That’s so gross

You would think the grossest thing that I have seen as a nurse would involve the patient.

Oddly enough, no.

I can say for sure the grossest thing I have seen is the patient’s family member(s) sleeping on the floor of the room.


I have walked into the room and nearly tripped over a family member sleeping peacefully on the floor. I was immediately freaked out. Like, what makes someone think sleeping on a hospital floor is safe or sanitary?

Oh, you have to get up off that floor honey.

There have been soiled linens, blood, body fluids that I can’t describe, EVERYTHING on that floor. Glare all you want but I’m not leaving you down there.

People think hospitals are far cleaner than they actually are…


Consent and ethics

Nursing is fully aware of consent. We know that we need to have documentation that the patient accepts this treatment. It’s a no brainer. But, what if the patient doesn’t want treatment and the power of attorney does?

Prime example, you have an elderly patient that is obviously letting the family talk them into surgery. To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t go well. They end up sick. They have to remain intubated. They need an art line, central line, pressors, the works. Even on the ventilator they are adamantly shaking their head no to all the things you’re trying to do. They are fighting. They keep trying to pull away. They don’t want this.

Their family does.

The POA is who the doctors decide to ask for consent to treat. They completely bypass the patient. They’re intubated, they can’t answer for themselves right? If course the family wants everything done… So, everything is done. Is that fair to the patient?

Shouldn’t the patient be allowed to say no without having someone else choose otherwise? What is the fine line that decides when a patient no longer has the capacity to make their own decisions? Does intubation automatically take away that right? Does having a POA take away that right? If a patient is clearly communicating, even in the vent, shouldn’t we respect their wishes?

The nurse in me says yes. The nurse in me says to respect my patient’s dignity.

The nurse that’s been at the bedside for almost 8 years knows that that is normally not the case.

I have seen advanced directives ignored because the patient is unconscious and the family isn’t ready to let go. I’ve seen cases like the one mentioned above. I’ve seen doctors watch as the family is almost forcing a patient to go along with treatment and the doc just goes along with it as well. I’ve had to be a part of “moral distress” meetings because nurses were stressed over the ethical dilemmas involved in certain cases. When do we stop?


Most of us are aware of HIV and how it affects the body. We have been taught how the virus attacks and destroys the immune system. It is not the attack on the immune system that directly kills a person.  It’s all those opportunistic infections that eventually weaken and often times finally kill HIV/AIDS patients.

PJP, “pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia”, is one of the most common opportunistic infections to befall an HIV positive patient. This particular type of pneumonia (or as one of my patients pronounced it “ammonia”) is caused by a fungus commonly found in the environment. For those of us with a normal immune system, it does us no harm. For the immunosuppressed patient, however, it can be dangerous and possibly deadly. For a patient with severe PJP, it can lead to ARDS which has a high mortality rate. Having HIV does not mean a patient will automatically become infected with PJP. The infection typically manifests when the CD4 count is low. This is a really good article describing PJP and its relationship to HIV/AIDS. Here is another good article by Medscape that talks about the fungal pneumonia and how it functions.

You are probably wondering what made me write a blog on a type of pneumonia that you may not have heard of before. Well, I am a nurse and also a state certified HIV tester. HIV is becoming a passion for me. However, that’s not the only reason. See, back when I was a med-surg nurse, we had a patient that I can’t forget. He was a 22-year-old young man that was in and out of the hospital with chest pain, complaints of difficulty breathing, fever, and other rather generic symptoms. His chest CT showed the opacities in the lung. The doctors were sure he had pneumonia but he didn’t respond to most therapies. Furthermore, he’s a young guy, he shouldn’t have a recurrent pneumonia presentation like this. Enter our infectious disease doctor. He decides this guy needs a bronch. We are done guessing, he wants to get a bronchial sample so we can figure out what is going on. They began testing the sample for what type of pneumonia it was and it came back as PJP. He immediately asked for the patient to be tested for HIV. The resident nor I really understood why. Of course, I had to ask. His response? “When I see PJP I think HIV.” I asked him what he meant by that. That’s when he began to tell me about the fungal infection and its relation to immunosuppressed patients. In his words, “you just don’t really see it in people with a healthy immune system. Our guy wasn’t a transplant patient. He wasn’t on chemotherapy. So, what other reason would a man his age possibly be immunosuppressed?”  Turns out, he was HIV positive and did not know. His CD4 count was terribly low. I witnessed this man’s life change in the blink of an eye. He didn’t take the news well, but I couldn’t blame him. That was not the last time I saw him. He was in and out of our unit with pneumonia or thrush. He wasn’t really compliant with his meds. No one in his family knew what was going on with him. He wouldn’t allow visitors while he was in the hospital and would sit in his room all alone. It was heartbreaking. Then he stopped coming into the hospital. I held out hope that he had finally started taking his meds and got better. Deep down, I knew that wasn’t the case. Turns out he did come back into the hospital, just not to our unit. This time he was intubated in the ICU. He didn’t make it. He was just too sick and had been sick for far too long. Because of him, because of his case, I will forever remember an obscure pneumonia that I haven’t treated since.

