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A guide for civilians: How NOT to be a nightmare in the hospital

Shutterstock | Monkey Business Images
Shutterstock | Monkey Business Images

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. I’ve kept this short so I don’t go on for the next 10 years or 10 pages…

1. Have a distinct problem.

I don’t care if it’s vomiting, a fever, a headache, joint pain, malaria, a stroke or heart attack, or a missing limb: just make sure you’ve got something wrong with you. A hospital is not the place for respite care, no matter how much you need a break.

2. Don’t over- or under-state your pain.

I have my doubts when you say you’re okay and your hands are clenched on the bedrails. I also have my doubts when you rate your pain at an 11 and are eating pizza and texting.

3. Phenergan is not for fun.

Do not ask me for Phenergan when you’re eating a huge burger with all the trimmings. If you want to take a nap, do so without pharmaceutical intervention.

4. Do not threaten the nurse.

It will not make me do my job any better if you tell me you’ll pop a cap into my anatomy.

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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.
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62 Responses to A guide for civilians: How NOT to be a nightmare in the hospital

  1. Cindy dole

    Don’t call 911 for a ride to the hospital, because you couldn’t find a ride in, then when you get here call all your little friends and six friends show up to labor and delivery wanting to watch the birth, only to find out you are not in labor and are sent home!

    • kirtanjunkie

      Amen. If you ride up in the ambulance on the stretcher to labor and delivery while texting you are not in labor.

  2. mbcaseyrn

    Don’t ring the call light, have me come in an have me wait while you “chat” on the phone

    • at cw 15

      Yes, don’t be on the cell ph. If you need the nurse. I will quickly find more important things to take care of.

  3. krankynurse

    Regarding the sneaking in of food…do not eat off your Renal diet and guzzle sodas right before your dialysis and tell me ” It’s going to be taken off in dialysis anyway”!! Really?

  4. izufra

    Do not make me teach your large family about 27 meds you are taking or going to be taking one member at the time. Get the heck all of them together or listen to me and redo the teaching yourself.

  5. campbell812

    Quit using the ER as your Dr.’s office. That’s what your Dr.’s and Urgent Care are for !! You are taking time and resources away from others who are very sick and really need it !!

    • achilles7ls

      Unfortunately, as I have recently found out first hand, we spend are nights in the ER telling patients this in not an ER fix, you need to see your PCP. However, I was in the office with my wife recently. She had the RnY Gastric bypass 10 years ago. Now, she is having many gastrointestinal issues. When she asked about pain control ( at the time she took 1 Vicodin BID – well below standard dosing), she was told “oh, just go to the ER if you have any pain your regular meds don’t handle.

      Well, I went ballistic. Crawled him right there in the office. Not to mention, because we had no choice but to follow that rotten advice, she is now on the NC Rx list. The fun part is, we couldn’t change PCP because of insurance. However, after moving to Colorado….she had been treated, surgery, and a feeding tube. In North Carolina she was treated as a drug seeker. Here she was treated as a patient.

      Don’t count on the State RX lists, your patients (including drug seekers) are real people with real issues, and sometimes a idiot physician really can ruin a patients life and put them in the position to do things they normally would not.

      • klk77

        I completely AGREE and this is coming from a nurse.

  6. dtyson59

    Please use our porcelain facilities….rather than a corner or the trash can.You would be surprised at how easy it can be.

  7. deadeyenurse

    no smoking does not only apply to cigarettes, but all substances

    You are not allergic to all medications except for Demerol

    No, Viagra is not a prescription we give in Emergency Rooms

    You can’t be ‘bomiking’ that much if you are eating the Colonels finest

  8. Seasonwalker

    If we havent operated on your arms do not press the call button for me to pour you a glass of water. i have more important things to be doing.

