Nurses Share Their Worst Work-Related Story
The medical field is one of the toughest of fields to work in. Aside from the extensive schooling and training that goes into it, the situations encountered while working in a healthcare facility can be quite traumatizing. There are people rushing in through the emergency room doors constantly, needing their gruesome injuries treated immediately. There are families mourning the loss of loved ones, or struggling to say goodbye to them. There are also mentally ill and unstable patients behaving grossly and inappropriately.
Those working in the medical field have encountered almost every kind of nightmare scenario you could think of. Of all the healthcare professionals, nurses get the least credit. If you don’t think that’s true, see how you feel after reading through some of the worst work-related stories nurses recently shared online.
Don’t forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 Odor and Old Socks
I had an older patient who was tachycardic, but all his labs were normal. He seemed like he took fairly good care of himself. He was a little disheveled, but he dressed well and had nice shoes. We initially couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but he had a peculiar odor to him that even seasoned nurses would get suspicious of. I asked him if he had any infections on his body that he knew of, and he said “No,” but I wanted to do a thorough check, so we took off all his clothes. He was fine until I got down to his feet.
He was wearing an old pair of socks, and as I peeled them down, the skin around his foot literally came off with the sock. I was essentially degloving his foot. It was so vile, I couldn’t even get down more than a couple inches. The wound odor was so strong, I knew then that his feet were the source. He probably hadn’t changed his socks in several months. He ended up being admitted and given lots of antibiotics and wound care.
The memory of pulling down his socks will haunt me forever.
#2 On The Floor For Weeks
I’m not a nurse, but a nursing assistant. I was pulled to the ER one night to help with a patient that was brought in by ambulance. We’re a small hospital with only one ER nurse. Anyway, we knew this patient was going to be a mess after hearing from the medics that she had been on her floor for weeks. Her husband (who didn’t live with her) had been bringing her food but otherwise left her laying there. The medics had to literally scrape her off the floor with a shovel. She was a rather large lady, so you could just imagine the sores on her backside from laying there in her own filth for a month. We, of course, started cleaning her up right away, and it shocked me to find all this trash stuck in her folds. She even had a pop bottle lid in one fold.
I don’t know about the worst one, but I’m at work right now and a few hours ago, I asked a patient for a sample and I was punched in the throat. Thankfully, it’s gotten better since then.
#4 For Safe Keeping
There are so, so many to choose from.
One time, a homeless guy came to our hospital with an abdominal abscess (basically a hole in his abdomen). We were trying to clean his wound and assess the damage. When we reached inside his wound, we started finding money. He nonchalantly stated that he kept his money tucked in there, to protect it from being stolen.
#5 Holding Onto The Helmet
I’m not a nurse but my grandmother was an ER nurse. While working the night shift, they had a guy come in on an ambulance after being in a serious motorcycle accident. He was holding his helmet by the plastic face guard and the EMTs couldn’t pry it out of his hands. The guy was in such bad shape they didn’t have time to waste, so they brought him to the ER. When my grandmother and several other nurses tried to get the helmet away from him, he hit her in the face and knocked out 75% of her teeth. My grandmother had a full set of dentures from the age of 24.
#6 A Tragic Tracheostomy
Here’s a sad one: a 32-year-old male had been in a bad motorcycle accident and was in our trauma ICU for over a month. He barely made it; it was somewhat miraculous. He ended up with a tracheostomy but was on his way to being discharged for rehab.
I had taken care of him for three days in a row and on the last day, late in the shift, he stood up and coughed really hard (we were getting him back to bed from the chair). All of a sudden, blood starting spurting out of his trach. We got him into bed quick and within a minute or so, he started coding (cardiac arrest). We called for trauma and ENT surgeons and started mass transfusing blood while coding him. The family was screaming and escorted out. We were slipping on blood on the floor while we were trying to keep coding, holding pressure on his neck because we didn’t know what else to do. One nurse said she thinks he stopped bleeding. He did— because he fully bled out. We finally called it after about 45 minutes.
He had a tracheoarterial fistula that burst (an artery around the trach that was worn down by the pressure inside the trach cuff) from a combination of persistent hypertension, a strong cough, and bad luck. This happens in 0.7% of all trachs.
Nurses were sitting on the floor crying and same with the MDs… It was a terrible night and an awful couple of weeks following.