So, I thought I would share a little bit of obscure information because… well… why not?

Are there any cases that stand out to you? Leave a comment and let me know.

“Do you have any allergies?”

How often do you ask your patients about their allergies? Better yet, do you clarify and ask about medication and any other allergies?

We get in the habit of trusting our doctors who order the meds and the pharmacy that verifies the meds. However, we may need to get into the habit of asking about food, medication, and “any other” allergies on admission.

When doing the admission database I used to always ask whether the patient was allergic to any medications. That’s all I figured I needed to know… until a patient was negatively affected.

Way back when I was a Med-Surg nurse there was a patient that needed a CT scan. No big deal, he tolerated the scan fine but his kidneys, however, did not. We started noticing his BUN and creatinine creeping up, his urine output decreasing, all for no apparent reason. He just didn’t look as good as he should. He said he has had a CT scan before and never had any trouble. He had no known allergies. He was not a renal patient. It didn’t make sense! One of our nurses happened to be in the room giving him a saline bolus to see if we could get his urine output to pick back up. He was questioned about his previous CT scans again and this time he mentions that one time they “put something in his IV “and it “made him sick and put him in the hospital” but “that was years ago.”

Oh really?

Well, guess who had a CT scan with IV contrast… Mind you, he said he had no allergies. Turns out because of his education level he only considered medications to be the pills he took at home so the IV contrast allergy didn’t register with him. I don’t think he even understood that his reaction was an actual allergy.  He didn’t really know what IV contrast was and since we only asked about meds, he didn’t see a reason to mention it.


Looks like we found our problem guys.

Needless to say, that changed how I asked about allergies. I try to keep my patient’s education level in mind when asking questions. I want to make sure they understand what I am asking them. It is my job to keep them safe. As the nurse, we are often the last safety check before something reaches the patient. We block all the foolishness from getting to our patients because we are awesome.


Nursing and mental health

Nursing and mental health go hand and hand. Nursing is hard. Nursing is hard not just physically but emotionally. We hold everything in because we are the ones that are supposed to help. We heal. We often forget that we can sometimes be the ones that need healing.

I was diagnosed with depression years ago, years before I became a nurse. I was placed on meds that I no longer take, I’ll explain why later on. Nursing school didn’t help, it just kept me so busy that I couldn’t take a moment to acknowledge the depression. Nursing, especially in a hospital that I hated, added anxiety attacks to the picture. I would wake up at night in a panic without being able to pinpoint why. That made me feel worse. I felt like an idiot for panicking over nothing, which made me hate myself even more. It was a downward spiral.

Before nursing school, when I first voiced suicidal ideation, my parents sent me to therapy. That is when I first received the diagnosis of depression (my mother died when I was 16, I watched her take her last breaths, I shut down big time). I was placed on trazodone and Zoloft. I hated it. I went from feeling depressed to feeling nothing at all. So I stopped taking both of them (don’t be like me) and instead stuck to therapy. It worked for me. She helped me come up with other ways to manage my mental illness. It worked for quite a while. Then enter nursing school and full-time nursing. I ended up back in therapy but due to my schedule I just couldn’t keep up with it. Hey, I’m a nurse, I can figure this out on my own. I’m tough. I’m a fixer. I’m a healer. I help everyone else so why can’t I help myself?

I am my own worst enemy.

I wear a smile for my patients and my coworkers. I am happy Fred the nurse. I’ve got a smile and a joke. My patients love me. My coworkers love me. Everyone believes I am ok. I look like I’m ok. I also spend most of my off days sleeping, I’m talking 12-13 hours. I don’t want to leave the house unless it’s to get food. I isolate myself from my friends, my brother is my roommate and he may not see me the whole day. I have dark thoughts that I know I should not be having. I wake up with my heart pounding feeling like some unknown thing is wrong and if I don’t fix it the world will implode. I am Fred the nurse and I have depression. I am Fred the nurse and I am not strong enough to battle this alone. I am Fred the nurse and I am strong enough to know that I need therapy again. I am Fred the nurse and I will get out of my own way. I am Fred the nurse and I will be ok.


So many diseases!

I had no idea there were so many diseases until I became a STICU/transplant nurse. Our unit takes care of surgical and trauma patients of all different types (except cardiac, we have dedicated units for that). While trauma is not easy, it can sometimes be a little more straightforward. Most of the time, if it’s bleeding make it stop. If it’s broken, fix it. Every trauma case is different of course but the path you take is typically easier to identify.

Surgical cases are a whole different story. I have come across so many different diagnoses that I have never even heard of. My first time hearing about Budd-Chiari syndrome was with a liver transplant patient we just treated. I have had to spend so much time looking up things on the internet trying to figure out why my patient has 70cm of small bowel left. I have learned about spinal disorders, blood disorders, neurologic disorders. I spend a lot of time asking our specialties to explain this diagnosis or that surgical procedure.

I love it!