  9. GuardianRN

    Please don’t keep coming up to the triage desk, screaming that you’re having chest pain and shortness of breath. Your EKG was blissfully normal (again) and you’re satting 100%. Everyone in the waiting room has witnessed you go outside to smoke half a dozen cigarettes in the past 38 minutes. And screaming so loudly at the triage desk that the Security Officer in the main lobby comes running down the hallway, fearing the worst, only proves 2 things: You have a completely patent airway and you just got moved to the bottom of the triage board!

    • hotrod41

      Do you have a psych unit in your hospital? Sounds like a psych consult is in order.

  10. Karen Simpson

    If you are visiting please do not ask me for cokes, sandwiches etc. The limited supply we have are for our patients.

  11. possum

    If the shared bathroom is occupied when you need to go , ou do not have permission to pee in the potplant !

  12. crzycatldy

    Please don’t tell me how to do my job! You don’t need to “remind” me to move the bedside table back or instruct me on the many procedures that “Nurse Nancy” did differently. Finally, remember that the H on the hospital sign doesn’t stand for Hilton!

    • RNnotwaitress

      Love it, used that last shift … Patient did have GSOH! … I did not get them coffee, white with 3 sugars!! But thank you Sir for thinking I am a ‘Jack of all trades’… Now shall we go to X-ray!

  13. Elysia Nener

    Don’t buzz me to change the channel on the TV or to pour your a glass of water when your arms are working perfectly fine!

  14. Sarah Staggs

    Please clean your belly button, before coming to have elective surgery. Especially if the surgery is going to happen on your abdomen.

    • ShariDCST

      The belly button thing is a great idea ~ a soapy washcloth over your finger is about all that’s required to accomplish that. And yes, a clean navel is required as part of every surgical skin preparation just before any surgery on your abdomen, even if your surgery doesn’t actually involve it.
      But even better, IMHO, is how about taking a REAL bath/shower before coming in for elective surgery? We understand about emergencies ~ you’re not going to wait while you are in agony from a burst appendix, a ruptured gall bladder, chest pain, or stroke symptoms to take a bath, do your hair and shave or fix your makeup, depending on gender. But for goodness sakes, if you KNOW you have elective (you schedule it and probably won’t die without it right away) surgery, wash yourself before coming in to be totally naked and asleep in a room full of strangers!
      Also, your ability to freely and conveniently bathe yourself after your surgery is likely to be hampered by the presence of incisions, stitches, dressings/bandages, and your surgeon’s instructions, so starting out clean is a definite benefit to you and those who will be helping care for you after you go back home.
      Just because you are only having your hand or foot operated on doesn’t mean you can wear street clothes into the operating room, and your gown will likely be removed once you are asleep. All sorts of monitors are going to be attached to you, and gowns get in the way of those, and also when the area of your surgery is being prepped with soapy solutions before the surgery starts we don’t want you to end up in a wet gown. That does NOT mean we are going to bathe you either.
      And ladies? If your “lady parts” are at all involved, or might possibly be exposed when maneuvering a leg, a little extra attention there is greatly appreciated by the nurse who is going to be prepping you and the surgical staff who will be putting the sterile drapes all around your surgery area! Thank you very much!

      • LiLiana60

        Oh yes! But we, as surgical personnel, need to bear in mind that in some cultures..they do not clean their belly buttons for cultural, religious or spiritual reasons. They don’t mind that WE do it, but THEY can not due to their beliefs.

      • ayisb

        And please, brush your teeth and gurgle some mouthwash. NPO after midnight does not mean stinky breath, it means brush your teeth, shower, and do not eat or drink after 12am. And stop complaining that you haven’t eaten since 1159pm, your nurse has not eaten, drank anything, not has she gone to the bathroom since she clocked in and she’s not even having a surgery.

  15. Bethmerle

    Do not go to the ER just for a pregnancy test because you think it is free with your insurance. Pregnancy tests costs as little as $.99 at the store or you could just go to the doctor.

