Survival Mode Time!

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

I had a rough shift the other night—you know, the one where you start off with a BIG assignment, run behind on everything the minute you take report, and end up spending an additional 2 hours charting after 12 crazy hours. That shift found me slammed all night and wishing I could just walk away. But as nurses, we can’t just leave our patients—so I came up with some nurse-survival-mode coping measures instead:

1) I took a bathroom break, even though I really shouldn’t have. Yes, that moment with the staff toilet was the best moment of my night, next to…

2) Ok, I’ll admit this. I multi-tasked on the toilet and called my husband. He gave me a pep talk and made me remember why I do all this stuff in the 1st place.

3) Sometime after that, I found myself eating some chocolate an angel dumped at the nurse’s station. Chocolate increases serotonin or endorphins or some other such happy chemical in the brain, right? Ahem. The floor wasn’t fun, but my mouth sure was partying!

4) A while later, I managed to shove a protein bar and some water down my throat while attempting to chart. Protein bars are life-savers on nights we nurses can’t find time to eat! I couldn’t scrounge up an energy drink, though—but I swear by those in times of emergency.

5) When things got really hairy, I found a moment to vent to my colleagues. In other words, I lost it for a minute, and they in turn decided to help me out. They were all drowning as well, so it didn’t do much good, but it was very encouraging to feel not so alone in the storm.

6) And when 7AM rolled around, and I realized I’d be there for a couple more hours to chart, I repeated this mantra, “I could always go work at Starbucks. I could always go work at Starbucks.” Having an out (and yes, I know Starbucks can get nuts) and remembering I chose this profession made things doable.

And can you believe I always go back for more?!

Can you relate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I think that it is important for hospitals to provide some kind of assistance to nurses who find themselves overwhelmed during a shift. A floater perhaps or the charge nurse is one suggestion. Too many of those shifts contribute to burnout, staff turnover, and injury. It also affects patient’s perception of being safe and being heard. We absolutely must stop treating the paper and put our time and effort into treating the patients.

  2. Great reads this morning as I head out to work another 12 hour shift after many years in the emergency department…it has been grueling at times but I so admire the younger nurses now coming in with energy enthusiasm and a caring nature….may that continue for them and may the patients they care for feel cared for and “more than just a number” in this new age society of computers and mandations and government rules and regulations…..on and on…peace to all🌷

  3. I’m with you! As an old nurse, 32 years nursing and 58 years young, I have seen many many shifts like that. All of your tips are great! At this last hospital I worked at you are wrote up for NOT taking a lunch break. Seriously?! Stay away from HCA!

  4. Hmmm…I’m so mixed on this article. While I’m proud of her for writing it, I think this has identified a serious problem in the culture and society value systems. Our nurse leaders are trying to get us away from this martyr syndrome and raise our voices politically and professionally. I try to compare us to other non-medical professions, but it’s challenging to explain to someone that we are actually placing our hands on people, not just fulfilling a checklist or deadline.
    I returned to nursing after taking two years off to write a book and do a national book tour. While navigating the non-nursing life for those two years, I realized how misunderstood our profession is.
    Then I returned to full time nursing. That was six months ago. I think it was where I chose to work, but it was a toxic, paranoid, racist, bully culture. It’s in the city, so those who worked there grabbed their personal items and ran out so they didn’t miss the public transportation. And I was making it harder for myself by over-documenting and spending time with the patients, so my “paperwork” was the last thing I did. And that’s a big no-no.
    “My nursing narratives are too long, my assessments too detailed,” they complained. “You’re making it harder on yourself.”
    I trained under some of the most magical people including Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and the doctors and ex-military nurses at N.I.H. They gifted me their knowledge. And I worked as an ICU Float Nurse at Hahnemann University.
    So… I made the decision to leave nursing all together. Even though I resigned from that job, I was delighted that I hadn’t lost my compassion, and my assessment skills are still good, but the neck-aching tether to the mouse and poorly positioned monitor was sad to me.
    I wish you all the best of love and learning from our patients. Remain open to change, learn from the ugliness and remember the beauty; of which is boundless! Yay to you!