#7 The Waiting Game
Hospice nurse here. My assignment was a 13-hour shift with a 10-year-old patient suffering from brain cancer. I was to give one-on-one care in his home. He was unresponsive, but still breathing when I arrived. Basically, he was gone, but his body hadn’t figured that out yet. The tiny little guy was in a big hospital bed, his mom lying in the bed beside him. His dad was on his other side, holding his hand. His grandparents were in the adjoining living room with the patient’s six-year-old sister. Getting through that shift took all the mental and emotional strength I had. He died a few hours after my shift ended. I will gladly deal with blood, vomit, pus, and whatever else rather than go through something like that ever again.
#8 Shot In The Face
My father worked in the ER at the beginning of his nursing career, and he said one of the hardest things he had experienced was a young man who shot himself in the face but was still alive. All that was left was the back of his neck and the bottom part of his skull. The man died a short time later, but could you imagine seeing something like that? God bless nurses, they truly deal with so much.
#9 The Nightmare of DIC
Easily any patient that has DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation). Basically, the blood clots abnormally, and clots will form throughout the small vessels, causing hypoperfusion to all the organs. While blood is clotting throughout the small vessels, it’s not clotting in places where it is needed, like the orifices (mouth, eyes, nose, genitals). So the patient is essentially bleeding out externally while going into multi-organ failure internally because none of their organs are getting blood flow.
All the patients I’ve had with this condition barely lasted 48 hours. The last patient I took care of like this couldn’t go more than 30 minutes without some fluid resuscitation (even with vasopressors) or his blood pressure would drop to, like, 50/30. It was a nightmare.
#10 Eating His Fingers
We had a guy come into the ER from a nursing home. According to the report, he asked the staff for a glass of water. When he didn’t receive it quickly enough, his rational response was to start eating his fingers. By the time he got to us, he had eaten all 10 of his fingertips away. Bone was definitely visible. That’s a sight I won’t forget anytime soon.
#11 The Stench Of Electrocution
Electrocution. The smell of burnt hair and flesh is something you’ll never forget when you’ve smelled it. He was wearing steel toe boots and that’s where the electricity exited. Each toe looked like an overcooked hotdog.
#12 A Bloody Misunderstanding
On my first day working in a nursing home, one of the senior nurses asked me to help a little old lady off the toilet because she was “too busy”.
I walked in and there was blood everywhere. I start panicking, for all I knew she could have hit her head.
#13 The Struggle Of Substance Abuse
I’m not a nurse, but I work as a Substance Abuse Counselor. I had a lady who came in on a substance overdose, survived, and then had an unrelated brain aneurysm two hours later. I brought her almond Hershey bars while she was in ICU and she is currently working toward being in recovery a full year.
The worst is always chronically homeless males with substance abuse disorders. It breaks my heart to see people wanting help kicked out at three in the morning. Georgia is not a recovery-supporting state.
#14 The Patient With PTSD
The wildest thing:
I had a patient who was a helicopter pilot in the army. He was shot down, captured by enemy forces and held for a few days before getting released.
Fast forward a few years and he’s admitted to my unit for a GBM (think like, a worst-case brain tumor) on top of having PTSD. He was very active—he’d get out of bed, run around the unit, pull out IVs—and ended up needing a companion in his room at all times to supervise him.
Well one day, his nurse, I’ll call her C, asked me to hang out while she passed meds. This guy was 5’7″ but built like a brick house. C is maybe 5’1 and very meek. After she scanned his wrist badge, she told me I could go since he was sleeping.
I was barely out of the room when the patient shot out of bed, grabbed a chair and tried to hit C. It took six of us to get him back in bed and restrain him for the rest of the night.
A few days later, this patient heard one of our life flights land on the helipad outside his window and immediately had a flashback to his copter being shot down.
He threw a chair out the window and tried to jump out. My unit is on the 6th floor.
#15 Didn’t Believe She Had Breast Cancer
I used to work in a wound center. The worst was this woman who had breast cancer. She had a mammogram and thought her doctor was lying to her about it. Even though they showed her results, she refused treatment. Eventually, her tumor grew so big that her breast fell off. Her chest was exposed because of this and you could see her tumor out in the open. She still didn’t believe she had cancer and rarely came to appointments at the wound center despite the severity of it.