  16. danswife

    A note to nurses: When a patient is in ICU because they’re laboring to breathe, do NOT tell them, “If you’re talking, you’re breathing.” My husband had this happen to him last month. The nurse kept telling him he was fine. She told him to quit relying on me, his wife, for everything. He already felt like a burden to me. She made him feel bad for wanting me there. I was able to calm him when he couldn’t breathe. He was my soul mate. My wonderful husband was dying from COPD. He treated me like a queen for our entire marriage. He died five days after that. Maybe you can guess how I feel about that ICU nurse. She’s been on the job for 30 years. Maybe it’s time for her to retire.

    • danswife

      P.S. Scott, his nurse the day he died, was a wonderful, compassionate nurse. So was the nurse the night before he died. So were all the hospice people. Lots of good people, but a few bad ones that made my husband’s last days, except the very last one, a nightmare.

      • Linell

        Danswife, On behalf of the majority of nurses let me offer my utmost and sincere apology for the nurse who was suffering with compassion fatique (AKA burnout). You were right, that nurse needs to be doing something else for awhile in order to find the reason they became a nurse in the first place. I’m glad Dan and your family were able to experience nurses who do care. And please accept my sympathies on the loss of your husband.

      • jerbear6

        I concur with Linell. I hope all those who read this remember why we became nurses. Compassion is what we are supposed to be giving. I too apologize . I hope you never run into this again. You can send a comment to the hospital regarding this nurse.

    • Una Guerra

      Hello Dans wife… I’m currently writing a book about the end of life experiences of both the patient and family, the memories they are left with during the dying process. Id love to her from you .nurse@yahoo.con or fyrhoneybsn@yahoo.com……I’m so very for your terrible loss..

    • karzoo123

      I am so sorry to dans wife for that experience. Please know that most nurses aren’t like this. You are in my prayers.

  17. janie

    Please if you can do something for yourself do it we are not here to pass your things from 2yards away a lot for patients lose this ability as soon as they are in the door

    • carolslee1949

      I’ve been trying to figure out why women who have had normal vaginal deliveries lose the use of their hands after they do pericare and can’t manage to discard used peripads in the trash can or container provided, instead throwing them on the bathroom floor!

  18. Mercy RN

    For family and friends, don’t lie on the other bed or cot, it has to be stripped and cleaned everytime. Don’t ask for snacks, food, blood pressure checks or free medical advice. Don’t tell me what you read on the computer about what is wrong with your family member. Don’t bring babies to the hospital and let them play on the floor.

  19. JulianV

    Please do not tell me that “you pay for my salary”.. I get paid by the hospital whether or not you become a patient. I don’t want you here as much as as you don’t want to be here.. And it is certainly not my fault you’re here, I didn’t cause your illness but I’m here to take care of you. A measure of a good nurse is one less patient in the hospital. Stay healthy and be well!

    • JulianV

      Also, don’t tell me because you have insurance that pays for me to do my job.. Trust me, where I work as a nurse, for every one that is insured, there’s five others that aren’t and as a nurse they take out so much from my tax dollars to pay for those who don’t have insurance.

    • amezola03 LPN

      I work in a nursing home. I had a patient yell at me because I didnt check her blood sugar right at the moment she was ready. She then threw at me that she ‘pays my salary’. Nevermind her stay is being paid by Medicare and Medicaid.

