When nurses wear the gown: life on the other side of the rail

michael jung | istockphoto

michael jung | istockphoto

Every now and then, a nurse is (not so) lucky enough to end up on the other side of the rail–as a patient. It certainly is a drastic role reversal, and paves way for a variety of experiences…both good and, well, less than good.

We couldn’t help but wonder how it felt for nurses to pass through the hospital doors rather unexpectedly as patients. So, we asked our Facebook fans to tell us about the miles they’ve walked in a patient’s shoes. As it turns out, there was a lot to be said about it. And boy, did the nurse-as-patient stories really run the gamut!

For some, time spent in the gown and not the scrubs provided a valuable lesson that they’ll never forget.

Being on the other side of the rail is part of what motivated me to become a nurse. I saw “the good, the bad and the ugly” and I decided to fight for/join “the good” so we can try to outnumber “the bad and ugly.”

–Robert Martino

Unfortunately, I have been the patient a few times. It is very difficult to let go and allow the nurse to do her job. I ask way too many questions, and don’t always do as I am told. I tried to get up or wash myself when, as a nurse, I know it’s not safe to do so. I totally get patients that push for independence now, and I often tell them how that attitude set my own recovery back.

­–Lisa Robart

Others had a few LOL moments to share with us.

I was studying for a MedSurg final last semester and next thing I know I’m getting rushed to the hospital for an emergency. Everyone was really nice and my nurses even quizzed me before the procedure to help keep me preoccupied. Apparently when I woke up (still under the influences of anesthesia) I kept saying, “Everything leads to peritonitis!” This was something my instructor drilled into my head during class. LOL!

–Kelly Traylor

I was a surgery patient and when I ambulated the halls I found myself wanting to answer the call lights because that’s what I’m used to doing…LOL.

-Ramona K. Abner

There were those who had encounters that were, well, less than savory.

After having a total knee replacement the nurse assigned to me decided for me that I didn’t need my scheduled pain meds. It is drilled into a nurse’s head that the patient’s level of pain is where the patient says it is. I advocated for myself and told her not to come back in my room, then I demanded a new nurse.

–Toni Borth Hopson

I’ve been hospitalized numerous times. Because I’m an RN, MSN, the staff seemed intimidated. Other times, I felt like a “nursing instructor.” These were NOT good experiences as an “inpatient.”

–Carol Henroid

Finally, others had little to complain about. Aside from, you know, the obvious…

I was the patient from hell. The nurses on maternity ward spoiled me rotten when they found out I was a nurse. They put up with me a lot.

­–Rebecca Duy Thang

I’ve been hospitalized three times since becoming a nurse 2 1/2 years ago. I am fighting breast cancer. Most of my nurses have been great. Really pretty much all of them! I’m one of those patients that doesn’t want to bother the nurse, so I take care of myself. Within 4 ½ hours of my mastectomy, I was off of the “needs assistance to go to the bathroom” list. I’m able to help my patients better because I’ve experienced things first hand. I became a nurse late in life because of the wonderful nurses I have had. I wanted to be like them!

–Angela Burton Wyckoff

Nurses, we want to hear from you! Share your own stories about the patient life in the comments below!

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11 Responses to When nurses wear the gown: life on the other side of the rail

  1. Karen Southard RN RN

    I was on the other side of the rail in 2009 not expecting it. I went to the ER because I thought I had a severe UTI, only to be told after a CT Scan that I had appendicitis! I had always joked with my coworkers that I was a hard stick for IVs and this proved very true as I was stuck 6-7 times before a line was established as I was rolled out of the ER to the OR. Instead of a simple lap apply, I also was found to have acute diverticulitis, had scar tissue from a 20 year old C-section wrapped around my colon, and my appendix was in the middle of all this, not in my rt quadrant. My colon was lying on my bladder and this was what gave the symptoms of a UTI! I came out of the OR with a JP drain, a foley cath, and a ruptured appendix. It took 3days to finally find an antibiotic to fight the infection. Zoysia and Gentamycin was not touching it. I got up by myself to go to the bathroom the next morning and did not I would make it back to my bed. Waited for assist next time. I tried to ambulated in the halls, and one of the physical therapist took one look at me and insisted I get back to bed. Now you gave to understand that the PT guys usually are encouraging every one to ambulated and here my coworker was insisting I get back to bed NOW! I also found out during this stay the the med toradol IV burns like fire when pushed! I never knew this and afterwards always insisted it be diluted with 10cc NS, and I never gave it to my patients without diluting it and insisted that the other nurses do the same! I have to have 2 more IV sites also, requiring multiple sticks and ended up with a #24 cath in top of my hand that I nursed for 4 days! In addition to all of this, we had some new nurses that were very nervous taking care of me because I was the nurse preceptor on my floor!!

  2. Linda Robinson

    It is very hard to be in the bed instead of beside it. I know it makes some nurses uncomfortable to have a nurse as a patient. Because of this, I made a concerted effort to be “just a patient”. I have to say I had no nurse complaints either time I was hospitalized , and I made no suggestions. The most important thing is to work WITH your nurse to solve any concerns and she will do her best also. So many people think we are just professionals and have a superhuman ability to never be offended or scared by things that would offend or scare a “regular” person. We are professionals,but when we are on the other side of the rail, we are regular people who are as scared as anyone. The vast majority of nurses I have met are kind and empathetic people. I realize not all are, but we are just human.

