Retirement Life

Secrets nurses wish they could tell you

Secrets nurses wish they could tell you

We ask the questions you don’t

Doctors are clueless about what really happens in the beds, wards, and halls of our hospitals. That's why we went to the experts: nurses

“We always question doctors because a lot of the time they are only there for five seconds and we have much more experience with patients.” - Registered nurse with 16 years’ experience

This is what I mean when I say to get a second opinion

 “We’re not going to tell you your doctor is incompetent, but if I say, ‘You have the right to a second opinion,’ that can be code for ‘I don’t like your doctor’ or ‘I don’t trust your doctor.’” – Linda Bell, registered nurse

Before you gossip…

 “Feel free to tell us about your personal life, but know that we’re here for 12 hours with nothing to talk about. So the stuff you tell us will probably get repeated.” – Registered nurse

A lot of my patients are incontinent

 “I’m supposed to just use a wet washcloth to clean them. But if it’s a patient who’s been really nice and appreciative, I’ll go all the way to intensive care to get some of the heated wet wipes, which are a lot more gentle. Somebody who’s constantly yelling at me? I just use the washcloth.” – Registered nurse.

Tell us everything because we need to know

 “If penicillin made your face swell up and your breathing get funny six months ago, it’s likely to do the same again. Please tell me these things. While we’re at it, tell me if you have a food allergy. Some things I can predict, other things, like you’re allergic to nuts, are not immediately obvious.” – Head-nurse.blogspot.com Here's how to get the most out of each and every medical appointment.

I always remain calm

 “I’ve had people blow out arteries in front of me, where I know the patient could bleed to death within minutes. I’ve had people with brains literally coming out of their head. No matter how worried I am, I’ll say calmly, ‘Hmmm, let me give the doctor a call and have him come look at that.’” – A long-time nurse

The squeaky wheel won’t always work

 “If you want me to give you better treatment, be more appreciative. I’m happy to do a bit extra for appreciative patients, such as massage their legs and feet with sorbolene after a shower. But a demanding patient will always wait longer to have their bell answered.” – Registered nurse with 25 years’ experience, RPA, Sydney

Yes, you should have come in earlier

 “I’d never tell a patient that he was stupid for waiting a week for his stroke symptoms to improve before coming to the hospital. Although I’d like to. Especially if his wife then complains that we’re not doing anything for the guy.” – A long-time nurse who blogs at head-nurse.blogspot.com

Don’t lie about your pain

 “If you’re happily texting and laughing with your friends until the second you spot me walking into your room, I’m not going to believe that your pain is a ten out of ten.”  – Nurse, New York  Never tempt fate by lying about what's really bothering you.

Listen to our advice, you’ll recover faster

 “If we tell you Papa must not drive after his stroke, that means Papa must not drive. Not ‘not drive long distances’ or ‘not drive a Toyota’ or ‘not drive to the store.’ It means that Papa now lacks decision-making ability, part of his visual field, and most of the use of one side of his body, and must not drive. Even a big car, even for short distances, even in town.” – Head-nurse.blogspot.com

Hospitals are full of drug-resistant germs

 “Despite nurses’ best efforts, hospitals are still filthy and full of drug-resistant germs. I don’t even bring my shoes into the house when I get home.” – Gina, a nurse who blogs at codeblog.com

The sickest patients are the only VIPs in here

 “If you’re a private patient in a public hospital, don’t complain about not having a private room. The only times you’ll get one is if you’re dying or have a golden staph infection and need to be isolated. If you see a sign with MRSA, it means there’s a risk of multidrug-resistant staph. Either way, you should count your lucky stars you’re in a shared room.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney

I’ll always come into your room with a smile

 “No matter how many times you use your call light, even if it’s every ten minutes, I will come into your room with a smile. However, if you don’t really need help, I will go back to the nurses’ station and complain, and this may affect how the nurses on the next shift take care of you.” – Cardiac nurse, California.

We can tell when you exaggerate the pain

 “Don’t tell me you need more pain relief – I know you’ve just come back to the ward after having a cigarette.” – Nurse, RPA, Sydney

Over-the-counter drugs and herbals count as medications

 “When your provider asks for a list of the medications you’re taking, make sure you include over-the-counter drugs and herbals. People think that if an herb is ‘all natural’ and ‘organic,’ it’s not a medication. But that’s not true. Herbals can interact with other medications and can cause serious complications.” – Kristin Baird, registered nurse and health-care consultant

The sicker you are, the less you complain

 “I’ll have a dying patient with horrible chest pain who says nothing, because he doesn’t want to bother me. But the guy with the infected toe – he can’t leave me alone.” – Intensive-care nurse, California

We can tell when you’re frightened

 “It’s frustrating to see people neglect themselves, but there’s no point reading them the riot act. One patient had a fungating wound from breast cancer that she’d hidden from her family for 18 months. How she did it I don’t know.” – Community nurse with 20 years’ experience

I’ll wait for the doctor to tell you about test results

 “If you ask me if your biopsy results have come back yet, I may say no even if they have, because the doctor is really the best person to tell you. He can answer all your questions.” – Gina, nurse who blogs at codeblog.com

It’s stressful when a physician makes a mistake

 “It can be intimidating when you see a doctor who is known for being a real ogre make a mistake. Yes, you want to protect your patient, but there’s always a worry: Am I asking for a verbal slap in the face?” – Linda Bell, registered nurse


Written by Michelle Couch and Louise Waterson. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.