  20. whereifellfromgrace

    1. Don’t ring your call light 16 times in the row for 16 different things, please consider the fact that you’ve just taken over an hour of time to yourself and there is no universe where YOU will be a nurse’s ONLY patient. Consider things you might need ahead of time and ask for all 16 of them at once. 2. Listen to what I’m saying to you. You came in for professional medical assistance. If you are convinced that I’m wrong about everything and you’re right, then stay home. 3. There is no hospital/rehab/medical facility in US that has an abundance of staff. They only have the staff that is required by the state/union. If you have an issue with the fact that your nurse has ten other patients to take care of and you feel neglected, please understand that she is NOT the problem. The entire system is the problem. She would definitely prefer to have five less patients and more time to deal with each. Treating her like crap only means you’re getting moved down to the bottom of the list. 4. Don’t lie to me about your habits. I don’t care if you smoke 2 packs of cigarettes and consume a bottle of whiskey every day. I’m too busy and too overworked to judge you. But I need to know these things in order to treat you. If you’re not gonna tell me the truth then stay home. 5. Take responsibility for yourself. If the breathing treatment didn’t work, maybe you shouldn’t have gone outside and had 3 cigarettes right after. If your brand new knee is already giving you pains, maybe you should have lost the 50 pounds the doctor asked you to lose when he scheduled you for surgery. We can only do so much. If you’re not willing to help yourself, then you’re wasting our time. Finally, nurses are not salesmen. They’re not serving staff at a restaurant. You’re not staying at a hotel. Your stay is probably gonna suck and you’re gonna have a crappy time and you might be too cold or too hot or you might throw up the food, and these things happen because you’re SICK. Your satisfaction rate, when you’re SICK, is probably gonna be pretty crappy. Stop expecting a five star experience. I’m not in business of making you happy, I am in business of making you physically well. I apologize for this rant to all decent patients I’ve had over the years. But it needed to be said.

  21. buknoy1

    in the ER…..don’t think your Demerol “need” comes before a young chest stab wound patient!!

  22. 1busyRN

    Do not call 911 from your hospital room to complain that I won’t give you ice cream when you blood glucose is 550.

  23. Eve Cooper

    Your CNA/RN are very busy with many patients around the clock. Please do not scream for the RN/CNA if they do not enter your room within 5 seconds of your call light being put on. When they do come in please tell them everything you need at once instead of putting the light back on again – and please make sure it is for something you can not do on your own. Not finding the light switch on your call bell or wanting help dialing a number because you don’t want to dial yourself when you care capable is not a good reason to pull the RN/CNA away from his/her patient whom needs them. We will get to you asap -it may not be within 5 seconds but it will be as fast as someone can get there.

  24. Carol Brittsan

    1. Don’t expect to be transported to radiology, etc for your tests when you are good and ready to go after you’ve have a full sleep and finished your breakfast. You will be transported when the receiving department is ready for you. And it could be as early as 6 am.
    2. Don’t expect to be given all your dressing change supplies to be given to you, enough to last until your first post-op doctor’s visit. Ask us, and we’ll refer you to a drug store.
    3. Bring your hearing aids with you, or send someone home to go get them. Your loud TV is disturbing the patients several doors down the hall.
    4. If your IV pump is beeping, ring the call bell. No one can hear the pump beeping at the nurses’ station. So don’t be mad because the nurses didn’t come any sooner to stop the beeping.
    5. Don’t holler for the health care workers in white lab coats in the hall and then get mad when they don’t stop and help you move your tray table or find your cell phone. Chances are they are not the ones taking care of you. Use the call bell.
    6. Men, not flirt with us or hit on us females. It makes us mad, and it makes you look pitiful. Then we’ll send you only male nurses to your room.
    7. If something is missing, do not first assume an employee stole from you. We will help you look for the missing item. We will also call home to see it you left the item there in the first place.
    8. If you are not healing well, consider your family is enabling you by bringing you six Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups you are eating every day.
    9. When we are in the middle of cleaning your wound and changing the dressing, you can point to your wound, but don’t touch it with your bare hand.
    10. Do not ask for the exact date you will be completely healed. We’re good at our jobs, but we’re not that good!

    • LiLiana60

      “4. If your IV pump is beeping, ring the call bell. No one can hear the pump beeping at the nurses’ station. So don’t be mad because the nurses didn’t come any sooner to stop the beeping.”

      As a recent patient who had a nasty experience…if a patient has been a good patient otherwise, please don’t get “huffy” with us for calling out to tell you the darned thing is beeping..yet again. 😉

  25. Lisa Banning

    You are not the only patient…please be calm a stay patient with us… we are most of the time doing our best to help everyone

  26. kindpatient

    So that is why the nurses tell me they like to have me for a patient. I don’t do some of the crazy things mentioned here.

