12 Memorable “First-Time” Nurse Moments

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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Nursing is a profession filled with first-time experiences. For better or for worse, we’re pretty sure they never come to a stop.

Then there are the “firsts” themselves—we don’t need to tell you about the dramatic range of these experiences. Whether they’re traumatic, inspirational or downright bizarre, they certainly have a way of keeping nurses on their toes. Because we know that a nurse’s “firsts” are so often memorable, we wanted to hear about some of your most, well, impressive inaugural moments.

As always, your fellow nurses’ responses did not disappoint.

Side note: If there’s one conclusion we can take away from all the not-so-light reading we did, it’s that although nurses have a lot to worry about, boredom is not high up on that list.

1.

“The first body I ever had to prepare for the morgue was shortly after graduation and I’d never handled a dead body before. We rolled the patient to place the body bag underneath him and a loud groan of air escaped his lungs, and I dropped everything and ran for the hills! The nurse I was with could hardly talk, she was laughing so hard.”

—Krista S.

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2.

“First time a patient sneezed up all their puréed pizza all over my nice white scrubs. In nursing school! Haha. First day of clinicals.”

Meredith F. 

3.

“Had a patient with a radical neck dissection with a trach and feeding tube—he would escape the hospital, go to the local bar and pour beer down his tube!”

—Judi K.
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4.

“First day of nursing school in the hospital…the very first thing my teacher made me do was bathe a 500-pound man. You haven’t had a bad day until you’ve had to bathe a 500-pound man while he’s trying to argue politics.”

—Allan

5.

“I remember the first (and last) time I tried to reorient a patient (like the nursing text says you should). It’s also the first time I got hit in the back with a telephone. Never again…when someone tells me it’s 1924, I smile nicely and write down, ‘Pt is not oriented to time.'”

—Mike D.

6.

“First time giving PEDs shots, nearly cried afterward.”

—Alease M.

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7.

“Showering my first heavy-set geriatric. She instructed me to lift ‘the girls’ really high and scrub big-time…AWWWWKWARD!”

–Heidi K.

8.

“While in nursing school I had to give a vitamin K shot to a newborn. I was so nervous I forgot to make sure the needle was on tight to the syringe. I pulled the syringe out and the needle stayed in the baby. I was horrified, but the baby didn’t even cry. My instructor said he’s a tough little booger.”

—Karie B.

9.

“I remember the first time I felt proud of a patient. She was a 15-year-old laboring patient during my preceptorship and she birthed her son with such strength, grace and determination. I couldn’t hold back the tears watching someone that young maturing right before my eyes. She looked like a powerful goddess that morning!” 

—Lynette C.

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10.

“My nursing first: a geropsychiatric patient who managed to swing her Foley bag like a lasso and hit me up the side of my head with it.”

—Annette S.

11.

“My first day of clinicals in nursing school…I was chosen to straight cath an elderly man. I passed out cold and had to sit in the chair of shame at the nurses’ station for an hour.”

—Liz M.

12.

“First time doing CPR. Fourteen-year-old car accident victim. I was a 16-year-old nurse aide.”

—Steve P.

Go ahead—share your own most memorable “first” in the comments section below. It might help your fellow nurses see their own a little differently.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.
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31 COMMENTS

  1. During Geriatric rotation in nursing school at a VA hospital, I was instructed with a fellow student to transport a patient to whirlpool for therapy on his sacral bed ulcers. We put him in the electric lift chair, proceeded to lift him up and into the tub when he took a hugh dump! The feces landed on the edge of the tub and spattered all over. We both were horrified, looked at each other and then at him. He broke out in a big toothy grin. We both started laughing and ran for help leaving him suspended in the seat.

  2. The first I precepted students in the ED, a code came in via ambulance. Usually, they call ahead and we put down a body bag on the stretcher before they arrive. That day, they arrived too quickly. The code was unsuccessful and I was showing the students how to prep the body for the morgue. When we flipped him over to wrangle him into the bag, the dead patient let loose a torrent of vomit, all over me. The students let go of the patient and screamed. I went crashing down to the floor, dead body and all. My second experience precepting wasn’t much better.

