This will be a very long post. But I feel like it’s worth reading. As fellow nurses, you all know that we stretch ourselves too thin. We work long hours. We have stressful shifts. We push our bodies and our minds over and over again. For our patients. For our coworkers. For our families. We all know that we should take care of ourselves. We all know we should eat better, exercise more, drink less. Stop saying yes to picking up extra shifts. Stop going without sleep so we can spend time with our friends and families on our off days. Of course, we know all that. But we’re nurses, it’s just what our life is like. So we keep going. Until we break. This is my story about my break.
I had worked 3 night shifts in a row. Nothing new. I’ve always worked nights. I hadn’t slept well at all, also not new. I’ve been taking meds for insomnia for about 5 years. I was on call from 2300-0700 for night number 4. I had got somebody to cover the first 4 hours of my call because I wanted to go to a mystery theater dinner thing. The day after shift 3 I didn’t sleep. At all. Just could not fall asleep, even with drugs. I should have skipped the dinner and tried harder to get some sleep. But I was really looking forward to it so I got up and I went. And then, of course, I got a text saying they would need me at 2300. I was already so tired, my eyes were burning and my face was flushed. I was over emotional already. But they needed me so I had to go.
I work in L&D. I’ve been at this unit for about a year. Before this, I worked step down. I’m pretty comfortable in L&D now. Still haven’t encountered a lot of things but for the most part, I’m confident in my skills. When I get to work the unit is slammed. And there are 2 triages that had just come in that my charge nurse gives me. Both are rule out labor. As soon as I start working I realize I’m kind of off. I go to the supply room for something and totally forget what. I stare at a fetal strip forever before being able to analyze it. I forget where to go in our charting system to get to certain things. One of the triages is fine, going to be discharged. The other is 38 weeks and having contractions every 2-7 minutes. Her cervix is 2/60/-2. Her doctor happens to be on the unit for another delivery so I let her hang out on the monitors to wait to see what the doctor wants to do. So I start working on discharging the other patient. About half an hour or so later I’ve discharged the other patient and the MD gets out of the other delivery. She looks at the strip and says “She’s having lates. Why haven’t you admitted her?” I look at her strip (even though I’d been checking it regularly and it looked okay) and see she HAS been having deceleration. Go in the room and patient is obviously in pain. Recheck her she’s 4/80/-1. I try to get an IV so I can start her bolus for an epidural. I’m flustered and scared, I have the volume on the monitor up and I can hear baby’s heart rate keeps dipping. I can’t get the IV. I go to get some help. The other nurse gets the IV quickly and I start a bolus, turn the patient to the left and put her on some oxygen. Strip still looks iffy but I just can’t really get a good picture of what’s going on. I don’t know what to do. So I go out to the nurse’s station and ask somebody else to take a look at it. “Oh yeah, looks like she started having variables here. And then they turn into lates here. And now her variability is minimal.” I start crying. It was like a faucet got turned on. I can not calm myself down and stop crying. Everybody surrounds me and keeps asking me “How can I help you? What can I do?” And I can’t even think straight to know what to ask them to do. So my charge nurse switches around assignments and I give the labor patient away and get some post partum patients instead.
The next few hours are horrible. I keep crying randomly, my eyes are so swollen and my face is red. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m having a hard time keeping up with which patient needs what. All the nurses keep looking at me like “You poor thing” and being overly sugary and sweet towards me.
Around 0530 things start getting worse. I was looking at a nurse telling her something about the labor patient I had and I thought that I saw her eyes dilating and then contracting back. I kept staring straight into her eyes. I would tilt my head to left and then back to center over and over, all while looking into their eyes and seeing them dilate and contract over and over. I snapped out of it after about thirty seconds and was terrified. The nurse was obviously a little freaked out and kept asking if I was okay. I tried to shake it off and kept telling myself the shift was almost over. I’d be able to sleep soon. But then it happened again. My heart was pounding and I started hyperventilating. At this point, all of the nurses are very worried about me. My charge nurse talks me into going to the ER. I try to call my boyfriend as my charge nurse walks me down to the ER but he doesn’t pick up. Once in the ER every person, I interact with I think is in this little “trance” where their eyes glaze over and dilate while I stare. I start to think that I’m somehow infecting these people when I look at them and making them go into a trance.
They get me back to triage quickly. My HR and BP are through the roof. I can hardly talk at this point. I’m trying to explain how I’m feeling to the triage nurse but every time I look at him he starts going into this trance. I really start panicking at this time. I keep telling the triage nurse to get help because I’m making him sick. I keep going over ACLS steps in my head because I think that either I’m about to code or this triage nurse is. My boyfriend calls me back at this point and I tell him to get to the ER because I feel like I’m coding.
