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How to survive one of Those Days


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You know when you walk in to find a patient who’s been running blood sugars of well over 700, a patient who’s just wedged himself into the corner of the wall and door in the tiny bathroom, and the overhead code page is going off that it’s going to be one of Those Days.

Let’s get one thing straight: Those Days can happen wherever you work. They have as many permutations as nursing does. They can hit without warning, silently, and make you wonder why on earth you stopped waiting tables. However, they are survivable. Here’s what to do when you’re in the weeds, overwhelmed, nailed to the wall or otherwise barely hanging on.

First, ask for help. I can’t stress this enough. Everybody wants to prove that they’re SuperNurse, but there are some times that you just can’t roll that way. If you have a heavy patient to get off the floor, round up everybody you can from your unit, other units, physical therapy, anybody you can think of. This is not the time to throw your back out.

Second, prioritize. This is a 24-hour job, and some things might have to be left undone. Figure out what’s most important and do those things first. Other things can wait until the end of the shift or the next shift. Every nurse on the planet has had a day where things are left for the next shift, so most folks won’t mind much.

Third, don’t forget to care for yourself. A day in which you can’t pee until halfway through your shift is not a good day. Referring to the second point above, prioritize peeing and drinking water (call it a fluid rotation, if you like). Remember to eat, even if it’s peanut butter crackers while you’re dashing down the hall. Low blood sugar and a full bladder aren’t a good combination.

Finally, remember that Those Days rarely happen in series. Even if you wake up the next morning aching as badly as you did the night before, you probably won’t have to run as hard that day. If you get a string of Those Days, don’t panic: By the second or third one, you’ll be so punchy that nothing will really hurt much. Everybody else will be giggling, too, because Those Days tend to spread.

And good luck. It can be a jungle out there. How do YOU survive one of Those Days?

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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