  3. Karen Anderson

    I have had the unfortunate luck of being a patient numerous times, since becoming a nurse, due to kidney & liver failure, (when I found out that the ICU is a place that left me with something akin to PTSD. I was in a coma. I could hear–very well, contrary to what they kept telling my family. I was too ill to tell them, when I became conscious on Thanksgiving day. I did, however tell them in a few weeks, that I did hear ALL their conversations. Most the nurses have been wonderful, over the years. My last stay, respiratory failure, the nurses were very nice. How do you handle it when a nurse who is treating you, has skills that are not up to par? She was sweet, and she tried, but I finally asked her if someone else on the floor could come and give her a hand. I know it is difficult. I am still working. I am in Homecare, and love my pint-sized patients, and their families. I will continue to work, as long as I am competent and useful. One of my dear friends, worked until 3 days before her battle with osteosarcoma was lost. Thank you for your great site!

  4. mjcann

    I was on the “other side” for about 6 months. I had a gallbladder attack which resulted in my requiring an open Chole. I was fine for about 24 hours, then I went down hill quickly. I had a very small bile leak that caused me to be septic, and the way my body demonstrated that problem was through rapid Afib, respiratory failure and acute mental status changes. The surgeon could not understand the problem until 6 days later when they opened me up to find 4 liters of bile inside my abdomen. During that surgery I began circling the drain, and when they rushed out of the OR because I was crashing on the table, still with an open surgical wound. I was in the CCU for two days still intubated, until I was stabilized enough to be brought back to the OR for an attempt to close. It didn’t work as there was to much inflammation in my abdomen from the peritonitis that they could not close me. I ended up with a wound vac for 4 1/2 months. I also had a g-tube placed to anchor a stent in one of the ducts, a pigtail drain to assist with removing fluid that had collected behind my liver, and a right IJ, which I promptly pulled out as I was really out of my mind from the septicemia. They replaced it with a left IJ to give me TPN, and a sitter to babysit me. When the initial infection subsided I was calm for the most part, but the Dilaudid was causing hallucinations, so I had to bed the psych team (yes, the psych team was involved!) To allow me to get off the Dilaudid (which did not work at all) and take Percocet every 4 hours around the clock. After 20 days I went home but returned after 5 days because I ended up back in rapid afib (as the patient, I could not understand why I was so winded) after the VNA came in and took one look at me and called the ambulance. I had another infection under the mesh that was placed at the original surgical site. Another surgery, and another 10 day stay and I was sent home with a wound vac, pigtail drain, PICC line and gtube. Thankfully I had the best care by my visiting nurses and the wound clinic. Eventually all the various tubed came out and the wound healed to the point of not needing the vac any longer (Started out at 20 cmx16cmx3.5 cm, with underlying and tunneling). The scar is unsightly but the wound is healed. The worst part of being sick and in pain was that their was always a delay in getting pain medication when I needed it, and arguing with the team about getting off the Dilaudid. After the fact when I heard the stories of my behavior in the ICU I was floored that I had behaved like one of “those” patients. I was sad that I had lost my cool to the point that I needed to be medically restrained, and I really don’t remember most of it. Thank god I am healing and am living my life. I have a very different perspective towards pain management, and acute delirium as it happened to me!

  5. retired and lovin it

    Just this week, I suffered a fall down the stairs, winding up with a nasty laceration from my hairline to the corner of my eye. It was pretty dramatic, because I was bleeding pretty heavily, thanks to a severed artery.
    The ER staff was efficient and professional, relieving any anxiety I might have felt. The trama room surgeon quickly sutured the artery, evaluated the wound and decided my best result would require a plastic surgeon. All my luck was cashed in that day, because, in less than an hour, the plastic surgeon came in, between cases, and put me back together again.
    Now I can say, I’ve been on both sides of the best care I could have had. I’ll have a scar, but everything worked out for the best in my case.

  6. carolslee1949

    About 15 years ago, I was an RN working the night shift on an OB/GYN unit. We had a patient, an elderly woman recovering from bladder surgery with orders to be gotten up to the bedside commode every 2 hours. I did as ordered, with a CNA assist, but this woman was quite hefty. The next afternoon I woke up from a sound sleep with back pain that I could relieve with medication, positioning, pillows, whatever. Reluctantly, my son took me to the ER, where I was finally diagnosed with a kidney infection. OK, I can handle this. IV fluids wide open, IV antibiotics. Then it dawned on me. I’ve really got to pee, the curtain is pulled on my cubicle and the call bell is way out of reach. I thought, I can do this, I can get off the ER bed and at least get far enough to reach the callbell or the curtain. WRONG! The siderail was up. I slid to the end of the stretcher and felt the bed tilt. Because I was near the nurse’s desk and there was a lot of noise, my only alternative was to yell. I was caught just before I hit the floor. And , of course, since they all knew I was a nurse, I was severely reprimanded for my actions. That was it. I started bawling my head off and let everyone involved in my care know what I thought about putting a patient with a wide open IV with siderails up, curtain pulled and no way to call for help! And while I was at it, I told them what I thought about hearing all the details of a 25 week gestation coming in that was probably deceased. That was it, I was going home! I could push fluids, drink cranberry juice, take antibiotics, and pain pills without all this crap! As I was getting dressed, the night supervisor that I knew had been summoned to try to convince me to stay at least overnite for IV antibiotics, as I had a 103 temp and needed the ABT’s. I said only if I get a private room somewhere. I got my private room. For weeks after that, the ER staff stayed clear of me.

