5 symptoms that say your nurse body has had enough


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After ten years of nursing, everything in my body hurts most of the time. I still get sick, though not as often as I did right at the beginning, and sometimes stress takes a toll on my tummy. There are some things, like occasional indigestion, that you can work through. There are other things you should never, ever ignore—you could wind up in the hospital as a patient yourself! Here are the top five pains, aches and bodily whines you need to deal with right away, no matter how busy your day/week/month may be. Your coworkers, family and, um, YOU will thank you!

1. Persistent stomach pain can be a sign that your job sucks, or it can be something more serious. If you have constant indigestion, alternating constipation or diarrhea, a feeling of fullness all the time, or pain in one spot or another that never goes away, off to the doctor you must go. It’s worth the time and trouble to determine what’s going on so you can eat and sleep again.

2. Back pain is normal for nurses, sadly, but back or neck pain combined with weakness in an extremity or tingly, burning nerve pain is a sign that you’ve messed something up. Don’t work until you’ve figured it out. I speak from experience on this point, as I once had one arm just sort of stop working after I’d lifted too much weight too often. It was scary and painful, but ultimately fixable. Don’t play with your spine; it’s kind of important.

3. Take care of your feet and hands. Bone spurs, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, or plain old achiness and stiffness compromise your ability to work. Open wounds, torn cuticles or cracks in the skin of your hands can be avenues for infection. Keep fingernails and toenails short and filed. Bandage anything that might get dirt or worse in it. Remember to wear gloves, and wash your hands in lukewarm rather than hot water. Hospital soap is hard on some people, so see if maybe you can use your own. Change your shoes around frequently, and invest in good-quality orthotics if you need to. If your feet hurt, nothing feels right.

4. Daily headaches, tooth grinding or changes in vision should never be ignored. Maybe you need a neurological workup or a dental guard; maybe you just need a massage. Either way, that thing that sits atop your neck should be pampered.

5. Finally, if you’re snotty and coughing, achy or running a fever, or have a sore throat that won’t quit, please please please stay home. Even those of us who aren’t immunocompromised will thank you. You know how some sort of plague always seems to hit hospital employees right around the holidays? That plague was started by some well-meaning person who thought that the joint couldn’t function without them. Nobody is that necessary. We can muddle through until you feel better. (Boss, I’m lookin’ at you!) Take pity on your coworkers and keep your germs to yourself.

Enjoy many happy years of healthy nursing! No, really. Being even moderately attentive to your body’s signals will make you healthier, happier and stronger in the long run.

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

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