Here’s a typical night shift on a med/surg unit:
You’re nine hours into your shift and have had to pee for six of those hours. You’re finally making a break for the restroom when your phone rings– it’s the patient in 601 and she has to go to the bathroom NOW. No, wait. Scratch that. She just went and now needs her gown changed and new sheets. You walk right past the employee restroom and instead go to the linen cart, which of course is out of gowns and fitted sheets. Cursing (but only under your breath at this point), you speed walk to the neighboring unit to steal some linens.
While there, your phone rings again. It’s the pharmacy– you’d called twenty minutes before because your patient’s Motrin wasn’t showing up on her record and she has a headache. The pharmacist alerts you that the doctor wrote the order for “Ibuprofen 800 mg as needed for headache.” Great, glad they found the order, right? Wrong. The order didn’t specify how often “as needed” is. You need to call the doctor at 4 AM to clarify this. He is going to LOVE you, and unless you’re off the unit before he arrives for rounds, will definitely chew you out in front of everyone.
You sigh and hang up the phone, rounding the corner back to your unit. Linens in hand, you enter room 601 and find your patient standing next to her bed, butt naked, with a small stream of blood running down her arm. “When I took off my gown, it got caught on my IV and the IV fell out,” she snaps, as if it’s your fault she yanked the thing out. You put on the new gown and help her walk to the bedside chair, where she sits and glares at you while you change her sheets. Or attempt to change the sheets, I should say, because those damn fitted sheets never seem to fit. While you’re struggling to get the sheet over the last corner, your phone rings again– it’s the patient in 614, he’s nauseated and wants medication. You grab the scissors from your scrub top and cut the edge of the fitted sheet, allowing it to slip easily over the mattress. “Now my sheet is torn,” the patient says from the comfort of her chair. You dance slightly in place to avoid peeing your pants, then apologize as you assist her back to the bed. Once she’s comfortable, you run down the hall to grab 614’s nausea medication from the Pyxis, which of course is out of Zofran.
You’re halfway back from the neighboring unit, Zofran in hand, when the patient in 614 calls back– he’s thrown up in bed. You want to cry but don’t. Instead, you turn back towards the other unit to steal more linens. You cut the fitted sheet while walking back to your unit, bypassing two public restrooms on the way.
As you walk by the nurses’ station, the unit secretary tells you that your patient in 609’s headache is worse. Crap. You still have to call that doctor and wake him up for the non-emergent order. You feel the tears welling up in your eyes but fight them back– the thought of any running water at this point will make you pee your pants. You ignore the grumbling in your stomach– another shift without getting to eat– and hurry towards 614.
You peek into 609 to apologize for the delay in her medication. You continue down the hall and make it to room 611 when 612’s call light begins flashing. Not your patient, but you never ignore a call light. You peek your head in and the cutest elderly woman asks you to fluff her pillow. Doesn’t anyone sleep around here? You hurry over to the bed, fluff the woman’s pillow, and consider using her restroom. Too unprofessional, so you pause to use the hand sanitizer before leaving the room. “Ma’am?” the patient calls from bed. You look back towards her, crossing your legs and eying her plate of leftovers on the bedside table. Now what? You’re already drowning.
She smiles and her eyes light up. “Thanks for your help, you nurses are all angels.”
“You’re welcome,” you reply, genuinely smiling. It’s worth it, you remind yourself, before running down the hall.