  7. dtaschner

    I’ve been on the other side of the rails and I have learned NOT to tell anyone I’m a nurse. With my first baby, I wasn’t shown how to breastfeed correctly because….”You’re a nurse, you know how.” Well, no, I don’t. I’m a brand new mom. That set me up to be a breastfeed failure, no referrals to a lactation consultant or anything. So, on to my next adventure to have my heart ablated. As soon as I was told I could get up, I did! I would get up, ambulate for @ 15 minutes, go rest, and start all over. I went to sleep, again, after 5 self-sessions of ambulating within 3 hours, there was a shift change, then I was reprimanded by the oncoming charge nurse for just laying there sleeping. My nurse ran to my room and told her I had been up walking all morning….The thing is, I don’t whine, don’t ask for extra meds, I don’t go announcing that I’m a nurse (it’s on my intake sheet as to where I work and what I do), and try to be a really good patient. The moment they find out I’m a nurse, I don’t get the care that I should receive. A couple of years ago, I had an outpatient procedure done. I begged my nurse not to tell anyone (after she asked me if I was a nurse) that I was a nurse. She kept my confidence and I honestly received better care.

  8. Mercy RN

    I have had several surgeries and only once had a bad experience. My latest a few months ago I had a new young nurse that was more then a little nervous to re-start my IV when it infiltrated. I told her to relax, I had good veins and I knew she could do and she did. Actually my veins roll and pop quite a bit but not knowing that she rocks. I had major leg surgery but after the first time having help getting up I got myself up the rest of the stay which is something I have always done. I always use the side rails to pull myself up also. Major abdominal surgery. I was up and walking 3 times a day by myself with no prompting. I think being a nurse I know what happens to those patients who refuse to move and I know how irritating it is to have to boost a patient up who is fully capable of doing it themselves.

  9. chanie911

    I became a nurse in large part because of my experiences as a patient (second career): I have chronic (slowly progressive?) rare neruo-GI disorder with complications to cardiac and renal systems, so I’ve spent plenty of time on both sides. I studied for NCLEX in the ER, had 2 GI surgeries during my last year of nursing school (and one the day after NCLEX….I live on the edge lol). I generally try to be as helpful as possible….ALWAYS say thank you….I can usually tell if/when telling that I’m a nurse (or, at the time, in nursing school) will be well-received or not. Because this is a life-long thing for me, I tend to have a “we’re on the same team” attitude….plus I try to show that I respect how busy I know the nurses are, and although I want MUCH more info (labs, etc) than most of their other patients probably do (if I’m alert enough), I’m not riding the call button for every little thing (I’m more than happy to fix my own IV pump, or spike the next bag, etc….especially in ER’s, we’re BOTH happy if I move things along!)
    Rarely, I’ll get someone completely incompetent. I do my best to bite my tongue (and definitely don’t say anything about being a nurse….UNLESS they start “yelling” at me like I’m a moron. THEN I talk back, and I do often tell them–as in, “thank you, I’m a nurse, I know how this works.” If I already know the ship is sinking, I’ve got nothing to lose anymore….)

  10. Holly

    When I found out I had colon cancer and needed surgery, I told myself I was going to be the kind of patient that I would have dreamed to have back in my med/surg days. I was a very good patient. Nobody had to plead for me to get OOB and ambulate. They didn’t have to remind to deep breathe. I was the most pleasant nurse/patient ever. I agreed to have a student nurse on my second morning. She comes in, does all the right things, and I’m sure they told her I was an RN and worked upstairs. She puts the stethoscope on my belly to listen for “Bowel movements”. I started to laugh, which hurt like the dickens. I corrected her saying bowel tones or bowels sounds. I don’t ever want anyone to hear my bowel movements.

  11. Peanut

    I got to spend my time on the other side of the rail after open heart surgery!!! What an experience! Not only a new experience as a patient but at a hospital I have never worked at. I left very disappointed with my nursing care, both the nursing assistant and RN! Only time I saw my Nurse was when time to administer a med or do procedure, no shift assessments done. I was a good pt. I did not make waves did what was asked of me was not demanding! I did not advertise my profession because did not want to be treated differently!!!. Talked with administration afterwards so maybe they can fix their problem whatever it is/was, but they did not practice the way I do, I teach now and that is not what I teach my students. You can bet when I return to work my poor students will be drilled on pt Care till they eat,sleep and breathe the proper way of doing it. Then I hope when they get into their own practice they will remember what they learned and worry I will hear if they don’t and come get them!!!