way to ensure that something was done and that she would not be getting an angry phone call later.
Imagine how fun it was to make that phone call. She had to explain to a concerned parent that they have to take their kid to the emergency room to remove rock salt he stuffed into his own ear for safe keeping. “
They Just Had To Sit Back And Watch The Family Treat The Patient Like Garbage
“I spent an hour trying to explain tactfully to my patient’s family members why it was unethical to wait to withdraw care just so they could collect a social security check the next week. There was no concern for the patient’s suffering, they just cared about getting that next check.
I wasn’t sure what was worse – the fact that the family was willing to let their dad/grandpa suffer an extra week for a few hundred dollars or that they felt desperate enough for money that prolonging his suffering was okay.”
She Was Astonished By What She Found Under The Blanket
“I had a patient who was in DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). Not going to go into detail, but your blood sugar is extremely high along with other abnormal labs. One of the goals is to drop the blood glucose and the patient is placed on an insulin drip.
This patient’s numbers were not changing at all over a couple of hours. The patient kept asking if she could eat to which the reply was always, NO!
I noticed a candy wrapper in the patient’s bed. I lifted up their blanket, and what do I find? A pile of candy wrappers. I had to explain nicely why eating candy at this time was a bad idea.”
He Wasn’t The Smartest Father, But He Was Trying
“One day, a dad called into the triage line for his baby.
Dad: ‘Something is wrong with my son’s mouth and he seems to be in pain.’
Me: ‘Ok, sir, can you describe to me what you see?’
Dad: ‘There are these two hard white bumps, like their growing out from his gums. They seem to be causing him pain. Do I need to bring him in?’
Me: ‘Do you mean his teeth?’
I could hear his realization through the phone.
The crazy part is that it wasn’t his first kid. He was one of ‘those’ patients that everyone knew at work, and he’d call in all the time for the smallest things that wouldn’t really make sense. Despite that, he was a super sweet guy.”
This Isn’t A Real Question, Is It?
“I had first-time parents on my ward with their three-day-old jaundiced baby. Conversation as follows:
Mom: ‘I don’t know why this is happening, I was so careful about everything I ate!’
Me: ‘You did a beautiful job, this happens with a lot of babies and it is nothing that you did wrong.’
Dad: ‘I know you said there’s nothing she did or ate, but I was using a lot of supplements while she was pregnant. Could it have been something I ate?’
I proceeded to spend the next five minutes explaining how he did not share a blood supply with the baby so there was basically no chance that his dietary supplements caused his babies jaundice. He still didn’t get it. He was definitely sleep deprived, really worried, and uneducated.
I was really proud of myself at the time for keeping a straight face, but definitely stopped at the nurse’s station and lost it laughing with the patient’s nurse.
The baby had hyperbilirubinemia, a common condition in newborns where the byproduct of red blood cell breakdown (bilirubin) builds in the blood and tissue and causes the baby to look yellow or orange. It’s no big deal if treated properly, though severe or untreated cases can cause brain damage or death.
But, yes, in laymen’s terms, the baby was jaundiced.”
Was She Even Listening?
“I had a patient who had a pretty bad heart attack and got a stent in one of her coronary arteries. I was discharging her and went through lots of education with her. I showed her her stent card (it’s just a wallet-sized card that has all the details of her stent printed on it so that if she were to go to any ER in the country, she could show the staff that card and they’d know exactly what kind of stent she had) and showed her how it came on a piece of thick paper and that it was perforated along the edge and she should tear the card off the paper and keep it in her wallet.
I went on to educate her about her new meds, her heart-friendly diet and exercise plan and her scheduled follow up appointments. Finally, at the end of everything, I asked her, ‘Do you have any questions for me? Anything at all?’
She said, ‘Yeah, what does perpetrated mean?’
I just hung my head. Not only had she stopped listening after the very first thing I said, but she also did not know what perforated meant, and more so, she thought the word was ‘perpetrated.’