  3. I wanted to bathe ALL parts of my male patient.
    Well…As instructed…I covered him with a sheet. Told him I’d be back in a minute..
    and LEFT the room.
    That really was a “hard” experience.

  4. WH
    Nursing school:
    When me and my teammate were preparing to give an enema, we carefully hung the bag up, reassured the patient and began the procedure. Somehow in the process, we unclipped the line to the bag too soon and the
    line whipped around like a snake in the air covering both of us and the patient with the solution!

  5. I had been a dialysis tech for many years, went to nursing school and rejoined the dialysis world. I had been out of school just a few months. We had a guy having a seizure, not yet hooked up, just had arrived, so we get him down out of the recliner to the floor. The Dr came over from the office across the street, we get the cart over and no one can get a line in the guy (he also was an African American and sometimes its harder to see where to go, so I, having so many years (12) under my belt said get me a fistula needle, he had a rather nice fistula, so I straddle the guy, put one knee on his forearm and quickly insert a fistula needle. The Dr said go ahead and push 5 of valium, so I do and flush it in, nothing happens he keeps seizing like crazy, so she looks up at me and says push 5 more, and I am thinking man that’s a lot, she sees my hesitancy and says, it’s fine that really isn’t that much especially for this guy. So I push 5 more, flush it in, the guy goes dead still, not one muscle even moving, a tech up by his head looks me right in the eye and says “oh my God you killed him”…I feel a sense of panic rise and think….all this time…and my career is over already I have killed this guy…..and then a very loud snore comes from his mouth! I was never so relieved to hear someone one snore! By the way side note: no one could ever get him to be compliant, they traded his care plan off like it was the plague. I was sitting with him one day and he said, can you read that to me I forgot my glasses and I thought I have heard him say that a lot of times, I looked right at him and quietly said, (insert name) you can’t read can you, he began to deny and said he needed his glasses, I just said it again, you can’t read can you. He finally huffed at me and said, yeah I can’t read. I said Dude I can fix you up! I made a chart with a pill taped to it for each dose, I had drawings on it like sunrise and a cup of coffee, a sandwich and the sun right over head, a steak on a dinner table with the sun setting in the window, and then a picture of his bed and him sitting on the side of it. He became the most compliant, with meds anyways, patient I had and the others were so amazed until they heard the whole story! Some times non-compliance is not a matter of self discipline or caring about your health and most people do not want to admit such big embarrassing problems such as illiteracy or poverty! He was still kind of mean cuss but a more compliant mean cuss!

  6. ONE of my most memorable occasions (and yes, there are many) was the sweet lady who called our office in a panic! She just knew she had parasites in her colon- and could not figure out how they got there. I told her to come on into the office that day, we would work her into the schedule. ok- she would be there in a bit. Several minutes passed, I got another phone call, with a very embarrassed apology of “Never mind. It was a slug.”

  7. I’ll never forget working on the floor as a nursing student when a doctor grabbed my hand and said…” Come with me I want to show you something you’ll probably never see again.” He took me into the room of a chronic COPD patient and held up the hand of the patient.”This is called clubbing”
    I was amazed, his hand looked like he had little round lollipops at the end of each finger. I am so grateful to that doctor for taking the time for showing me something that he was right I would never see again in my nursing career. I only wish I could of thanked that doctor for taking the time for one nursing student that would never forget such a simple instructional gesture.

  8. Debbie Lentini RN BSN
    During Psch rotation at the VA hospital during nursing school, my assigned patient was Catatonic Schizophrenic. I decided to try to bond by pacing with him in the long hallway back and forth. After about an hour of totally ignoring me, he turned to me , picked me up by uniform and threw me against the wall. I slid down like a cartoon character to sitting position on the floor. I was not hurt, but totally stunned and couldn’t move. Out of the day room flew a 6 ‘ 5 250 lb patient , he picked up my patient and flung him down the hall, skidding on his butt. ” Don’t “F” with the nurse, he shouts and calmly returned to his checkers game in the day room. Needless to say Psych was not my forte but the drama helped me become a strong ER nurse , always ready for the unexpected which it never failed to deliver.

