What has been the scariest moment of your nursing career?

  1. Today, I was doing a little reflecting about my nursing career. I recalled an almost terrifying experience that happened very early, my first night as charge nurse on the med-surg unit where I worked at the time in 1990.
    I will share that experience now, and if any of you have some stories to share, please do so.
    I was working 7p-7a that night, and having only received my license in the mail a few days earlier was acting as charge, with another more experienced nurse working with me I'm sure, although the way my mind recalls it I can't even recall anything about her. We had just gotten out of report, I was making rounds, when suddenly I heard someone shout "FIRE". Well believe me, that'll certainly get your adrenaline pumping. I ran down the hall to where I saw the smoke literally billowing out the door of a patients room. I knew which patient was in the room, sadly a man who was dying from full blown AIDS. When I reached the door, all I could see was the bed engulfed in flames. The smoke was so thick, I felt like I was choking. Honestly my first instinct (which I have long since forgiven myself for, because I am certain it was a reflex) was to RUN in the other direction. I tried to see the patient, but it was impossible. I knew if he was still there in the bed, there would be no way I could just go in and grab him. Suddenly I had the presence of mind to realize everything else going on around me, that I was not alone, that other staff had arrived on the scene to assist. They started by evacuating patients off the floor to other parts of the hospital, of course beginning with those in the immediate area. My heart wouldn't just let me walk away from that man's room without trying something to save him. By the time the other staff had arrived, I had realized that the fire extinguisher was on the wall right behind me, so I grabbed it but guess what - the new grads had not had fire safety training yet (big mistake) and I didn't realize that to get the thing to work, one must pull the pin first. Well thankfully, several hospital personnel had arrived by then, one took the extinguisher from me and immediately put the fire out. As it turned out the man, who was so emaciated and fragile, had somehow managed to crawl off the bed and get into a corner of the room, but suffered severe burns nonetheless. No one else was injured. After things were safe, we made attempts to try to get the unit back to normal, but I can say this, the rest of that night was anything BUT normal for me. I longed to go home, get a hot shower and try to just forget about it. Somehow, I mustered up the strength to stick it out, I kept telling myself that if I was going to make it as a nurse, I couldn't let anything that could be construed as weakness get the better of me. Sadly, the burn patient died a couple of weeks after that. We had to assume that he had somehow managed to get access to cigarettes and lighter even after they had been removed from him due to safety concerns. And you can believe one thing, I KNOW how to operate a fire extinguisher now. I refer to that experiece as "being baptized by fire".
  2. 19 Comments

  3. by   Jenny P
    I've had several in my nursing career, but will just mention my first terrifying experience.

    I was working as a practical nurse (during nursing school) on a medical floor that also had psych patients. We received a patient from the E.R. who had been arrested and brought in by the highway patrol-- and they also had 5 highway patrolmen who were treated in the E.R. because this guy was so violent (I don't remember what his problems were, but he was psychotic, agitated and violent; and in our locked room). Anyway, 3 orderlies were supposed to go in the room with me so I could give him a shot of Librium. We watched him lying on the mattress on the floor 'til he was calm, then I opened the door and we were all supposed to enter and they would hold him while I gave the shot. Instead, they locked me in there ALONE with him!! And I had a syringe full of Librium! I hid the syringe behind my back, did some fast quiet talking and he turned away from me, exposing his buttocks. I took the chance and gave him the shot before either of us knew what was happening; ran towards the door as he was screaming at me and the guys unlocked the door and let me out as the patient charged at me.

    I HATE psych!!!!!
  4. by   NurseDennie
    Jenny P -

    I sure hope you had a word with the cowards who locked you in that room!!!

    I've had a couple of moments that I describe as "pucker" moments. One was when a patient decided he wanted to kill me - that wasn't fun.

    Another was an entire day when one tornado after another ran right down the main street of Nashville. It was HORRIBLE. We had every code possible being announced over the overhead every few minutes (the operators were safe in the basement!). We had Orange for possible mass casualties, green for a bad storm, black for damage to our building, red for a fire on the roof (one of the tornadoes had hit the roof and set an airconditioner unit on fire) and I can't remember what-all else. Every three or four minutes "May I have your attention please. May I have your attention please. We are currently under a code black, we are currently under code red, we are currently under code....." Sheesh! Just declare a code TARTAN and be QUIET until you can call all-clear!!!


