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The 5 nursing nightmares I have when I sleep

iStock | ValentinaPhotos
iStock | ValentinaPhotos

What do nurses dream about when they get the chance to sleep?

As a nurse who regularly works a three- or four-day run, I tend to dream about the minutiae of work. And those dreams, well, they’re unremarkable.

But sometimes — just sometimes — I wake up in a cold sweat. And it’s usually thanks to one of these five Nursing Nightmares:

1. Schrödinger’s Patient: There’s a patient you haven’t seen all shift. When you open the door to their room, they’ll either be alive and happy (“Whassup?”) or dead.

2. Patients on Various Floors: How many times have you dreamed an assignment that involves not only different hallways, but different floors? And the elevators are always out of order, too.

3. Trying to Get to Work: A variation of the Misty Luggage dream, this one involves insane obstacles between you and the time clock, including, but not limited to, seas of banana pudding through which you have to wade, winding highways and cars that suddenly turn into laundry baskets.

4. Schrödinger’s Doctor: In this dream, you need an order. You get one, but it changes every time you look at it. And for some reason, all the orders are written in impossible handwriting, using a faulty fountain pen, on antique clipboards that disappear just as you’re about to lay hands on them.

5. Not All Bleeding Stops Eventually: This is the nightmare that’s guaranteed to wake you up in a cold sweat. It doesn’t matter what crisis it is; whatever it is won’t stop. The code goes on and on, your patient keeps having explosive diarrhea or the cafeteria keeps running out of egg noodles. Your brain wakes you up from this one, panting and panicky, 10 minutes before your alarm is set to go off.

It’s a wonder that we, as a profession, ever sleep at all.

What dreams do you dream? What dreams do you wish you could dream?

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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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11 Responses to The 5 nursing nightmares I have when I sleep

  1. Karen Meade

    I dream that I can’t get meds out of the Pyxis, either because my password has changed and I don’t know what it is, or I’ve floated to a different unit. Also the worst one is that I wasn’t aware I had more patients than I thought and I didn’t do anything for them all shift.
    And of course- alarms from vents and tele monitors still ringing in my ears when I lay down to sleep!

  2. geri

    When I was first out of school, every morning (I worked 11-7 on Med-Surg) I dreamed I made the same rounds as I did the previous night. I assessed every patient, took vitals, administered meds, and did the same procedures I did the night before. It was like I did double shifts for months. I would wake up as tired as I was when I went to sleep!!!

  3. hotrod41

    For several years after I retired, I had a repeating dream that I could not get the narcotic count correct. Every time I counted it, the count would be different. It felt like a nightmare. It finally stopped! lol

  4. Kandi N Gene Garner

    My recurring nightmare is forgetting to feed my preemie. I’m giving report on my babies when I come to one I didn’t think was assigned to me until the incoming nurse asks for report. I am shocked. The name had been added to my assignment and I never checked and no one told me the infant was added to me. This wakes me up crying.

  5. pageturnr

    Not a dream or a nightmare. I was actually placed in charge of 2 units that were on different floors! This was many years ago, but it was truly terrifying.

  6. I am retired but I still have nurse dreams. My most common one is: It’s 1200 and I suddenly realize that I haven’t given my 0900 meds. Haven’t worked in a hospital in 15 years and still have that one. Once I get the meds, I can’t find the patient’s room. It was there but now it’s not.

  7. dmhskm

    My recurring dream is that I am working in the ICU and wake up at the nurses station at 1800 (11 hours into my shift) having done nothing for the patients all day. It’s almost time for the night shift. I try to get up to do something, and I am so lethargic I can do nothing. I have had variations of this dream for years.

  8. newnurse1093

    my worst one was after a bad CPR.. Young patient, screaming relatives.. and my phone just kept ringing.. and i dreamt this later that night and just kept hearing my phone while we were giving adrenaline and barking orders at each other.. my mum swears she saw me jump out of bed, run out my bedroom, close the door behind me and tell “the caller”, “I can’t talk right now, I’m in the middle of a CPR!!” Then walk back into bed and fall asleep..

  9. Mimima

    I worked as a hemodialysis nurse for many years and my nightmare is I hook a patient up and forget about them and go home!! It comes back to be even though it’s been 12 yrs since I worked in dialysis. Or did I REALLY leave someone on the machine? Yikes!

  10. RN4350

    I dreamed administration installed bunkbeds in all the rooms to improve work flow. So we had double the patients. It was so realistic, I was completely freaked out when I woke up!

  11. MAlex RN

    I’m a night shift nurse, and I have awoken many times wondering if I charted on myself while sleeping.

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