They get me back to a room. Every single person that comes in I think is in this trance. They seem like they’re walking slow and moving slow. Their eyes are glazed, pupils dilated. Speech is slow. The nurse and doctor step out at one point and I press the code blue button in the room because I’m certain I’m dying. My heart is racing, my chest is tight, I’m dizzy. And I see all these people in trances and I know I’m going to code and there will be nobody there to help me. I keep snapping in everybody’s faces in hopes they will wake up. I’m screaming and crying.
My boyfriend shows up around this time. I look at him and even HE goes into this trance. I hit him in the chest trying to wake him up. I keep telling him I love him so much and that I’m sorry. I tell him he doesn’t have a pulse and I’m so sorry that I’ve made everybody sick because nobody can help him. There are several nurses and techs and they’re trying to hold me down and I’m fighting them. Hard. They try to get an IV but I’m moving too much. They then roll me to the side to give me an IM injection (Benadryl and Ativan). I’m screaming and fighting them because I don’t understand what’s going on and I think they’re giving me something to kill me (because I’m making everybody go into this trance.) I get away from them and get off the stretcher. There are people in and out of the room constantly. They’re trying to talk me down. At one point when there is nobody in the room and I sit against the door and try to barricade people from coming in. I manage to get my cell phone and I call 911. I tell them that everybody at my hospital is in a trance and they’re trying to kill me. My boyfriend gets the phone from me and is trying his best to calm me down. I keep trying to drag him out of the room (I was trying to get out of the hospital because I thought 911 would be sending EMS).
I start feeling weak and strange. I think that I’m starting to die from the injection they gave me. They’re trying to get me back on the stretcher and into wrist restraints. I’m biting and kicking at this point. They try to put paper scrubs on me (I had taken my scrubs off by this point..dunno why). I think they’re trying to put a hood over my head so I won’t see when they kill me. They give me another injection (Haldol). I’m still trying to get up. Finally, all the drugs start hitting me. I’m certain I’m slowly dying at this point. They tell me I’ve been PEC’d and start explaining things to my boyfriend. I think it’s weird that they would bother with a PEC since they tried to kill me. I start feeling very drowsy and weak. They make my boyfriend leave the room since I’m PEC’d. He tells me he’ll be back at 1300 for visiting hours. I told him “Fine, but I’ll be dead by then.” The nurses slowly filter out as it becomes obvious that I won’t need to be held down anymore. They leave a sitter in the room that looks terrified. I drifted in and out, at this point, I have accepted the fact that I’m going to die and I’m just glad I’m going to be able to sleep.
I sleep a bit on and off and slowly start coming to my senses. I realize I’m not going to die. I start getting scared that I’ve been PEC’d. My boyfriend comes back and I get him to tell me his side of things. Later that afternoon EMS come to transport me to a psych facility. By that time I’m pretty much back to my baseline.
The psych facility terrifies me. I’m on a general adult psychiatric ward. The first person to talk to me was a schizophrenic patient that was telling me that I was his daughter and was yelling at me because I took the elevator when he had told me to take the stairs. What in the fuck? I do not belong here. They start me on new meds for sleep (Seroquel). I sleep like a baby and feel fine other than being anxious about being in a psych ward. I think surely they’ll let me go home after reviewing the PEC. I’m not a harm to myself or others, I’m not suicidal, I’m not depressed, I’m not hallucinating. Nope. I was there for 9 days. I don’t know whether they held me so long because I was a nurse and they wanted to ensure I was safe to go back to work. Or maybe because I had good insurance. I saw patients that were in for suicide attempts and active hallucinations leave before me. All Medicaid patients. As a nurse, it was definitely enlightening to see this world from a patient side. I now have a very very negative view of short-term inpatient psychiatric care. Now, this could have been a bad example of typical units. I could write a book. Hell, maybe I should.
Anyway. I’m back to work now. Still on nights because I can’t find an L&D day position. Thankfully we self-schedule on my unit so I’ve been able to make sure I don’t work more than 3 shifts in a row. The Seroquel is helping with sleep, but I have already had to go up on the dosage for it to be effective. I’m terrified every time I work that I won’t be able to sleep. I’m terrified that this will happened again. I never got an official diagnosis but I assume it was a severe panic attack with psychotic features. A small part of me wonders what if this was just a precursor to some psychological illness. All of the nurses on my unit have been so supportive. I still get weirded out at work sometimes, deja vu and what not. I still hate having patients in the room that that labor patient was in. I still feel weird around the nurses that were there that night. It was a terrible experience, I still remember most of it so vividly. The delusion of everybody being in a trance still seems so so realistic to me. I’ve talked to so many people about how it looked from an outside perspective. I wish I could understand exactly what happened. It’s awful to have your mind betray you.
Thank you for anybody that reads this. It feels good to see all of this down in black and white. And please, take my experience as a warning. You are not invincible. You can not keep running your body into the ground. One day your body and mind will say “Enough.”
The story above was published from Reddit with the consent of the writer.
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