  5. by   CashewLPN
    Scariest day... hmm.... would have to say sept 11th(hate to keep coming back to it) The buildings had already fallen... you could hear/feel the waves on the floor... figure, the glasses in my cabinet were clinking on eachother...)
    They called me in on emergency call... Got there way early.. all of a sudden, I am emptying beds while trying to see whats up on the TV...
    then, the floor had 5 patients that we couldnt let go... total of 5 on our 60 bed unit...
    At that point... We waited.
    and waited.
    and waited.
    And... nobody came.

    And, that, itself, was the scariest shift in my life.
  6. by   live4today
    I loved your story, Mary! :chuckle What a night that was for you!

    My scariest nursing moment was in Sept. 1989 when Hurricane Hugo toppled Charleston, South Carolina to pieces. I was working at the Medical University there as a traveling nurse. My youngest daughter was with me on assignment, and I was working dayshift when the Hurricane was "enroute" to that city. The staff was told that all doors to the hospital would be "locked" and no one would be permitted to leave because they would need the staffing if Hugo did a number on the hospital. All I could think about was my little girl, so I hurried up my charting, gave report to the oncoming nurse at 3:10, and split the scene faster than you could spell "go". I drove like a maniac to get home to meet my eleven year old daughter's school bus, threw some things together in the car, and we took off as fast as I could drive to the next town over where we got the LAST hotel room in the area. I drove to KMart, bought food, water, flashlights, batteries, and masking tape to tape up the hotel window in our room. I drove back to the hotel, taped up the windows, pulled the heavy drapes shut, threw the bed comfortor, linens, and pillows in the bathtub, grabbed the hotel Bible, and my daughter and I slept in the bathroom until the storm was over. The sound of that hurricane where we stayed was enough to shake the bajeebees out of anyone, so I could only imagine the damage it was doing back in Charleston!

    After the hurricane moved on, the next day, we drove back to Charleston and the only damage to our apartment was a little water damage from the roof. Thank God that I was off work the day after the hurricane hit. The agency offered to transfer all their travelers to another state, town, whatever, but my little girl loved it there, and didn't want to leave her friends, so we stayed and toughed it out right along with the rest of Charleston. When I went back to work the next day, the hospital was running on generators, and our floor (being the top floor of the hospital) was water damaged in the majority of rooms, so patients had to be moved around. Patient and staff meals three times a day consisted of fruit, fruit juices, PB&J sandwiches, chips, and jello. By the time our electricity came back on, I vowed to never again eat another peanut butter & jelly sandwich. :chuckle I was so traumatized by that experience that I still have the video I bought of Hurricane Hugo in action that photographers and news media made and sold for fifteen bucks a piece. I mean, that was an assignment from hell, to put it mildly!
    Last edit by live4today on Feb 16, '02
  7. by   Sundowner
    Neat topic! I am cringing as I type!

    My scariest day ever....ever.
    The disgruntled houskeepimg employee decided to come back to work on my shift (3-11) after having been fired hours earlier,,the scaary part...he was drunk and waving a gun.
    He came to the nurses station...we all liked him..he was a bit strange, mentally slow, but nice enough, anyway he came up to the nurses station , obviously drunk and began rambling about the administrator and what a ***** she was blah blah blah. The charge nurse left the desk and went to call the cops because he was drunk and loud. After she left, I was there by myself listenting to him ramble and trying to get him to quiet down when he casually laid a gun on the desk. He never made a threat to anyone......at least that I can recall because my brain froze instantly on sight of the thing. I don't know if he intended to shoot himself or the staff or what.
    The charge nurse comes back and spies the gun.....heads back to the phone.....I wanted to kill her for leaving me, but now I am thankful of course......(I think). The rest is sort of a blurr, the insane guy grabbed his gun and headed out to the parking lot....I sat down and shook like a leaf for the rest of the night. I took an early maternity leave.

