25 More Secrets Your Nurse Won’t Tell You

Nurses reveal what really goes on behind the scenes in America's hospitals.

By Michelle Crouch
Nurses Secrets© Ablestock.com/Thinkstock

1. “You might think that all the doctors who see you talk to each other, but they often don’t. That’s a problem because physicians sometimes disagree. The more you can keep track of different doctors’ opinions—and communicate them—the better off you’ll be.” –A nurse in Pennsylvania

2. “Don’t show up for a scheduled hospital admission at 12:30 p.m. and expect lunch. We’re not a hotel with room service and we can’t always turn around requests that quickly. Eat before you come, unless the doctor tells you not to.” –Theresa Brown, RN, an oncology nurse and the author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between
3. “To get a faster diagnosis, know your symptoms and what makes them worse. If you’re having chest pains, is it worse when you take a deep breath? What about when you press on your chest?” –Nancy Beck, RN, a nurse at a Missouri hospital
4. “If you’re diabetic and need to check your glucose frequently, don’t buy a glucometer—the gadget that measures your blood sugar. Some manufacturers will give you one for free if you know to ask, because they make more money on the test strips than they do on the machines. Just make sure your insurance plan covers the test strips for the glucometer you choose. If you’re paying out of pocket, check the price of the strips, not just the device.” –Theresa Tomeo, RN, a nurse at the Beth Abraham Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, New York

5. “For some reason, when I ask ‘Are you having pain?’ a lot of patients say no, even if they are. But I’ve found that if I say, ‘Are you uncomfortable?’ people are much more likely to say yes. Please tell us if you’re in pain. We have all sorts of medications we can use to help you.”–Mary Pat Aust, RN, clinical practice specialist at American Association of Critical-Care Nurses in Aliso Viejo, California

6. “When someone you love is dying, you can never say ‘I love you’ too much.” –Barbara Dehn, RN, a women’s health nurse practitioner in Silicon Valley who blogs at nursebarb.com.

7. “I once had a patient who had been in ICU for six months. He was totally withdrawn—wouldn’t look at us, talk to us, or even open his eyes. One day, the doctor said, ‘Why don’t you take him outside?’ We were thinking, ‘Man, that’s a lot of work,’ but of course we said okay. We rolled his bed out the door, thinking what a waste of time it was. Well, the wind was on his face, he could hear the birds, and suddenly he opened his eyes and talked to his wife for the first time in months. That was an incredible day.” Gina Rybolt, RN, an intensive care nurse in California who blogs at codeblog.com
8. “One of the things people hate most about having a colonoscopy is drinking the solution that triggers diarrhea to clean you out. But if you mix the prep the day before and place it in the fridge, it will be a lot easier to get down.” –Theresa Tomeo, RN, a nurse at the Beth Abraham Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, New York

9. “We know you hate being woken up, but we have to check your vital signs every four hours. It’s not the Hilton, it’s a hospital. And that’s hospital policy.” –A nurse in St. Petersburg, Florida

10. “You might think you’re taking all of your pills, but a lot of you are missing one or two or all of your pills on a given day. Use a weekly pill planner.” –Theresa Tomeo, RN, a nurse at the Beth Abraham Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, New York

11. “Some doctors tell people not to smoke, then sneak a cigarette outside.” –Karon White Gibson, RN, producer-host of Outspoken with Karon, a Chicago cable TV show.

12. “When someone you care about is in the hospital and you call in for information, sometimes it’s not a good time for me to have a 10-minute conversation. Ask me first if I can call you back. That way, I can talk to you after I’ve collected my thoughts—and when I’m not thinking about another patient who’s throwing up.” –Theresa Brown, RN, an oncology nurse and the author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail

  • Your Comments

    • Critical care nurse

      This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. I think I got dumber while reading it.

    • WantingToSetTheRecordStraight

      There are a lot of comments here bashing nurses. How ’bout you guys walk a shift (12 hours) in my clogs and see how it goes? *IF* nurse-to-patient ratios were safe and *IF* patient satisfaction scores didn’t mean that we have to treat pts as if they are in a top-notch hotel, we might actually be able to CARE for pts the way we all want to. Instead of spending time fully educating my newly diagnosed diabetes patient, I have to give them the basics then run off and get the (healthy) complainer his 5th ice cream and fluff the pillows again. YES, patients do this. ALL THE TIME. So if you think you aren’t getting good care, think about the other patients I am caring for and their demands on my time. I have only taken THREE lunch breaks in the last 8 months and rarely sit. But please, feel free to complain about what a crap job I and my colleagues are doing. What I WANT to tell you but CAN’T and WON’T is that this is NOT a hotel, we are trying to keep you alive and healthy, and we are going to be doing things that aren’t fun. I can’t ensure that you are going to be happy 100% of the time, but I am trying my best to keep you pain-free while I help cure you. And I get peed on, spit on, almost strangled, etc., by pts.

      Despite this, I smile, treat you kindly so you have no idea how hard my job is, and still love my job.

      • Anonymous

        Honestly, it doesn’t sound like you do. And all the things you listed above are part of your job so if you are put off by it then you are in the wrong field. After all the patient is the one in pain and really having to deal with everything not the nurse who is just supposed to do her job, which DOES including getting spit on and vomitted on. And requesting a pillow to be more comfortable doesn’t imply you think your at the Hilton. Last time I checked a pillow wasn’t a luxury.

        • Lynn Clinton Bowman

          Think about it this way. While the nurse is getting the 5th ice cream and fluffing Mr Healthy Patient’s pillow (whose arms are fine and can flip it himself) – you or your loved one stopped breathing, had a seizure, fell trying to go to the bathroom, on and on and on, get the picture? Every non-medical issue you involve your nurse in takes her/him away from her main job – keeping you healthy and safe. Often there are simply too many things your nurse is juggling at one time and they are all important and can’t wait.

    • Yankees1958

      the number one thing I have told patients is to ask questions. If they do not understand the answer, I tell them, to say that they do not understand. I can always rephrase my answer to make them understand. The stupidest question in the world, is the one that is not asked.

      • Anonymous

        The crazy thing is I ask questions of the nurses for my dad, I recognize that I am not a doctor or nurse so I need to know why things are being given or happening, and 90% of the nurses my father had wouldn’t even acknowledge my questions muchless give me a straight answer. Its very scary. I am also, by the way, always polite and gracious so I know its not in the asking that is the problem.