The “buddy nurse” on a bad day


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The scariest moment for a nurse isn’t a code or fear of losing a job — it’s when your best coworker threatens to quit!

Aside from the patient load, who’s going to crack wise just at the right moment??

The following is an excerpt from A Nurse’s Story: Life, Death and In-Between in an Intensive Care Unit by Tilda Shalof.

“Do you guys ever take a look at some of the things people keep by their bedsides? What about the photographs the families bring in — do you notice them?” I asked my friends.

“I swear, the more paraphernalia the family hauls in, the worse the prognosis,” pronounced Laura. “That’s the research you should do, Tilda. Figure out the relationship between the amount of stuff they bring in and the patient’s mortality rate.”

She kicked a defective cardiac monitor stashed under the counter at the nursing station, ready to be sent out for repairs. “This place is really getting to me. I hate this hell hole. This place is the House of Horrors.”

“Why are you still so negative? Your attitude is like poison.” I rose up against her in sudden anger. “Why do this work if you hate it so much? I don’t believe you, anyway. Someone who’s as good a nurse as you are can’t possibly hate it.”

“That’s what you say,” she retorted. She was busy making a stuffed voodoo doll of Dr. Bristol. As he walked by she asked him, “How’s your back feeling, David?” and she jabbed in a pin and chortled in a maniacal way. “Having any strange aches or pains, lately?”

He looked at her, bemused.

She’d been busy with more and more bizarre antics lately. Going from room to room, she put Hannibal Lector or Jack Nicholson’s face from The Shining on everyone’s computer as a screensaver. She filled Sydney Hamilton’s leather briefcase with laxative pellets, just as she once threatened she would do. She ordered a party-size pizza with ten toppings and had it sent to Dr. Huizinga’s house. She stuffed our knapsacks with items that took us by surprise when we opened them at home: a Foley catheter, an enema bag, or a rectal tube (all unused!). She plastered the walls of the residents on-call room with pictures cut out from a calendar called “Cutesy Kitty Cats”: a white Persian with a pink bow, a fluffy calico in a basket, a tabby kitten playing with a ball of yarn. Over the years, it seemed as if her imagination was carrying her farther and farther away from us.

“You’re going through a second childhood,” I said.

“I’m reacting sanely to a mad, mad world,” she cackled.

“You have a comeback for everything.”

“I’ve applied for a job in the OR. I won’t have to talk to anyone over there and I’ll just yell back at the surgeons if they give me a hard time.”

She was bluffing, but I feared one day she would follow through on one of her threats and leave the ICU or even nursing. What a loss that would be.

Nurses, do you agree? Is your work buddy your greatest source of sanity?


Excerpted from A Nurse’s Story: Life, Death and In-Between in an Intensive Care Unit.  Copyright © 2004 Tilda Shalof.  Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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Tilda Shalof
Tilda Shalof RN, BScN, CNCC (C) has been a staff nurse in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital of the University Health Network, for the past twenty-four years. She is also the author of the bestseller, A Nurse’s Story and an outspoken patient advocate, passionate nurse leader, public speaker, and media commentator. She lives in Toronto with her husband, Ivan Lewis and their two sons, Harry and Max. Learn more about Tilda and her books at

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