Break Room

Confessions from Real Nurses


Every nurse has them: those nasty little non-nursey thoughts that sneak into your brain like steel-toothed ferrets during a hard day.

They’re the thoughts that civilians hope we never actually think, the ones we feel guilty about, the ones we never admit we have until we’re in a well-lubricated frame of mind and in a safe place.

We asked for your confessions, and we’re a little worried for when we next walk into a clinic.

1. Sometimes I don’t like you very much.

Seriously? Sometimes you piss me off. It doesn’t matter whether the “you” in question is a doctor, a patient, a family member, a lab tech or one of the pizza delivery dudes: You occasionally piss me right off. I’m only human, after all, and this job can hit stress levels that make a Red Terror Alert look like a day in a Victorian novel, all lace and picnics.

Even though I look patient and caring, inside I’m seething. I take care of it with AA: Advil and Alcohol, the nurse’s therapy of choice.

2. Sometimes I don’t like myself very much, either.

There are days when I’m just not as patient or I’m having communication problems or things just don’t seem to go right, and I’m filled with self-loathing. It takes some doing to remember that just because I do stupid things, I am not a stupid person; I’m merely having a stupid moment. Likewise, making a mistake doesn’t mean I need to turn in my license. It means I’ve made a mistake. Sometimes these feelings paralyze me, even after nearly a decade of being a nurse, and I wonder if I should go back to waiting tables.

3. I take a deep breath and steel myself when certain patients come out of surgery.

There are the doctors for whom every surgery is a foreverectomy, whose patients come back intubated and cold and physically exhausted while still unconscious. There are the doctors whose patient population is so old, poor, malnourished, unhealthy or otherwise deprived—through no fault of their own—that even a minor surgery is a major undertaking. And there are the doctors who dash in and out of the room so fast that their patients are left with more questions than answers.

When I see you coming, patients of those doctors, I steel myself. I know it’s going to be a long night. I know you’ll have pain, that you’ll be frightened, that I’ll have trouble reaching your surgeon for additional orders. The best I can do in some cases is to get through it with you. The only comfort I can offer is that while you hurt, I’m thinking of nothing else.

4. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve killed somebody.

This is one of those middle-of-the-night thoughts that every nurse has about a patient or two. What if the medicine I gave that person hastened his death? What if the procedure we performed at the bedside led directly to her going down the tubes? What could I have done differently?

5. I do not want a nurse like me when I have surgery.

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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