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Know your nurse: Rhyll Biest interviews a veteran of the profession

My secret nurse source (let's call her Special K) dished the dirt on her experience of nursing (after 23 years on the job!) I learned a lot and will be giving away my pressure cooker...

Rhyll: What’s the most unusual thing that's happened to you on the job?

Special K: One of our aides was sexually assaulted by a doctor while she was stocking scrubs after hours in the men's locker room. I made a fuss about it. Fortunately we were working at a Veteran Administration (VA) hospital and we had a union. The doctor was fired. That would not happen in a community hospital, where doctors generate the income. There the victim would have been fired. In the VA system, doctors are employees and subject to the same rules as everyone else

Rhyll: Tell us a bit of saucy nurse jargon

Special K:

  • IV Propofol (the anesthetic agent that Michael Jackson used as a sleep aid) is white, so we call it 'milk of amnesia'.
  • Code Brown means a massive amount of poop from a patient.
  • PITA = pain in the ass.
  • Circling the drain = actively dying.
  • Slow code = taking your time to call or respond to a code blue, usually when a patient has had TMB (too many birthdays) to expect a good outcome.
  • Banana bag = IV with so many vitamins added that it is yellow.
  • Pecker checker = urologist.

Rhyll: What is something that most people don’t know about nurses?

Special K: We fantasize about having enough time to go to the bathroom when we need to, or eating lunch when we are hungry. Instead we have giant bladders and carry snack bars in our pockets.

The nursing life does not revolve around the patients, who come and go. It's all about our co-workers and who can be depended on, who is unreliable, who is good to work with and who isn't.

We hate most doctors. They're generally arrogant assholes with some few exceptions. If a doctor wants to romance a nurse, all he has to do is treat her like a real person. A smile and nod and simple acknowledgement that she is a human being goes a long way. Respectful listening is highly seductive. 'OMG! He knew my name!' Once a doctor wanted to complain about something I said. He went to my supervisor, but couldn't remember my name. We had worked together for six years.

Know that when we’re checking out a hot guy, bodybuilder, etc., we are actually looking at those lovely prominent veins in his arms. Muscles? What muscles? Did you see those great veins?

Rhyll: What sort of weird things do patients tell nurses?

Special K: They tell nurses *everything* because they trust us. The night nurses usually get the most insight into the patients' lives, because the day shift is too busy to stop and listen.

We had a patient who kept returning for surgery because he derived sexual stimulation from putting golf pencils (those little stubby ones) into his urethra. I wish someone would have told him about sounding tools. It would have saved everyone lots of time.

Rhyll: What’s the best nurse joke you know?

Special K: Be nice to your nurse: she's the one who makes sure the doctor doesn't accidentally kill you.

Rhyll: Who is the most unusual person you’ve met on the job?

Special K: One of my favorite patients was a multiple personality. We had lots of interesting conversations.

Rhyll: How would you describe working in med-surg, cardiac, float, pool, burn unit, rehab, ICU and surgery recovery room?

Special K: 

  • Med-surg is the place most nurses work when they first graduate because of the variety of patients they will encounter. Med-surg units (aka 'the salt mines') have the lowest status nurses, but those nurses know everything and can handle up to eight patients at a time.
  • Cardiac unit has patients that are suspected of having a heart attack, recovering from cardiac diagnostic procedures, or recovering from heart attacks. They get boring after a while because the patient is either having a heart attack or not, and there are protocols for either situation.
  • Float pool is for nurses who like variety. You don't know where you will be working until you arrive for your shift and check to find out where you will 'float' that day.
  • Burn unit is where you take care of the crispy critters who have burned themselves. I loved working the burn unit. There are no boring burns. Every one has a story behind it. It's one of the reasons I don't own a pressure cooker.
  • ICU means intensive care unit. The sickest patients. Nurses have only one or two patients because they require such close monitoring. ICU nurses get a lot of respect from doctors, some of it is earned. Doctor/nurse romances usually bloom in ICU settings because they work so closely together.
  • Recovery room is where the patients are taken directly after surgery. The nurses there help them to wake up completely, make sure they are breathing property, monitor them for complications from surgery and watch them until they are stable enough to move to a hospital room. These nurses need to have great assessment skills because the patients are teetering on the edge of being unstable and can go either way.
  • These are only a handful of the specialty settings that nurses work in. Some people think a nurse is a nurse is a nurse, but we gravitate toward the specialties that appeal to us. I could never work a pediatric unit because sick kids break my heart. Every unit requires a world of special knowledge unique to that unit. Nurses are not interchangeable, much as administrators would like to think they are.

Rhyll: Which celebrity would you like to see cast as a nurse in a movie?

Special K: Paula Poundstone or Rosie O'Donnell. French & Saunders would be perfect. Sick humor is how we cope with the stress.

Rhyll: What does it take to be a good nurse?

Special K: Most important is good judgement. Knowing when to ask for help, being willing to admit you don't know something is essential. Being a team player and giving and accepting help when needed.

Rhyll:  Does being a nurse come with any perks?

Special K: 

  • Autonomy. We are trusted to do our best with very little supervision. I hate working in a situation where someone is breathing down my neck all the time.
  • The pay is good. My best year I made $96,000. I sooo wanted to have a six-figure year, took on all kinds of overtime and on-call time, but never quite made it.
  • Variety of work situations and choices, everything from labor and delivery to hospice care and all points in-between.
  • Job security. The world will always need nurses.
  • Lots of laughs, lots of tears. We see people at their most vulnerable and are able to help them, even if it's only for the duration of our shift. They are better off because we are there.
  • We work in the most trusted and respected profession. Nurses are rated highest in honesty and ethics, and we deserve that rating.

I think they deserve that rating too. Want more insight into nursing? Try the site only a

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