  9. Placing a male urinary catheter, only to discover, he has an “inny”; I’ll go get someone else for this. The first time watching an emergent chest tube being placed – “holy crap, that had to hurt”. First time found a patient with A-line dislodged; again, “holy crap, that’s a lot of blood”. First time I gave Ambien to a post surgical A & O 70 yr old patient… within 2 hours he became the the incredible Hulk and the sutured NG tube was no match — when I called the surgeon to inform him of the patients change and need for a net bed, he said “guess I won’t order that again” – I thought it was a good call. First time a family confided something I really didn’t need to know… I ate a box of chocolates that day just to forget… btw, I haven’t forgotten.

  10. When I was in clinicals, My class-mate and I were observing a bone marrow biopsy. This was being done to an elderly man with dementia. We were so surprised to see the instrument used to obtain the marrow and then to learn that they were going to do this to him with no anesthesia! They did the procedure with out much incident, they rolled the man back to his back where he reaches down and yanks out his urinary catheter! Immediately after he pulled out the cath, a blood clot the size of a Golf Ball came out of his penis! Obviously the catheter was hurting and he was not able to verbalize that. I will never forget that for the rest of my life.

  11. Oops! Hit the wrong key! Anyway, my absolute first day on the job as an R.N. It was in a nursing home, as I had not found a hospital position, yet. Umpteen patients, all with basketsful of meds. The pass took me nearly two hours longer than it should have. I, who am very organized and rarely let things get to me, was crying quietly inside, asking myself, “What have I done……..wasting all this time and money becoming a nurse……if I ever get out of here, I’ll escape and never come back again!” I did of course, and at 72, I am now semi-retired, working still a couple of days a week. There were many more firsts, many of the same experiences some of the nurses above have mentioned: Those who must show off their erections; finding myself covered in blood, literally from head to toe, before I had even received report to an oncoming shift, with a patient I found on the floor as I walked by…..and having to remove my uniform and wear two Johnnies, one front and one back, for the first part of the shift while my uniform got washed…..several patients were afraid to take meds from me because they thought I was some psycho patient trying to kill them; sad times….having to watch a beautiful 18-year-old…… who had moved in with his grandmother to protect her because she was living all alone…….die from cancer; as an oncology nurse, having to watch so many not make it: the young, black woman dying of breast CA, who held on months longer than she ever should have because she was waiting to see her first grandchild born (when she arrived at the same hospital, this lovely woman passed the next day). There are so many poignant stories, so many gross stories, so many funny stories. No, boredom is not something we nurses ever suffer; but life, real life is smack, dab in front of us at every turn.

  12. Wow! I thought I had weird and strange experiences, but they are not much compared to those above, both funny and sad………….I’ll not forget certain ones, however: My absolute first day on the job as an R.

  13. Mine was the first time during clinical of labor and delivery I was watching for the first time a baby being born and thinking that was great and when the placenta came out I said wow she had twins, how embarrassing that was.

  14. I spent a few years working with special needs children. The crib mattress was waist high & had just dressed a 8 year old boy. All that was left was the sneakers. Things were going OK with one sneaker on so I reached to the floor for the other. That first sneaker hit in the jaw full force sending me across the room against the wall & I slid to the floor stuned. I yelled Help! The first person calmly walked to the crib & lifted the rail, then came over to get me up. She said “I guess you will put both sneekers in the bed next time! A lesson learned the hard way. My right eye area was black & Blue for weeks.

  15. The time a blind man wanted to shave himself and I said “hold on I’ll get you a mirror”
    The time a wife of 50 years was told “don’t worry your husband is in good hands” when suddenly he went into V-tach and I gave him percordial thump… W/ both fists.
    The time a mother was watching her 8 year old son die and I moved all the lines and tubing to one side of the bed so she could lay in the bed and hold him as he died.
    After 28 years, oh the stories.

