Even The Most Hardened Of Nurses Have A Breaking Point, This Was Hers
“I had a patient who was self-treating severe cancer and her entire chest had turned into septic ulcers and abscesses. She called for a nurse (lucky me) and said she thought she’d spilled something in her bed at lunchtime, it was a bit damp.
When I looked, I saw that one of her sores, probably the size of a grapefruit, was oozing yellow goo and liquid. I gloved up to start cleaning her up, and as I gently tried to reposition her skin with the abscess on it, it burst. Not sure where the pressure came from because I made sure I didn’t squeeze it so that exact thing didn’t happen, but it ended up all over my arms and neck.
It was definitely the hardest I’ve ever tried to not show a reaction in front of a patient.”
She Wasn’t Prepared For This Type Of Case
“We once had a woman in the ICU whose boyfriend took her out to the woods behind their house, had her kneel in front of him, and shot her in the head while looking her in the face.
I’m not sure how she made it to the hospital, but she was technically alive although this was not a wound that was compatible with life, but she was placed on life support pending her parents’ arrival. I got several calls from a detective asking her status so they’d know how to charge the guy.
Before her parents arrived, I was in the room tending to her. I noticed something oozing out of the edge of her head dressing. It wasn’t blood. It was light gray and gelatinous looking. I realized it had to be brain matter. The swelling in her brain from the bullet’s path was so bad it was forcing her brain out of the entry wound. I had to change that dressing before her parents arrived.
I still remember how her shattered skull shifted in my hands as I tried to check the exit wound to make sure it wasn’t oozing, too.”
They Can Still See The Dad’s Face When He Heard The News
“I’ve seen my fair share of horrific events in my career as a NICU nurse.
The first one that comes to mind is the car wreck where a mom was on the way to the hospital to deliver twins. Someone pulled out in front of her. Her placenta abrupted (ruptured), and she and her unborn twins all died. I can still see the dad’s face when we told him we lost both babies.
Another one was a 16-year-old who was eight months pregnant who hanged herself in her closet. She was dead upon arrival, and we eventually lost the baby. The family did not get there in time to hold their baby while she passed, so a nurse held her. We have the motto that nobody should die alone without being held.
I once had a baby that developed late-onset Guillain-Barré syndrome from its mom. He was fine, and then he wasn’t. He started bleeding from everywhere. We couldn’t replace the blood fast enough to keep him stable.”
They’ve Seen So Much In Such A Short Time
“I’ve only been a nurse for six months now, but even without some crazy stories, the day to day is rough. I work on Neuro (strokes, brain injuries, seizures, withdrawals, neck/back surgeries), and I do my best not to take home what I see. Some of it is truly uplifting and beautiful, but some of it is heart wrenching or horrible. I’ve been kicked, slapped, screamed at, and nearly punched in the face by people out of their minds. The hardest part is when someone is relatively ok and has their wits about them, and they still scream at you and berate you telling you that you’re a terrible person for not giving them enough pain medication (I follow the rules and advocate as needed). I’m a male and I get people telling me they don’t think I care because I’m a male and that a female would do better.
The story that comes to mind is a woman who came in right before my shift, who’d had a seizure, fell, hit her head and had a bleed in her brain. She was lucky enough to have been found and brought to surgery quickly enough that the bleed could be stopped and brain damage could mostly be avoided. Her brain would need some time to heal from the double craniotomy she experienced, but she would recover. She had an IJ tube in her neck to pull labs from because she had a history of substance abuse resulting in bad veins.
She, of course, pulled this roughly eight-inch tube out in her confused state. She had a heparin drop that we need to know exact trough values for by drawing labs from her. We not only had to place a peripheral line (no lab draws from this), but we had to poke her many, many times to try to get enough blood for a sample. Three separate IV therapists had to try, and she became more agitated each time and was fuming by the end of it.
I did my absolute best to calm her down, but she was beyond reasoning. She tried to get out of bed without calling several times, and we rushed in to help, but finally at shift change she slapped me across the body (didn’t hurt but this was the end of a three-day stretch of 12-hour shifts and I was d-o-n-e), and screamed at me. I left the room, called a code grey while another nurse walked in and was subsequently slapped. Security came up and walked in to help, seeing her, completely naked, having just ripped the peripheral IV out of her arm with blood all over, and ask me, ‘Is she just getting more and more confused?’ And she screamed at them, ‘DO I LOOK CONFUSED?’ before slapping the officers, who then put her in four-point locked restraints.
This may not be the most insane story, but it’s just a daily experience. I feel so tired already and so anxious that I’m messing up.”
What Brought This Nurse To The Brink Of Quitting?
“I took a call from the paramedics who were bringing in a 2-week-old that had no pulse and was intubated. They said it was most likely a SIDS case. When they brought her in, my friend and fellow nurse remarked that her sister had a 2-week-old girl and the baby looked just like her. Ten minutes later, her sister came in.