Granted, I can’t tell you half of what the hell was explained to me. I can’t remember a majority of the diseases I have looked up. I have “nurse brain”. I know it for as long as I need to know it and then I purge it with alcohol to make way for the next round of sh*t I need to know. No shame. I plan on doing what I see some of our med students and residents do. I am going to get me a small notebook that I can leave in my locker at work and document the diseases that I come across. I haven’t decided if I am going to just list the name of the diseases or try and include a description with each so I can look back through the notebook and learn. It’ll probably be the latter.

Hopefully, I can start sharing some of these diagnoses and diseases with you all.


One thing that absolutely drives me nuts is having a new resident come to the trauma unit, that I have worked on for almost three years, and “resident-splain” something obvious to me!

What is resident-splaining? It’s when a resident condescendingly “explains” something to you that they assume you know nothing about because you’re just a nurse…

I’ve had a resident (not a very good one at that) start to “explain” calcium in the blood to me. Why? Well, we had given quite a lot of blood products and I asked about giving some calcium as the ABG showed the ionized calcium was low. This is common. Massive infusions almost always drop the serum calcium due to the citrate used in the unit of blood (if this is new to you, here is an article that explains it rather well). Like I said, I know this. Trauma nurses are typically very aware of this because, you know, we give a lot of blood. Trauma… Bleeding… But hey, I’m just a nurse.

Now, she’s not giving me the calcium I need. She starts explaining calcium in the blood and why I should go by the ionized calcium instead of the calcium level on his BMP. Remember, I told her the ionized calcium on the ABG was low… Ionized. Calcium. The level she is currently explaining to me. That level. That’s not enough, she’s not even looking at me while she is talking and it’s in a very condescending tone.


I finally stop her with this statement: “I’m well aware of the purpose of an ionized calcium which is why I told you what it was on the ABG that I just ran (can you hear the attitude in my voice?). I don’t need an explanation, I need calcium. Can you order that or did you need me to throw that order in real quick?” Her:

*blank stare* “Oh, yeah I can put that in for you…” *quickly and quietly begins ordering what I need*

I had no more issues with her for the duration of her rotation on our unit.

It’s irritating. So so irritating. I’m far too outspoken to have someone resident-splain things to me. Don’t try me buddy…

Know your meds

Nursing school will lead you to believe you need to know every medication, ever. You should have your pharmacology book memorized.

That’s a damn lie.

There are new medications being advertised every month. There’s no way you can possibly keep up. There absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, know the medications you are giving to your patient!

Before passing meds take a moment to look and see if you know what medication you are giving and why. If you don’t know a med, look it up. Medscape, Epocrates , even Google are only a few clicks away. Your pharmacy is only a phone call away.

Let’s say you notice that your patient is on midodrine and propranolol. You know the midodrine is to help your patient maintain their blood pressure since they tend to run lower. You’re not familiar with propranolol but you know that suffix. You remember that “olol” was rammed into your head as a beta blocker for hypertension. Wait, what? Why is your patient on meds to raise and lower their blood pressure?! Better hold that propanolol right? This is the perfect moment to stop and look up your meds. A few minutes of research and you learn that propanolol is also used for tremors. Nevermind, guess that med might need to be given.

This is why I keep Medscape on my phone. I take a few moments and look up a med I don’t know just to make sure I know what and why I’m giving something. It doesn’t take much time at all and I feel safer giving my meds. Also, if you have that family member in the room that questions everything, you look like a genius when you can answer each question they throw at you about what you’re giving. They don’t need to know that you just looked all of this up before walking into the room! A few moments of pause can make you much safer.

Helpful hint

So you’ve put in an naso/oro- gastric tube. Great! Did you verify placement? If so, how? Did you immediately get gastric contents back when you aspirated? Did you listen and confirm placement in the stomach? Did you use the CO2 detector that some institutions have?

I ask because I ran into a situation in which an OG tube was placed in the ER before my patient was sent to me. Helpful. Thanks. Except it wasn’t helpful at all. My new admission’s abdomen was quite distended despite the OG tube. I connected the tube to wall suction and got nothing out. I changed the canister and tubing just to make sure it wasn’t something wrong on that end. Nothing. I listened and couldn’t quite say with 100% certainty that I heard it in the stomach. Hmm… Not sure I want to use this…

And then he vomited. A lot. And kept vomiting while I held the yankauer in his mouth to keep him from aspirating.

Nope, that OG wasn’t in.

So, I took it out and decided to try my luck at placing an NG instead of an OG. As soon as the tube hit 60 cm in depth contents start pouring out. No need to auscultate that! Hooked it to suction and in about five minutes I got a full liter of contents out of him. Oh look, his abdomen isn’t as distended now…

I say all of that to say this: verify placement! However you choose to do so, make sure you KNOW that the NG or OG is in the stomach and not curled up in the back of the throat. Have someone verify it behind you if you aren’t sure. If all else fails, take it out. I would rather you send me a patient without a tube than send me a patient with a misplaced tube.

Go pee!

Hey… Hey you, busy nurse, go pee!

I know you have a blood sugar to grab. I know your other patient wants his 250th cup of ice. Yes, someone has labs due as well. Go pee. Seriously. It’s OK. All those things that you need to do will be there when to get back. I’m sure there is someone you can delegate some of your tasks to. You have to take a moment for yourself.

Go pee. Your bladder will thank you.