    I learned that a totally abnormal stress test does not always mean a blocked artery. Last year a heart dr told me to go home and take it easy (no volunteer work) until I could have a heart cath. Had one of my spells day before I was to have the procedure, got excited and called 911 for myself.

    If the heart dr had not told me I had a totally abnormal stress test I would probably have just waited my “spell” out as I had done many times before.

    • qaqueen RN

      Kindpatient, would you have preferred that your Dr. did not tell you that your stress test was abnormal?

  27. qaqueen RN

    No punching, no slapping, no biting, no scratching, no spitting.

  28. qaqueen RN

    Please cover your cough or sneeze, especially when I am close enough to use a stethoscope!

  29. jenrwalker

    How bout don’t push the call light, which is right with the bed controls, to tell me you need your head/feet lowered/ raised. If u can push the call light, you can adjust your bed.

  30. at cw 15

    We have to add to the list : Your significant other does not need to lie in bed with you. Save it for later, at home where it belongs. Nurses job is hard enough.

  31. at cw 15

    Don’t ” test” the nursing staff. A family member did this to me at the end of a very long thirteen hour shift. Just to see if I would respond the way she wanted me to. And it was not an emergency. I cannot tell you how frustrating that is/was.

  32. linnylin

    As a nurse for many years, then becoming what seems like a serial patient, I have a much different perspective then most. Like many others posted, patients will you please think about everything you need before getting our attention-it saves us time which means we can spend more time in your room listening to your concerns instead of going back and forth to the supply room or Pyxis machine for meds. Your IV is running for a reason-if it is beeping we need to know. That, and if you decided to get an elective knee replacement, realize that it is going to hurt and we will try to minimize the pain but your life is just going to suck for a few days. Don’t refuse PT without an exceptional reason-moving will prevent a lot of complications from arising. Make sure you know what meds the nurse is giving you and why-mistakes can be avoided this way. Remember nurses are people too-we forget things or make mistakes, have bad days, or are sometimes in a lot of pain as well. I don’t mind doing for you everything you cannot do for yourself, but I will not even offer assistance in tasks I know you are capable of.
    Now for nurses-the things I realized from becoming a very sick patient, in and out of hospital over course of 2 years: most likely your patient can hear you if their room is outside the nursing station. Also, to the patient pain IS an emergency. I realize how many patients overrate their pain level, but if they say it is a 10 then give them their pain meds as soon as is possible as long as they are not overmedicated. Nothing is worse than hearing your nurse chatting it up and laughing in the hall for 10 minutes before coming to help you out when you are in so much pain you have lost your vision and one second feels like a thousand. And please realize the patient is a human being with feelings who often isn’t told what is going on, has no idea when the doctor will next see them or how their new illness will affect the rest of their lives. They are often embarrassed by things we ask them to do or show us and simply want respect. They hesitate to use their call bells because they DO understand how busy we are and hope to simply catch us on the next rounding because they do not want to be a bother. And biggest pet peeve EVER, which I used to be guilty of at times as well, if your patient wants to talk with you but its not an emergency, and you say you will be in later, make sure to stop by. It could be a simple med question or whatever, but by not returning it just makes the patient feel more isolated and uncared for.

  33. breehat

    Do not rush the nurse for whatever personal reason you have. “I will not rush the procedure if you tell me you have a big appointment later or an errand to go. If you want a safe and the best treatment and your case is not life-threatening, speed is not an option.”