  5. What has. Changed is that now the priority
    Is money and documentation not patients
    A nurse has to fight for time to care for
    Patients. Also nurses are no longer
    Priority or even important. When the
    Staffing is such that nurses have no time
    Go to the bathroom or eat and end up
    Injured for lack of help it is time for

  6. This reminds me of the all the 12 hour shifts when I had a bathroom break (in and out) and grabbed something off a leftover patient tray for a bite. No one knows what nurses give up to do their job of taking care of and being there for the patient. People ask me why the hospital doesn’t provide someone to take over for me to be on a break. I tell them that if I leave for 30 minutes, the patient would be dead.
    This is only a sign of what nurses give up in their lives for this profession. We have to be careful because when you commit to being a nurse, when do you have the time and strength to focus on homemaking and a family and relationships? I have worked in high acuity jobs all of my career and spend my days off recuperating and taking care of myself. There is little energy left to give to someone else.

  7. I can relate after almost 43 years in nursing, mostly working the night shift. Days and evenings (when there were only 8 hour shifts) just added to your workload, as you had to deal with the other departments, visitors and the “higher ups”. At least on nights there was usually a tight group that supported you thru the shift. Anyone that works nights will tell you there’s a certain type of nurse that chooses that shift. When I first started out in nursing, you did get breaks, meals and didn’t have to hold your urine for hours on end, because staffing was adequate and we worked a a team. There was little paperwork and we had kardexs that told you everything you needed to know about the patients. Shift report, that the entire nursing staff attended, allowed you to become familiar with all patients. It was nursing nirvana compared to what it is today. We actually took care of our patients. The head nurse was always available to assist. I loved my job and profession. As the years progressed, documentation became more important than the nursing care. If you attempted to nurse, you inevitably were there hours after your shift ended, documenting, and often caught hell from the higher ups. They often make fun of us “old timers” and say we are resistant to changes in the nursing profession. Thing is we really nursed and when most of that was taken away and replaced with paperwork, many of us rebelled. After years of tears, anxiety, bouts of burnout, holding my urine and eating while charting, I left the profession after having a knee replacement. I miss my patients and my first 20 years of nursing but nothing else. It breaks my heart to read a story like the one I am responding to. Wish she could have experienced what nursing is supposed to be, not what it has become.

    • I totally agree.I worked as a nurse for 44 years and retired at 62 not because i did not love my job but because paoerwork became more important than patients needs.When the use of computers to give medications arrived,i agreed that it make it safer for both patient and nurses but what when the system is too slow and you start to be late with the next patients.On top of that you had a write a comment why the med.was given 5 min late.I believe the 10 and 12 hrs shifts need to be reevaluated since this is a very demanding job with Human Beings that required an alert mind at all times.

    • You are so right! Nursing has evolved into not nursing at all, but paperwork that must
      Be done in a timely manor! I worked with “team nursing”, patients had daily baths, wound care on time and meds given by one assigned nurse for that team! Then came along “primary care” where the nurse basically did everything that the patients needed, procedures, meds, what was pushed to the bottom of nursing, was the actual interaction of getting to know your patients, their families, their goals once they left the hospital. Not so today and it is truly sad that the profession has regressed and placed more importance on paperwork, no overtime, no meals, no breaks for the weary nurses who spend 10-12 hrs shifts caring for critically acute patients and then discharging them home after 2 midnights! Who made that rule anyway?

  8. I can relate … especially with 3, 4 & 5 but will now add 1 to my list … thanks to the bright idea in above article that we nurses often forego, the bathroom break! Prayer is still the best; the invisible favor that comes from Above that often spares me from getting burned in a situation. Kudos to the author of this article! Very well said! 🙂

  9. I can relate 43 years of weekends holidays shifts I identify that you had no time to eat. Yes having a support at home would be helpful if it was the right person. Retiring 2years early because fatigue and injuries and anxiety is a great relief. Now I am going to work part time in a non nursing job. Dog walking teaching kids to sew driving people to appt. It’s a much happier time. Nursing was great for awhile but it’s not for the faint of heart

  10. I sure can relate. Be grateful you have a husband who you can vent to and eat nuts. They help better than chocolate. Prayer usually is the only thing that got me through. Hopefully, a better shift occurred the next night as after 60 years I firmly believe in the roller coaster of life as the Alzheimer Grandma spoke of in Steve Martin’s Parenthood movie.

    Sending you a mental hug!


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