11 Things Patients Say or Do That Make Nurses Scratch Their Heads

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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Patients are constantly saying and doing things that even the most seasoned nurses will struggle to understand. And by that, we really just mean “not completely lose their minds over.”

Sound about right? We thought so. Either way, let’s explore some of these common “palm to face” moments.

1. Patient is prescribed an inhaler due to a cat allergy.

Returns one week later to report persistent symptoms (see below).

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Nurse discovers patient has been spraying cat in the face with said inhaler for six days.

2. Nurse visits patient seven times, meticulously gathering information to determine their medical history, their daily routine and even (somehow) their grandmother’s cousin’s maiden name.

Patient asks to speak to someone in the hospital who “actually knows what’s going on…like a doctor.”

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3. Patient is admitted to the ER with abdominal pain—ultimately diagnosed with minor indigestion.

Patient requests sponge bath prior to release.

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4. Couple reports accidental pregnancy to nurse.

Nurse investigates—asks couple if they are on the pill.

Boyfriend confirms that he has been taking the pill daily for three months.

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5. Patient asks nurse how many days a week they work. Nurse responds, “Three.”

Patient compares nurse to 16-year-old daughter, who hasn’t missed a day of school yet andvolunteers at a home for the elderly…every other weekend.

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6. Nurse asks patient to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10.

Patient asks nurse exactly which rating will get them a Mountain Dew faster….

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7. Patient asks nurse, “Have you ever thought about becoming a doctor instead?”

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8. Patient argues with nurse about the essential nature of their treatment.

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Accuses nurse of being “hostile” and suggests a vacation.

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9. Patient requests a private room on account of their celebrity status.

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Tags the hospital in nine posts to Facebook and Instagram, including eight selfies and a photo of a woman in critical condition along with the caption “OMG.”

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10. Nurse discovers a patient undergoing cardiac arrest. Nurse stabilizes patient by performing lifesaving CPR.

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Patient expresses undying gratitude to the handsome doctor for doing, well—something. They just aren’t entirely sure what.

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Then, there are the moments that will still stun nurses, but in a different way:

11. Nurse offers a few kind words to a distraught patient. Assumes patient will immediately forget.

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Patient sends a card a year later, wanting the nurse to know their son has been given the nurse’s name.

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Needless to say, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Nurses, we’re dying to know—what’s something a patient of yours has said or done to REALLY baffle you? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Worked in an OB clinic in Washington DC. Several young woman were coming in pregnant for their check up. On 2 different occasions I had woman say to me. 1). “I don’t know how I became pregnant, I inserted that pill every night”. And 2). Another girl said, “ I don’t know how I became pregnant, my boyfriend put that foam stuff on his jello and ate t every single night”. I learned allot!

  2. OMG don’t you just love nursing. I have lots of my clients got really confused when it comes to medicine/pills. As healthcare staff we need to put emphasize on effective education for this.

  3. Not my patient but I overheard the conversation. Patient has not been able to pee for several hours and is now feeling uncomfortable. Order was received to place a drain catheter into her bladder. Pt tells nurse doing the procedure it may be hard to get the catheter in. When nurse asked for explanation patient states “Because it has been a long time since I’ve had sex so it may take more time getting through my uterus to the bladder”. Took both of us some time to process response. Nurse doing the procedure tells her “Oh, I forgot a piece of equipment I need”. Promptly goes to break room and began laughing so hard she was crying and gasping for breath.

  4. While not a roll your eyes experience, it was one of my most precious and endearing moments and memories and acts in nursing. Working in ICU, I happened (thanks God!!) to be at the bedside of patient when the monitor went off…Vfib…yelled code, started compressions…team at bedside and anesthesiologist about to intubate. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him blink…can’t blink if you’re dead..I yelled STOP…grabbed his face in my hands and said can you hear me? He startled, blinked, looked around, and said, “Did I just die”? This made everybody in the room laugh with joy at the moment, and a life saved!! I still get teary remembering the moment some 10 years later

  5. I worked in ICU. A patient had died. The family donated the patient’s eyes. The eyes had been harvested when the son called to say he changed his mind, he didn’t want to donate Mama’s eyes because she wouldn’t be able to see in heaven.
    As gently as possible, I explained that Mama wouldn’t need her eyes to see in heaven. He was happy with that explanation.

  6. Had a man come to the ER with a LARGE ,wide mouthed jar of Vaseline stuck in his anus. Explanation, he was “greasing his hemorrhoids and it slipped in.”
    Had to be taken to surgery to remove it!