I had slowly and thoroughly explained the information, pausing after each medication explanation to ask if she had any questions, asking her what she liked to eat and suggested alternatives. She also had two other family members in the room throughout the discharge instructions that I also asked if they had questions. Not once did anyone ask me about anything I was talking about. I highlighted certain things in her discharge paperwork, showed he pictures about how her stent works, even called into her pharmacy to verify her meds were there and ready for her to pick up. After everything I said or explained, I asked something along the lines of, ‘Does that make sense?’ or ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ Each time, she said, ‘Yeah.’
I knew it was going to be a long discharge and I knew it was going to take a lot of instruction, I just didn’t expect that to be her one final question.
I went on to explain what perforated meant and she said, ‘Okay, thank you. I’m ready for my wheelchair.’ There is no way this woman understood a tenth of my discharge education. I really didn’t think I would ever have to explain to someone how to tear something off along the perforated edge.
This woman hadn’t been to a doctor in 40 years, and on her way out of the room, while in her wheelchair, she put a huge wad of dip in her cheek. This is all after she thanked me for my care and offered to send me some of her homemade moonshine.”
There’s A Reason For These Rules
“I am not a nurse, but I work with patients in the surgical care unit at a hospital. The amount of times we have had to cancel surgeries or would have had to cancel surgeries because people don’t listen to prep instructions is insane. The hospital goes over these details extensively multiple times and in multiple formats before they come in on their surgery day, which include instructions for eating and drinking. I’ve had patients come in with a coffee in their hand and then yell when we told them we’d have to cancel the surgery, with one lovely fellow screaming, ‘Why do you even have a coffee shop then if I’m not allowed to drink coffee? Why would they sell me coffee if I can’t drink it?’ No eating and drinking X hours before your surgery means no eating and drinking anything. Not Tums, not milk, not coffee, not anything. But we’re the morons when it happens, of course.
That stuff happens way too often, which is exactly why the limits are set the way they are, to prevent patients from aspirating and dying. But no, doctors are just arrogant sadists who want to starve your children and prevent you from drinking coffee.”
Did She Actually Think Her Skin Color Could Change Like That?
“I’m not a doctor, but when I was in college, this girl (white) I was dating called me all freaked out that her skin ‘was turning black.’
This was mid-day during the week, and she said she was going to the hospital. My house was across the street from the university hospital, so I decided to head over to see what was going on. When I got there, she was distraught.
I went into the examination room with her where she explained her situation to the doctor and showed him her arm. The doctor just licked his thumb and rubbed her arm. It turns out she was wearing a brand new black sweater and some of the fibers rubbed off on her arms.”
You’re Going To Need To Sit Down For This
“I’m not a nurse but a veterinary technician. I once had to explain what it meant to neuter a dog, to a grown man and his wife.
They then asked me what the benefits of neutering were, so I explained that along with the obvious not having puppies that it also eliminated the risk of cancer and helped with behavioral issues such as marking, roaming, and aggression.
They interrupted me with, ‘WAIT! So he won’t be able to have puppies? I thought the females had the puppies?’
Needless to say, it was a very long appointment.”
How Can Someone Go On This Long Thinking Like That?
“My favorite patient was a 30-something-year-old woman who came in for a check-up at the emergency low-cost clinic where I worked. Her teeth were broken and almost black and her gums are angry swollen, bright red and bleeding by just moving her tongue against them.
This woman needed multiple scaling/hygienist appointments and a debridement. The x-ray showed she had all but her wisdom teeth and 10 fillings, so we performed root canals to try and save some teeth and extractions for others. I did my best to explain everything and did the usual explanation of proper dental hygiene. When I asked her if she had any questions, she said, ‘It’s okay if I lose this set of teeth, my others will come through.’
The dentist and I just looked at each other probably a lot longer than we should have. Neither of us had any words. I couldn’t think of anything to reply to that comment, so I left that to the dentist.
She was just sat there nodding the whole time and then got upset because she really believed she would get another set. I grabbed all of our leaflets for her to read.
She came back for treatment a while later and were able to save a few teeth and give her partial dentures. The last time I saw her, she had amazing gum health.”
There’s A Reason You Must Fast Before Surgery
“I’m a neuro nurse. I once had a patient who was going into surgery the next morning, meaning they couldn’t have anything to eat or drink after midnight.