I have seen some truly awful things in my 20 years as a nurse. To have something hit so close to home, to see my dear friend and colleague get stabbed in the heart like that was the absolute worst thing I have ever experienced.
I cried and cried over that and almost left nursing. I have tears in my eyes right now as I write this.”
No One Was Prepared For What They Were About To See
“I was pulled to the ER one night to help with a patient being brought in by ambulance. We’re a small hospital with only one ER nurse.
We knew this patient was going to be a mess after hearing from the medics that she had been on her floor for weeks. Her husband (who didn’t live with her) had been bringing her food, but otherwise left her laying there. The medics had to scrape her off the floor with the help of a shovel. She was a rather large lady, and you can’t imagine the sores on her backside from laying there in her own filth for a month.
We, of course, started cleaning her up right away, and I was shocked by all the trash I pulled out of her folds. She even had a pop bottle lid in one fold that had carved a wound in her skin.”
The Death Of A Child Is Always The Worst
“Dealing with the death of a child is never easy to take. It doesn’t matter how gross something is, or the trauma I see an adult experience, or the car accidents I saw as a paramedic, or the loss I see when the family comes in when a patient dies, it’s a good day as long as there are no kids involved.
The worst I have seen is either the kid that was starved to death by her parents or the kid who was shot in the head in front of the rest of her brothers and sister by her father after she threatened to tell the cops about him violating her.”
She Loves Her Job Except On Days Like This
“I work in the labor and delivery department at my local hospital. The stillbirths are the most horrific, gut-wrenching things I’ve ever experienced.
One time, a woman who was full-term came in, and her complaint was that she hadn’t felt the baby move in some time. We said, okay, and took her to a room to put her on monitors. I performed Leopold’s maneuvers (felt the mom’s belly to determine the position of the baby and where to place fetal monitors) and turned up the volume really loud and placed the monitor, but got nothing. We tried the other side of the belly. Still nothing. Normally the heart rate is so easy to find on a full-term baby and doesn’t take more than a few seconds of moving the monitors.
At this point, the mom was shaking and getting nervous. We both knew. I was trying to keep myself calm and tell her in a soothing voice baby must have turned at some point and might be breech, making it harder to locate the heartbeat. I got the doctor and an ultrasound machine and it was crystal clear on the screen – you could see the baby, the head, the spine, the dark spot where the heart was, and nothing. No cardiac activity, no movement. We broke the news. The mom started bawling. I started crying, the doctor started crying.
I will never forget those screams. Jesus Christ. I love my job, but those are the hardest days.”
At Least They Were Able To Find A Silver Lining
“I work as a medical scribe at a local hospital. We recently had a 9-month-old be rushed in after an apparent dog attack. The kid was severely malnourished (only about nine pounds). The parents and grandparents have moved to four different states since he was born.
Well, that day, the mother decided to leave the child in a pack-and-play unattended with multiple large husky-mix dogs. The child wasn’t even in an actual house, they said it was more like a shed/outbuilding. She had walked next door to the grandmother’s house for around 30 minutes. Upon returning, she found the patient lying in the floor with one of the dogs actively trying to eat the poor kid.
After being rushed into the emergency room, it was found that the patient was bitten through the abdomen and back more times than we could count and could barely hold his head up or produce tears. We got him as stabilized as we could and had to transfer him a good hour or two down the road for surgery. The father went home to try and shoot the dog so it could retrieve some of the missing body parts. By the time he got back to the ‘house,’ the dog was already missing.
As sad and horrible as it is, that dog may have ended up saving that kid’s life. There is no way he will be going home with his parents. He will hopefully make a full recovery and be taken in by a much more loving and attentive parents.”
“This Is One That Will Stay With Me Forever”
“I once had a hospice patient with massive pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in lungs). The amount of blood was astounding.
From the moment he started to have his bleeding until he passed away, it took about 10 minutes. I held the poor man’s hands. He tried to speak, but his words were lost in blood. The kind of gurgling sound you make when you try to speak under water. Also, pure fear in his eyes. After about five minutes, he went into shock and his eyes started to roll away. He was just laying in bed in his own blood, the floor and the nightstand were covered in blood. An unworthy death.
My co-worker gasped when I stood up. I was covered in blood. I never noticed that I got sprayed.
Nurses often complain about paperwork and that we are getting underpaid, but we almost never complain about the things we get to see in our line of duty. This one will stay with me forever.”
“It Sounded Like Rice Krispies”
“A few years ago, I was working as a supervisor at a nursing home that had a 30-bed vent unit. It was not a nice facility and was closed by the state a few times while I worked there.
Because the management was so terrible and staffing was so short, every admission that came through the door was entirely the responsibility of the supervisor. I was not permitted to delegate any of the admission assessments or work to my cart nurses (probably because they only assigned one nurse to work a 30-bed unit).
One night, I had seven or eight admissions due and they all ended up coming around the same time, so I had to keep some of them waiting to be assessed. Four of the admissions were vented patients to our respiratory unit, so it was a busy night.
