On being an ICU nurse

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The other day, I saved a life.

It was not the first life I saved this month.  I literally saved a life with my brain and two hands.  I guided the resident through a stressful afternoon of strange heart rhythms and talked to him about the appropriate medications, drips, and interventions needed for the patient.  This is what ICU nurses do.  We use critical thinking to titrate medications minute to minute, micrograms per kilogram per minute, milligrams per hour, monitoring your blood pressure through invasive lines placed in arteries and directly into the heart, and we change the rates of those medications based on the way your heart responds to the dose.  Wow, that’s a lot.  I don’t expect to get a  parade or anything, I choose to do this because, at the end of the day, it is my calling.  My satisfaction comes when I am driving home at night, and I am thinking of all the cool stuff I did that day, and from knowing that my patient will never know quite how much of myself I freely gave to them.

Take a wild guess what else we do…..we get our patient’s packets of ketchup for their eggs, and ice chips, and yellow jello, “actually no, could you get me some  red jello because this yellow jello tastes nasty.”.

Imagine, if you will, the dichotomy of saving a life, then being asked to go fetch ketchup for your other patient’s eggs.  In my head, I’m thinking, “just gimme a minute to get my patient’s heart restarted, then I’ll get right on that ketchup for you!”.  And it’s not as if we mind getting you ketchup,  we want to serve you and make you happy. What we mind is being undervalued for the role we play in the hospital, especially by our patient’s even after we have literally saved their lives!   I would bet you would never ask your doctor to get you a packet of ketchup for your eggs.  I hold a masters degree, and a certification called a CCRN for which I had to take and pass a very difficult test to prove that I can interpret & treat hemodynamics.  I would try to explain hemodynamics, but this would be a very long blog.  Let’s just say it’s complicated.

Here’s the thing:  nursing is a unique profession.  We go to work for the sole purpose of saving people.  We are quite often underestimated for our level of expertise.  We do not want to be doctors.  We choose to be nurses.  And by nature of our oath, we serve you in many ways….including fetching you ketchup.


  1. Courtney on January 25, 2016 at 7:08 am

    I haven’t worked in ICU for 7 years, I still have vivid nightmares about tangled lines and coding patients and cleaning up exploding fecal bags. And non stop call lights. You’re amazing!!

  2. Nancy on January 25, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Yep. You are amazing.

  3. LeAnn on February 13, 2016 at 8:23 am

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. “Honey, I need 3 pillows behind my back”
    “Sweetheart, go get me some applesauce, but only if it’s Mott’s”
    “Maybe you don’t remember me, but you saved my life…thank you”
    —that last one is my favorite 🙂

    • april on February 13, 2016 at 11:33 pm

      That last one is what it’s all about

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