    I gave my statements to the offficials, the sad part is the guy never threatend or pointed the gun at anyone, or mentioned harming anyone, he denied wanting to shoot himself or any of us, and stated he doesnt know why he had brought the gun, it wasnt loaded and he had a permit to carry it. ??? I didnt understand this.
    He spent some time in the nut ward and was not permitted to come near the facility and the administrator got a PFA from him personally.
  8. by   Mary Dover
    Wow - what inspiring stories! We nurses must be made of some tough stuff, huh?
    Jenny P. - what those guys did to you was terrible. What were they thinking?
    Dennie - I remember hearing about that tornado on the news. I can only imagine what that day must have been like for you.
    And Yeti - on a day when everyone in the country was certainly anxious about what might happen in the next moment, most of us could only watch the news in shock and horror. My heart was going out to you guys there, and wishing there was something I could do. I felt so helpless. God bless you.
    Renee, my friend. The more I learn about you, the more I see what a woman of courage and strength you are. Here in NC we had 4 hurricanes within about a 2-3 yr period. One was HORRIBLE to go through, but I was at home with my family, so that's really another story.
    Sundowner - you've got GUTS! In the outpatient mental health clinic where I work, that has probably been one of my biggest fears, that something like that would happen. The closest I came was the day a huge patient walked in swinging a hammer. As it so happened, some police officers were there on behalf of another patient. The guy with the hammer wasn't acting violent, but I anticipated it, and fortunately, the officers intervened.
    These are great stories ya'll. I bet there are thousands of others out there. Thanks.
  9. by   Mary Dover
    Ok, in my last post I said the guy was "swinging" the hammer, but then I also said he "wasn't acting violent". Kinda contradicted myself, didn't I? Let me clarify - he was carrying the hammer, as if prepared to use it as a weapon, but not ACTUALLY swinging it. I guess when you see a psychotic guy walking around with a hammer in his hand, in a place that would be totally incongruent with that kind of action - your mind may interpret it as being swung.
  10. by   Sundowner
    Let me assure you, there were no guts involved, infact I think that when he pulled that gun out, I actually went insane a bit myself, I just starred at him...couldnt tell you what he was saying, I know I didn't nod or respond to him at all,,,, I bit my lip so hard I bled......amazing I didn't pee my pants. Infact the blood pouring out of my mouth probably scared him!
  11. by   deespoohbear
    In the seven years I have been a nurse two times come to mind. The first time was the beginning of 1st shift and we were just getting out of report and some gal yelled "oh my God he hung himself!!" I grabbed the crash cart and ran to the shower rooms. This guy from the psych unit had gotten a metal coat hanger and hung himself on the shower rod. His feet were only 3 or 4 inches off the ground. He was the worse shade of blue I have ever seen. Of course, he was in asytole and there was nothing we could do. We all had to give statements to the state police, and the coroner was there. I had nightmares for a month after seeing him hanging from that rod. The other case involved a farming accident where one the farmers in our county got ran over by a hopper wagon. It just sliced him up the back. Since I am married to a farmer that shook me pretty hard too!! I had nightmares for a month after that incident too!! I shudder just thinking about both of them!!!
  12. by   Cindy_A
    Pooh, Maybe this is a dumb question, but did the farmer live? Or was he just sliced up pretty bad?
  13. by   live4today
    The scariest moment in my nursing career was when I worked nightshift on a med/surg floor as an agency nurse, and a male patient chased the nurses around the unit with a switchblade screaming insanities at them. He ran through patients rooms yelling at them, and exposed himself to an elderly woman in the process.

    [This man had been found unconsious at a bus stop in the area that same night, and brought to the hospital by ambulance before being transferred to the unit from ER. He had regained a state of consciousness prior to his admission to that unit. He was somewhat delirious, so he was put in soft restraints, of which he had gotten out of.]

    Before security got there, he had pointed the switchblade at a nurse who was six months pregnant with her first child, and just stared like a maniac at her. Six men total (some from security and some from the Psyche Ward) arrived on the unit, approaching the man from behind without him knowing what hit him. Man, did they have a difficult time subduing that man! He was one strong tall patient full of rage! They put leather restraints on his arms and legs, put a straight jacket around him, and carried him off to the locked Psych Ward to be evaluated.

    Come to find out the man's electrolyte balance was waaaayyy off, and he had some strange form of bacteria present in his bloodstream -- one of those "unknown origin" bacterias???? Anyway, once the docs normalized his electrolytes, administered antibiotics via IM/IV to him, he was readmitted to the same med/surg unit, only this time he was the nicest, friendliest guy you'd ever want to meet. He had no memory of his previous psychotic episode, and couldn't apologize enough to the staff for the behavior he had no memory of.

    Once his relatives were located, they drove to the hospital from out of state to get him because they had no clue where he had gone. He was discharged after a week of treatment.
    Last edit by live4today on Feb 19, '02
  14. by   MickeymomRN
    She was a new grad working night shift on oncology. They told her in report that she had a pt. that she had to ready for the morgue. After all her other pts. were tucked in bed she set off to do the task she dreaded (but now she's used to it). When she found the pt. he was laying on his side. Mind you she has never handled a dead body before. She rolled him onto his back and the air trapped within his lungs came out as a long sigh. She told me that she screamed while she peed her pants and ran back down the hall to the nurse's station. There her peers were laughing so hard that they too peed their pants. I guess that's what happens when you work with nurses who've had babies before.