One of the vented patients who I hadn’t gotten around to assessing yet (he’d been there about two hours) decannulated himself. The patient was a DNR, so his trach was reinserted by my respiratory team and they began bagging the patient to bring his stats back up. Eventually, the guy coded and died, and it became evident something was wrong because he looked all swollen and puffy.
When they reinserted the trach, it didn’t go into his trachea, so when they bagged him, it filled all his tissues with air. When we pushed on his skin, it sounded like Rice Krispies.
I called to notify the family of his passing, and they insisted on coming to the facility to see him one last time. I explained that he might look quite different than they remember, and recommended that they did not come to see his body, but they insisted.
I spent the next 45 minutes massaging air out of a dead man’s tissues with three other staff members. It didn’t help much and the family was extremely upset.
Then I had to do a complete admission on a person who was already dead, then discharge them immediately afterward.”
What Happened To This Guy During His Capture?
“I had a patient who was a helicopter pilot in the army. He was shot down and captured by the Taliban and held for a few days before getting released.
A few years later, he was admitted to my unit for a GBM (think like worst case brain tumor) on top of having PTSD. He was very active (getting out of bed, running around the unit, pulling out IVs), and ended up having a companion in his room at all times.
Well, one day, his nurse, who I’ll call C, asked me to hang around while she passed out meds. This guy was 5’7 but built like a brick house. I was maybe 5’1 and very, meek. After she scanned his wrist badge, she told me I could go since he was sleeping.
I was barely out of the room when the patient shot out of bed, grabbed a chair, and tried to hit C. He claimed she kidnapped him and violated him. It took six of us to get him back in bed and restrained for the rest of the night.
A few days later, this patient heard one of our life flights land on the helipad outside his window and immediately had a flashback to his copter being shot down.
He threw a chair out the window and tried to jump out. My unit is on the sixth floor.”
What Was In The Bag?
“One of my most memorable patients would be the woman who was covered in these nasty, horrible abscesses with cultures coming back positive for every bacteria and fungus imaginable. Everyone was stumped as to what was going on with this case and the doctors on board were considering calling in an infectious disease specialist. That is until one day I walked into the room unannounced and found this patient intentionally cutting herself and rubbing what looked like radioactive festering feces into the wounds.
We later found out that she had her own little random poop bag she had been hiding in her purse. She had been saving her own feces, her animals’ feces, mixing it all together, letting it sit for months thus creating a toxic paste that she would then rub into her sores.
This was all part of her master plan to get onto Dr. Oz and meet Oprah. No one would have ever expected this because she didn’t show any signs of mental illness and all outward appearances were of a normal otherwise healthy individual.
Just goes to show how wild psych patients can be.”
She Watched As The Patient’s Family Slowly Lost Hope
“I once treated a 20-year-old patient that was in a motorcycle accident when he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The kid ‘survived,’ but was never going to be NOT a vegetable living off of 15 different tubes ever again; he literally lost too much brain tissue. That stuff is par for the course in a level 1 trauma center. What was hard was watching his parents stay in his room in shifts, documenting every little twitch and spasm and reporting it to us as a sign that he was ‘waking up,’ only to have to be gently told (after assessing of course) that those were just spasms with no conscious thought.
They would also happily keep telling us about the welcome home party they had planned for him and making jokes that they’re never letting him buy a bike again. One day, they started visiting less and less, and eventually stopped coming at all. Finally, they made him a DNR. He was their only child.”
They Did All They Could To Fulfill Their Patient’s Last Wish
“I was an ICU nurse in Phoenix. We had a kid come in quite frequently with cystic fibrosis. He was on his last leg, and he knew he was going to get intubated, and eventually die. His last wish was to get married to his girlfriend. My colleague and I spent our entire day organizing the chaplain, and dietary department to get them married, and provide a great meal.
The girls in the kitchen even made him a cake. He and his girlfriend got married, and they had a fantastic evening. Two days later, he was intubated, and he was placed on the transplant list. He had made a DNR for this specific case where his lungs would no longer function, and he died peacefully a few days later.
I still think about him, and my colleague who was the greatest mentor ever, taught me compassion above all else in our hectic world of modern medicine, and how something so simple that we did, made a bigger difference than any medication or intervention.”
They Never Found Out If They Saved A Life
“During my residency in the surgery department, the nurse I was training under asked me to come in ASAP at 4 am (I normally came in at 6), so that I could see a ‘unique case.’ It was some guy who was attempting to load a crossbow-like device (for fishing, I don’t remember the name), and in the process of doing so, he accidentally fired it on himself, penetrating his abdomen up to his right ventricle. That moment made me feel nothing I learned in nursing school has prepared me for the job.
Another time, I had to perform CPR on a 20-year-old female while the flight I was on was landing. The flight attendants were basically holding us down since we obviously couldn’t put on seatbelts.
The paramedics took over compressions once we landed, and found a pulse. I never found out if she made it or not because I had to leave and catch the last train from the airport.”