#16 Coding From Coughing
My roommate just started with visiting hospitals and such for nursing school. At her most recent one, she was helping feed this older woman who was sitting up in bed. My roommate walked out with her other trainee person while the old lady ate. Then, they heard coughing from the old lady’s room. They go in and the woman is struggling to talk and they can’t tell if she’s breathing or not.
So they go to get one of the on-duty nurses and she says, “Oh, she does that all the time, she just wants attention,” but they were certain something was wrong. They went and found another nurse who said the same thing but they continued to hear her coughing. They ran in and it looked as if she was choking. Other nurses ran in and started CPR and my roommate got shoved out of the room. The patient coded. My roommate said that the woman is fine now, but it was really upsetting for her to not know what to do at that moment and then go for help just to be ignored.
#17 Totally Unfazed
CNA here. The worst patient I ever had was this combative woman who fought, most of the time, to change her brief. She would lay in her dirty brief and bed sheets for hours. She refused to be changed for most of my 8-hour shift. By the time there was an hour left in the shift, I would get a second person to help. If she was really hostile, I would get two helpers: One to hold the left arm and her body; the second to hold the right arm and her body; the third to change the brief and bedding. The patient was a hitter, scratcher, spitter, cursed like a sailor, and screamed in a high-pitched wail every time. This happened routinely. I was relieved when she moved to long term care on a different floor.
Until I had her as a patient, I never understood that taking abuse was a routine hazard of nursing. Also, the smell got everywhere. Bed baths were never enough, unfortunately. Honestly, I knew that she was in pain and was just lashing out but I had to wonder why I was doing this.
#18 Family Matters Cutting Deep
Not sure if it’s the worst, but its the worst I can think of right now: a patient whose brother had attacked him with a machete. His right hand was on the gurney beside him. His family brought him in a taxi to the hospital.
#19 The Ache Of Alzheimer’s
This reminds me of what happened to my mom last year. She’s a caregiver, so not really a nurse, but still helps out with injured and elderly people. She had this one person who was really nice, but Alzheimer’s was starting to take its toll on her mind. She and my mom got along well and bonded over their love of the show Bones, which they often watched together.
After a while, she started to forget or confuse things and get really upset about them. My mom voiced her concerns about her declining mental health, but they wouldn’t listen and said things like, “Oh, she’s always been forgetful.” Her employers wouldn’t listen either because as long as the patient was still paying and not complaining, then it was still something they could handle.
One night, things finally escalated when she just completely freaked out and did not recognize who my mom was at all. She started screaming all these really cruel things, telling her to get out of her home and that she was calling the cops. My mom went outside and followed company policy for such incidents, which involved calling the family and informing them of the situation. The cops came and my mom explained the situation to them, which thankfully they were really understanding about and the whole thing was eventually worked out.
After that, her children finally decided it was time to get her to a special care facility with licensed professionals. It really did shake my mom though, because she got along so great with her. To see someone she considered a friend just completely not recognize her and berate her was really shocking. It also worried her in regards to her own future, because it does run in her side of the family, which is definitely a scary thought.
#20 A Piece Of Brain
A guy came in on Christmas Day after being hit by a train. After the initial flurry of activity, he was rushed off to CT to assess the damage, while I stayed behind to clean up the bay a little. I noticed what I think is some bloodied gauze on the floor and go to pick it up, only for me to realize it wasn’t a piece of gauze at all, it was a piece of that poor man’s brain.
#21 A Burning Lap
We once had an early morning admission to the ER of a young man who’d been making his morning cup of tea when he tipped the kettle over on the table. Most of the boiling water ended up in his lap. He wasn’t wearing any clothes.
#22 Burned On A Bike
I’m a doctor and whilst this isn’t my worst story, it’s the one which frustrates me the most.
I was working in a busy emergency department as a medical student and I saw a patient come as a trauma call following a motorbike accident.
Turns out, he had been out for a nice ride since the weather was lovely. He had his visor up and was enjoying himself. He decided to overtake a car in front as it was going too slow. As he overtook, the driver flicked their cigarette out the window which landed in the helmet of the bike rider.
So now he’s riding along while a lit cigarette is quickly burning a hole in his face, which, of course, promptly makes him swerve and crash into a parked car, with most of the force of the impact occurring at his head and neck.
So now he’s in the ER with his entire body strapped to a hard board to reduce the risk of permanent paralysis, waiting for scans to see if he had broken his neck.
Turns out he was fine in the end but sounds like he got lucky.