  34. Luv2BMeRN

    1. Just answer the questions I ask you. Please don’t go into long detail about your life unless it directly pertains to your care. I have an ambulance coming into a room that needs to be assessed, a patient that needs close monitoring and a confused elder that keeps trying to leave. As much as I would like hear about your life and “chat” it’s not a priority.
    2. If you are coming to ER, please have an actual emergency.
    It never fails…
    Me: Did you call your PCP about your concerns or try to get an appointment? Patient: No. I just came to the ER. Do you know how much longer I’ll have to wait for my toe pain? It hurts! {{playing Candy Crush on phone}}
    3. Please don’t expect me to feed your family member or change their brief just because you want a break. I have other patients that need my attention and if you can help, by all means please do! It will make your time in ER less as I will have more time to work on getting you home.
    4. Please understand, you are not my only patient. I know it’s frustrating. I wish I had a lower ratio too!
    5. Please for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t interrupt a code blue asking for your discharge papers!!! Be happy that you aren’t the one coding! Understand that if it was your family, you would want them to have our full attention.
    6. Don’t express concerns about you going home to the nurse (me) and then when I bring the doctor in to talk with you, have sudden amnesia. It makes me and you both look silly. Doctors are people, just like us. If you have a concern about your care, tell them!
    7. Please know, I love all my patients and want the best for you. Please don’t always take my attitude personally. I may have just lost a patient and can’t find the strength to muster a smile while trying to hold back tears.

  35. NurseW

    *Please don’t threaten me with your rank (military facility) or to go to my boss.
    *You are welcome to speak to my boss, but don’t lie to her that your PRN medication was due hours ago when in fact it is due in the next 20 minutes!
    *Pain is not an emergency. I am going to get you your medication when I can, but if one of my other patients is sating in the low 80’s I will get to you when I can.
    *If you have a roommate, please tell your family to visit with you during normal hours to prevent disturbing your neighbor.
    *I don’t care if you family member is a nurse, stop hovering so I can have space to put your IV in!!!

  36. dondi2735

    You came to the ER requesting “help” so please let me and the Dr and all the other staff do our job, which is to give you the help you have requested.

    1. When we come to talk to you, please stop talking on your cell phone. I don’t expect you to hang up but at least ask them to hold on a minute. We do NOT have time to stand there and wait for you to finish your conversation.
    2. Please do not come to the ER if you are going to refuse the x-ray, the EKG, the blood work, the IV or anything else. Why did you come if you are going to refuse the tests that we need to help make a determination?
    3. And THIS is my BIGGEST PET PEEVE. PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME WHERE TO PUT YOUR IV. Feel free to tell me where most people have the best luck drawing blood or getting an IV on you. I appreciate that information and ask ALL of my patients for that information prior to sticking. I’m talking about the people who say “no, you can’t put it in my elbow (AC) because then I can’t bend my arm, you can’t put it in my hand because it hurts when you do that. Or, my favorite, ‘I want it right here.” I’m sorry but this is an ER and I am almost always in a hurry, I will try to accommodate your request if it feasible but if it isn’t, I will find the best vein that I can, that I can get into and that will give me the blood return I require. I’m sorry if I can not put it exactly where you want it. Perhaps you can do it?

  37. jjt

    Most nurses I’ve had have been fantastic to me! I take my hat off to them. I’m type 1 diabetic, and if I have major highs with my sugars, I can usually take care of them myself, unless there’s vomiting. But I hate hospitals and I’ll only go if it’s really, really necessary!

  38. Sadyra

    Please don’t treat the CNA as your personal servant. Hitting the call light 25 times in a shift to fluff your pillow or move your tv to the right while you chat on the phone is great and all but your CNA has several patients and tries to be there for all.

  39. Molly Stokes RN

    Please don’t ask me if this is “fresh squeezed orange juice.”

  40. mandyrnstudent

    When i come into your room and ask you want you want do not proceed to ask your family members what they need. I am getting paid to take care of you not them. This is not a restaurant and i am not a waitress. Do not throw your tooth brush in your kidney basin where you spit that is disgusting. cover your mouth when you cough! When i come into your room and we havent met yet dont bark orders at me and interupt me while me while im trying to introduce myself….For the love of God when i tell you i have to leave do not proceed to tell me your life story….If you can use your hands for to hold a cell phone you can hold your own urinal….

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