12 situations that make me panic on the job

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

When is it appropriate to panic? I get that question from patients a lot: “Do you ever just panic?”


And I can tell you when and how I panic: In the following situations, in a calm and professional manner. Check it out and add your own!

1. When you can’t get somebody to start breathing or stop bleeding (call for help!).

2. When a patient has an explosive, err, Code Brown and is projectile vomiting simultaneously.

3. When YOU have an explosive, err, Code Brown and are projectile vomiting simultaneously.

4. Audible bleeding.

5. When, no matter the drugs you’ve given, you cannot get the patient’s blood pressure to do what it ought to do.

6. When you see brain exposed to open air.

7. More than a foot of intestine exposed through a wound.

8. Any patient who’s found on the floor (that always should be a group project!).

9. Precipitous labor in a patient not previously known to be pregnant (yes, I have seen this).

10. If you can’t get the vent to stop alarming.

11. If the air conditioner goes out.

12. And finally, and most importantly, if there is no coffee.


Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at askauntieaggie@gmail.com.

Post a Comment

You must or register to post a comment.

12 Responses to 12 situations that make me panic on the job

  1. Abby Student

    Blood, guts, vomit, mucus, stool. I can take those. But when a patient is s/p I&D, I can’t handle. I guess the former are part of life, but ulcers and the like are just NOT NORMAL. Ever

  2. Danielle Obssuth

    Mine has to be rapid de-sat despite the fact that you have O² running on 2 L/min, albuterol neb, and ventilator working properly all at the same time. That, and trach/trach Tue changes in patients that have an EXTREMELY sensitive couch, and, or gag reflex. My hands start shaking like crazy!

  3. nurseshirley Fan

    Really the ONLY thing that freaks me out is if a pt with a respiratory infection & a trach coughs a lugie through the trach & it hits me…..uuuugggghhh!!!! Got shivers just remembering, uuuuggghhhh!!!

    • ms-ellie

      I agree — NASTY! I had one let a mucus plug loose and hit me all the way at the foot of the bed. Haven’t stood down there for any length of time since!

  4. Jamie Randall

    I panicked when i saw a psych patient bite her top lip off and spit it across the room.

  5. Another panic time: A new nurse was getting a diabetic patient out of the shower. He coughed then sneezed then his sternal chest incision CAME OPEN. She screamed and I came running. I SAW HIS ENTIRE HEART PUMPING. For about a half a second I thought “OOOO that’s cool” then my brain flashed “No!!! Get the saline and the sterile 4X4′!!!!!s.

    • Clarissa

      Seen that same thing but it was while visiting my father in the cardiac step down unit. Perfect example of why nurses should not take care of loved ones.

  6. jakeandme

    Body parts covered in maggots.

  7. ms-ellie

    After 25 years in critical care, I don’t panic much. I do, however, become HIGHLY anxious when a patient with arch bars and freshly-wired jaws begins to copiously vomit (and they all do because of swallowed blood). I guess it’s more because the patient panics, and that look of panic in someone’s eyes is so unsettling.

  8. jalynnro13

    Ok…#12 is my favorite…no coffee…no workee…just saying’…

    Seriously just had my first personal SVT hypertensive moment a couple weeks ago…adult-sized-pediatric was given too much sedation by MD…had to do chin lift/jaw thrust maneuvers to open airway due to snoring…sats not coming up even with that…I went ahead and placed a nasal airway (definitely within my ACLS/PALS ER scope of practice)…and the kid started choking and went into a laryngospasm! Scared the **** out of me!! Had to BVM to get him to over come it. Doc said it was a rare reaction to the sedative. I praise the Lord above for getting me and the patient through that! I wish that experience on NO one!!

  9. sesposito

    Projectile ostomy + white scrubs