Well at 4 am, I went in there to check on him and he was drinking a cup of milk and eating cookies that his family had brought him. I asked him why he was eating because he had surgery in a few short hours and his reply was that he has a bowel movement every morning, so he figured we would be okay to eat because it would be out of his system before surgery.
That’s not how this works, grandpa! Of course, we had to cancel the surgery.”
Maybe It Was The Grief That Caused Her To Ask Such A Dumb Question
“I worked at a nursing home and had a man in his mid-60s in for rehab following knee replacement. I walked in one evening and he was in his bed having passed away from an unrelated heart attack.
We quickly called his family and they were obviously heartbroken, as was expected. They knew he had heart issues, but didn’t know it was this bad.
The man’s wife was in the early stages of dementia and was upset and saying things in the room like, ‘Why did you leave me, you loser?’
Their daughter, who was probably in her 40s, pulled me aside, very concerned and asked me, ‘My mom is saying some very nasty things, do you think he is still able to hear her?’
Trying to be a pro, I thought for a second and answered, ‘In the sense that Jesus can hear you, maybe. In the sense that you can hear me, no.’
She immediately hugged me and said, ‘Oh, what a relief.'”
And All Of This While They’re Still In Training?
“I am a student nurse in my last year and I must have a thousand stories, but here are some of my favorites:
I had to say, ‘No, the maggots we put on your leg wound will not grow into butterflies and no you can’t keep them as pets,’ to a 45-year-old teacher who had lost his foot to unmanaged diabetes.
There was another time where I had to tell a patient, ‘No, we won’t let your girlfriend stay over in your bed because you’re scared to be in the hospital on your own.’ I could hear the bed creaking and his heart monitor beeping; they weren’t fooling anyone, so we forced her to go home.
Then there was the time I had to say, ‘I can’t get you toast and jam right this second because you are diabetic for one, and there is a cardiac arrest going on in the next bed, which is why I am running past you and the room is full of doctors shouting and the loud emergency alarm is going off.’
The worse one, however, was, ‘You cannot have morphine just because to the man in the bed across from you got some; he is a cancer patient and you have come in with a chest infection.’ I think he thought because the bottle was open, I might as well dish it out and give him some. But he was young, and in his words, it was ‘just like the stuff he got on the streets.’ I explained how he was thinking of Oxy. I went on to tell him that he shouldn’t be doing either and that just because we’re in a hospital and it’s free doesn’t mean it’s a buffet. After, I brought him the leaflet for the side effects of Morphine; he happily took his antibiotics, and no pain medication required.”
So, That’s How An IV Works?
“I was giving a grown patient an IV of Benadryl for a rash and itching on the upper body. The IV was in the right arm, so I started to give the medication into that arm. But when I said I was done, the patient started to panic.
‘What do you mean you’re done? You only put it in my right arm, my left is itching too!’
I calmly explained that putting medication in the IV sends it throughout the whole body.
She exclaimed, ‘You mean it even goes to my neck?’
I said yes and she said wow.”
Hopefully He Learned From His Mistake, For The Sake Of His Nose
“I was working at an Indian services clinic a few years ago. We prescribed a guy Flonase (nasal spray primarily for allergies) which started a conversation:
Guy: ‘Will this nasal spray give me anxiety like the last one I had?’
Me: ‘This shouldn’t cause anxiety, but let me check your chart to see what it was you had before.’
I attempted to find which medication he had been prescribed previously but he said, ‘I just threw it away in the trash out front, do you want me to go grab it?’
Me: ‘No that’s OK, it will be in your chart, and I won’t make you go rummage through the trash.’
Unfortunately, I didn’t see any evidence of this guy ever having another nasal spray. And at that point, he insisted that he was going to grab it from the trash. He grabbed some exam gloves from the box on the table and left the room. I couldn’t stop him.
He came back a few minutes later with an albuterol inhaler. I was perplexed.
Me: ‘Can you tell me how you use that, you don’t need to actually show me, since that came from the trash.’
This guy tried his best to shove the opening (meant for your MOUTH) into his nostril, gave it a squirt, and a snorted.
After that, we talked about the difference between nasal spray and an inhaler. I hope he learned.”