  16. The first time you get hit on by an amorous geriatric man that insists on repeatedly turning on his call light to show you his very erect penis! Really happened my 1st round of clinical 14yrs ago!

  17. First time using a retractable syringe. I was administering a B-12 injection. I gave the injection and pulled the syringe away and in horror saw that the needle was gone. My patient was cognitively impaired, so she didn’t notice the sheer panic on my face as i stared at her arm. I was mentally scrambling for an explanation of where did the needle go? I squinted at her arm….finally running my hand ever so lightly over the injection site…only to feel nothing. I squeezed on her arm…hoping to squeeze the needle out??? I was at a loss. Finally I began looking at the syringe. Yes, there was the needle. What a horrifying feeling…but hysterically funny thereafter.

  18. Probie semester: Husband visits wife, keels over dead. I was assigned to stay with her until the doc came. She got tired of waiting, powered past me, knocking me on my rear, threw the door open to see her husband’s body already packed. Poor lady.
    And also a student, the nursing gods decided we should no longer use sterile water to wash the perineum during a straight cath. We should use alcohol. (Things were different in those days, children) My patient was post-vaginal hysterectomy. I poured the contents of the container on her perineum and immediately got, in top volume: ‘Noise! It boins like a fiyah!’ repeatedly. Being creative, I grabbed her bedside water pitcher and dumped in on her. It helped. She toned it down several decibels.
    After 58 years there are more. I’ll save them for later.

  19. 44 yrs ago during my first clinicals in the sophomore year of my BSN program, I was giving my first injection. This pt had very tough skin. We were taught to “hold the skin taught and while holding the syringe ‘dart’ the needle into the skin. I followed the directions, darted the needle into the skin and watched it bounce off this guys hip, fly past me and land on the floor behind me! I just said, “oops!” at which point the patient looked over his shoulder at me and said, “first shot, huh”? I just smiled and said, “yes, sir”. I was mortified! I retrieved the syringe, re-prepared the injection and tried again…with success!

  20. Wow. 36 years later and these memories will be with me forever:
    The time I insisted after the third attempt of nicely asking, the belligerent drunk to squeeze my hands during my neuro check. He sacrastically, but honestly looked up and said, “I can’t. I’m a quad.”
    The time a 73 year old came into the ER, handing me, a brand new nurse a note that said, “Dear Dokter. There is something stuck in my rectum. It usually takes a proctoscope to get it out.” And yes it did. It was a bottle of shampoo.
    The time as a student when I was prepped to attend my first surgical procedure. A D&C. I studied what the procedure entailed and I was ready. The idea of surgery was undaunting, but I WAS READY! Unfortunately, I was pushed into the wrong OR room……I’m waiting for the patient to be placed in stirrups…instead, the surgeon, (who had HORRIBLE reputation for crudeness and post-op infections) walked in, poked the unconcious woman in the belly, said, “Well, we have a porker here!” proceeded to make an incision from pubic bone to sternum and pull out her intestines!!!!!!!! Dear God! Wrong room, wrong procedure, wrong student!!!! The next thing I remember was hearing the surgeon yell, “GET HER OUT OF HERE!” and I’m being pulled out of the OR, on my back, by my feet. In a scrub dress that was around my neck pretty much! (Yes, the chair of shame, but it wasn’t my fault!!!!!)
    And there there was the one with the poor guy who came into the ER with an aplogy for the Pepsi bottle that was ‘up his butt.’ He accidentally sat on it at a party.
    And yes, these are all true and there are so many, many more. It’s been hard work, a wonderful career and we are never at a loss for a great story!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. I was doing clinicals as an LVN student and had a patient with a trach. He was in the process of learning how to talk and live with this “hole” in his throat. I went to tell him that I would be gone for a while as I was going to have lunch with the rest of my class and if he needed anything he would need to ask for his primary nurse. I was standing approximately 15 feet from him at this point. He started to talk covering the trach then he coughed and a huge mucous plug shot out of his trach and hit me in the face. I just stood there and looked at him in disbelief. Without missing a beat I told him I would be back. I went to the wall and put hand sanitizer over my face and then to the bathroom and scrubbed with soap and hot water for a while. Telling my instructor….she was mad. Pt had transmittable diseases and I had to get tested every 6 months for a couple of years.