Don’t smoke and drive, people!
#23 Dementia And Disgusting Greetings
This was not me, but my mom. She was showing a student nurse around the dementia ward and introducing her to each patient. A blind lady with severe dementia greeted her, shook her hands and felt her face as you see blind people do in movies. The trouble was, the patient’s hands were covered in filth.
#24 Fired In The Wrong Direction
During my residency in the surgery department, the nurse I was training under asked me to come in ASAP at 4 a.m. (I normally come in at 6) so that I could see a “unique case.” It was some guy who had attempted to load a crossbow-like device (for fishing, I don’t remember the name) and in the process of doing so accidentally fired it on himself, penetrating his abdomen up to his right ventricle. That moment made me feel like nothing I learned in nursing school prepared me for the job.
#25 His Last Dying Wish
This happened probably 13 years ago… I was an ICU nurse in Phoenix. We had a kid come in quite frequently with cystic fibrosis. He was on his last leg, and he knew he was going to get intubated, and eventually die this admission. His last wish was to get married to his girlfriend. My colleague and I spent our entire day organizing the chaplain and dietary to get them married. The girls in the kitchen even made him a cake. He and his girlfriend got married, and they had a fantastic evening. Two days later he was intubated, and he was placed on the transplant list. He had made a DNR for his specific case where his lungs would no longer function, and he died peacefully a few days later. I still think about him very regularly. My colleague, who was the greatest mentor ever, taught me compassion above all else in our hectic world of modern medicine.
#26 Asleep During A Stove-Top Fire
The worst was a mother who put oil on the stove and fell asleep. House fire. She came in with third-degree burns to 95% of her body. She was kept alive for her family to come. Her husband shows up drunk, tries to fight the nurses and doctors. All the while, their kids are crying beside the bed. Horrible flashbacks…
#27 Decomposing For A Month
Not my story but my mom’s—she took her annual leave for about a month, and when she came back, she found out one of the patients died about a day or two after she left. The kicker is no one checked on the person or noticed anything weird, so for an entire month the body was left to decompose. Let’s just say when she opened the door, her breakfast came right back up.
#28 Traumatic Tribal Rituals
Treating infected wounds… down there… from traditional tribal rituals in the bush.
I still can’t comfortably eat sausages that have split open on a barbecue grill.
#29 A Wound Covered In Warts
My friend’s mom was a prison nurse for decades. She told me that she went into a cell to clean a inmates appendectomy wound and when she removed the bandage, she was mortified to see warts around the wound! She cleaned it in silence then left the cell. After that day, she never worked in a prison again…
#30 Calcium Buildup Turned Amputation
I used to work in a cellulitis clinic. We had a patient come in who had been receiving “IM vitamin B-12” shots to his deltoids. Both of his deltoids had massive abscesses. I was changing the packing and pulled out four 4×4 gauze pads, completely saturated. Turned out, he had massive calcium build up in both of his deltoids. The X-rays looked like he had clouds growing over the top of his bones. It was wild. He ended up getting both deltoids amputated. A few months later, he was back with a gluteal abscess for the same reason and got part of his gluteal muscle amputated.
#31 A Celebration Gone Wrong
An older adult female was brought in by family and was immediately brought back to get checked out. We worked on her for 45 minutes to no avail. The family said she had started feeling bad the day before, but they didn’t want to come in because it was her birthday.
#32 The Ones No One Talks About
I have thousands of stories. So many of us have these stories. The worst story is the one we don’t tell. The worst story is the one we don’t have words for. Hug your friends. Hold your children. Every day is a gift. Forgive all the petty things that happen day-to-day. It doesn’t matter. We are all insignificant, and beautiful.
#33 Drama-Induced Trauma
Once, was on call when we got a patient with a massive heart attack. No chance of a sinus rhythm so far and he was incredibly hard to resuscitate because he had had a coronary bypass. The bones in his chest were also fused together like a knight’s armor. This was a comparatively young man in my line of work, mid-fifties I guess. He died in our lab.
Anyways, turns out he had a very heated argument with his grown-up son that night when he collapsed and that caused his heart attack.
#34 Recurring Nightmares
I’ve had to put the brain of a seven-year-old boy in a plastic bag after a traffic collision. I still have nightmares. You get used to death, just not when it involves children.
#35 Think Before You Speak
My cousin is a nurse.