  7. I am a Hospice Nurse. I receive a call from my office that a pt wants me to come see her. I called the patient and told her I was less than five minutes away. I arrived at her home and took her vitals and O2 sat. Her sat was 87 and she was in respiratory distress. I asked her where her Oxygen concentrator was. She said the O2 company sent her a bill so she sent it back.

  8. I was doing OB clinicals in (very) rural Alabama at a free clinic. Patient was a 14 year old mother of two who had come in for a follow up after being prescribed birth control pills. Her pregnancy test came back positive. The NP asked her if she was taking one birth control pill every day at the same time. The patient stated she was taking one pill every morning and putting it in her vagina. When asked why she was putting the pills in her vagina, she stated “That’s where babies come from”.

  9. I am a Hospice nurse working with an 82 yr old woman who’s son was the pt with end stage Parkinson disease. He was my pt for at least a year. The mother called the office one day stating the pt had a slight fever. She wanted to know whether she should give him tylenol or the liquid morphine. Really? I wanted to tell her to give the pt the whole bottle of tylenol and the whole bottle of morphine and then we won’t have anymore stupid questions.

      • Amen! I am shocked that someone who calls themselves a nurse would think something so absurd as that, let alone write it so millions of nurses may read it! Please do us all a huge favor and change professions; ASAP!!!

    • Do I seriously just read that? I was a Hospice nurse for 4 years, not only does this make me sick, but I can’t believe you even survived a year or more in Hospice……get a job at McDonald’s!!

  10. While working in Neuroscience ICU, I was caring for a comatose 21year old man. His cousin , who told me he is a medical student, asked if we do brain transplants. I politely informed him that Dr. Frankenstein retired last year. I then informed my manager .
    Here’s your sign.

  11. I spent years in a busy pediatric practice. I have 2 things. Almost once a week I would have a parent tell me that since their child’s temperature is always 97 F then 98 F is a fever. I had a phone call from a mother who wanted to bring her “little boy” because he had an infection and was draining pus. When I asked where the infected area was, mom responded that it was the child’s penis. Before I had a chance to respond, I heard the 17 year old “little boy” in the background say “Forget it mom, I’m not going to the doctor for a wet dream!”

  12. While working in an inner city hospital emergency room we had an amblance arrive with a middle aged woman. After getting her on our ER bed I asked her what was her reason for needing the ER. She replied that she had the flu. I asked why she needed an ambulance to transport her, she stated that if she took a cab that she would have to pay for it. Any wonder why an ambulance costs so much?

  13. Regarding number 11 above……I had a gentleman who had just lost his wife and son, who needed compassion and someone’s hand, which I gave. After he left the hospital for chest pain, with a clean bill of health, but a broken heart, he returned 6 weeks later and gave me a christening blanket his wife had made for their future grandchild from their son. I was 6 months pregnant and though we never talked about me, he noticed. He gave me that blanket for my child. I knew that day that I had the power to not only treat illness, I had the power to HEAL

  14. I was taking care of a rather anxious patient in the home setting. He was receiving IV antibiotics through a PICC line. Everything taught was with drama and multiple questions. Of course I took extra time with the patient and tried to alleviate all his fears. I understand this can be scary to patients and it is my job to help them through the process. I also give them my work cell number in case they have questions. Well, I was surprised one early morning at 2am to receive a phone call from this patient telling me he could not sleep! I asked him if he had medicine to help him sleep. He replied yes and hung up. Now I couldn’t sleep!

  15. One of my most poignant moments as a hospital supervisor was dealing with a family whose 19 year old son was brain dead on a ventilator and needed to be removed from the machine. The father and sister listened very carefully and asked for a few moments to discuss things.
    When I came back into the room where the family was the father said that they had reached a decision. He then said, I’m going to donate my brain. Needless to say, it took all my will power not to laugh and to very gently explain modern medicine had not reached the level of brain transplants!

  16. I am a pharmacist who dispensed amoxicillin oral suspension to a mom for her two year old, who had otitis media. We reviewed the directions together. A few days later, the dad phoned me, upset that 5mL’s doesn’t fit in the child’s ear without running out all over the child’s clothing. I asked him if mom was gone to work that day. He said that she was. I told him, as kindly as I could, that the medicine goes in the baby’s mouth, and that if he put the child’s clothes in the washer the pink stain would come out. As a bonus, I told him that I wouldn’t tell the mother what just happened!

  17. Years ago I had a 13 year old girl with fetal demise. She was running a temperature. I came with a Tylenol suppository and gloves. She informed me that she would rather do it herself. I came back 15 minutes later she was watching TV and the suppository was in her nose!!!!!!!

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