  22. While working in a correctional facility an inmate used the clips off his armband to cut open his scrotal sac, proceeding to shove the clips, a piece of a toothbrush, & a piece of a comb inside. That happened to be the most embarrassing, yet hysterical report I’ve ever given to the ED nurse. They even put me n hold because they couldn’t believe it either & were laughing.

  23. I enjoyed reading all of the “First Time Moments” above, but have to admit that 10 and 11 had me in stitches!!
    I laughed so hard I cried! And 9 was so touching! My “first” was during LPN training. I was assigned to prep
    a male patient who was going to have a right inguinal hernia repair in the morning. I was to use a razor and shave the groin and the scrotum. What the RN did not tell me, was that the hernia was humongous! I had no
    idea at the time that a hernia could get so large! I was shocked! And the poor man was so embarrassed! We both got through it and he told me he had waited too long to see the doctor. I asked why, didn’t it become uncomfortable? His inner thighs were very chaffed and red. He said it had but that he was embarrassed to
    see the doctor. I told him I was glad that he had finally seen the doctor and that he would be feeling much better after the surgery in the morning. I smiled at him and he smiled back and said thank you. I hope I made him feel a little better.

  24. Or the time I had an older man who I had to cath, when I touched him, he became a bit aroused. We both were embarrassed, I just pulled up the covers and I said I would wait a bit and come back to try that again, and he said oh that’s fine dear, I said thank you for being so understanding of us student nurses, and he looked at me, grinned, winked and said Oh no dear I am the one who needs to thank YOU. I was mortified. I let someone else try to cath him later that night.

  25. My first and last ever, medication error. I was a student, first clinical ever, I had a patient with meds on a four hour cycle and one was every 6 hours…I gave it with the others, it had only been four hours since his last dose. I found my instructor and told her…she said well, you better go tell the Dr. he is sitting right there…I walked over, thinking I was about to be verbally berated, I explained that I had given Mr. so&so his (anti-psychotic) medication two hours early. He looked at me and said “oh well he is a mean old cuss, it will put him in a better mood earlier than expected”. And then he busted out laughing at his own joke. I was shaking, soaked in sweat, and puzzled as to why I was about to laugh when 10 seconds earlier I was sure I was on the brink of death.

  26. When in the delivery room attending a birth during my rotation in labor and delivery every thing seemed to be going well till the baby was delivered and I remember how scared I was when the child was practally purple and was like a rag doll! I thought for sure it was dead and it was all I could do to not show emotion when they whisked it to the incubater and started to massage and suction when there was a sudden cry and the baby turned a lovely pink, what a lovely sound. I was able to keep my composure till I went in the hall and then just broke down in tears of joy!

  27. I was at my first rotation of clinicals in wound care… My patient had open heart surgery and the first time her chest was wired closed she had developed an abscess…. So now it was open. I was instructed to clean said wound bed. I was found on the floor shortly after. I too was in the chair of shame at the nurse’s station.

  28. Junior year nursing student … psych rotation: playing pool with a male patient at the acute care psych hospital when another man comes by, lifts my dress up and says “I know you have a gun under there!”

  29. Ah well, two months into my first job I am working in the ICU.
    The surgeon made his rounds and started to reprimand me for not ambulating his patient.
    I was mortified.
    Then…I could not figure out how I can get this legless patient to do that.
    Duh!

  30. During OB clinicals as a senior, I had to room 2 sisters, ages 11 and 13. They were alone at the clinic-this was a long time ago. Said their mother had made the appointment for them and they didn’t know why. They were both pregnant by the same male.

  31. First day on the floor as a graduate nurse, I was doing a new admission and the patient had his leg wrapped in a bedsheet. While removing the sheet to take a look, his foot fell off in my hand.

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