A single parent father and his 15-year-old daughter were having a really heated argument. In the middle of it all, he has a heart attack. The ambulance takes him to the hospital and he ends up losing his life.
When the daughter arrived, my cousin had to tell the daughter that her father didn’t make it. the girl then runs over to him and just collapses on the floor, screaming and bawling her eyes out.
#36 PTSD Isn’t Pretty
I had this patient from Syria who had been hit in an air strike. We were operating on splinters in his ribs. In the morning when I knocked on the room to see if he was awake, he literally jumped out of the bed and hit the floor. Right on his operation wound. He thought the knocking was the air strike… I felt so sorry for him…
#37 Stuck In The Worst Elevator
Untreated diabetes. I went into an elevator in Tokyo hospital last year and the smell hit me two steps inside the door but not fast enough to get out again. A morbidly obese homeless guy with untreated diabetes was inside, and the air was thick with the stench. Then all of a sudden, the elevator stopped working.
#38 The First Time I Cried On The Job
Once, I had a 40-something-year-old man die from a massive MI and sudden cardiac arrest. I worked him for a while before declaring him dead. It was a sad case but not exceptionally difficult emotionally, until his daughter who was no older than 10 years old came into the unit screaming and crying. I’ll never forget the “Daddy no!!!” That she let out. That was the only time I cried over a dead patient. It didn’t help that I was a new father at the time either.
#39 “I Am About To Die.”
I’m an ER nurse. I’ve been grabbed by three different people who told me, “I am about to die.” Each time, they passed away right after. One was a trauma patient and the other two suffered from respiratory distress cases of unknown cause at the time. When someone says that to me now, I take it seriously.
#40 Worm Problems
Had a guy come in from Brazil with seizures and AMS. They had no idea why they were happening since he was barely 18 years old.
They did a CT/ MRI and saw these black lines pop up in his frontal lobe. The doctors did surgery thinking it was a tumor.
Imagine their surprise when it was a worm.
#41 Missing Tissues
Abscesses definitely are the worst. That, and morbidly obese people with rhino skin. It’s thick, scaly, and oozes at all times in horrid colors with the vilest smell.
I had a guy with an abscess on his left buttock once. The amount of missing tissue on him… It took two or three months of wound care before he was discharged. He was a really good person, and I felt horrible.
Also, homeless people feet. Saw a guy that was walking around for a long time on a big toe that was basically just the bone stump. It wasn’t awesome at all.
#42 She’s Just Trying To Help You!
My first patient experience in nursing school was a doozy.
The patient came in with chest pain, multiple previous MIs, looking terrible. He went into cardiopulmonary arrest in front of us and we immediately start CPR. Being a med student, I was doing compressions.
Halfway through the first round, the guy starts groaning and grabbing at my arm. I assumed that meant his heart started up again so I stop for a second and the guy goes totally limp. No palpable pulse.
I restart compressions and the same thing happens again; this time they tell me not to stop. Apparently, there was little enough downtime and the compressions were working well enough to perfuse his brain to the point of actually waking up a bit.
Ultimately we sedated the guy, but for the first few minutes, we had to hold his arms down so he wouldn’t grab me. He was still groaning during that time too.
Called the code about 30 minutes in.
#43 A Big Challenge
I had to install a catheter on a large woman last night. It took six of us nurses in the ICU. Two of us to hold her belly back so we could see the perineum, two were on leg duty, and the two more were at the foot of the bed, one with a flashlight and one with the actual catheter. It took at least 30 minutes. She had a prolapsed uterus which made finding the urethra that much more difficult.
We finally got it, which saved our asses in the end. The patient was on a Lasix drip and was too heavy to stand. She also couldn’t tolerate turning in the bed to be cleaned and to change her sheets because her oxygen saturation would immediately start to plummet.
#44 Saved By The Flatulence
This patient had quite large skin tags which made it hard to see where I needed to “aim.” Apparently, my poking around the area stimulated something and she flatulated while my face was in relatively close proximity. Fortunately, the flatulence moved the skin tags out of the way momentarily so I was able to clearly see the path I needed to follow. Never thought witnessing flatulence would be so handy.
#45 Dumped To Die
One of our patients was dumped on a hospital doorstep with multiple wounds. And this is in Austin, Texas in a nice part of town. Dude got away to my knowledge. I think sometimes the perpetrators panic and try to right their wrong, maybe? Who knows.