What’s in my nursing bag?

There are two main points to drive home in this blog post.

First, I love seeing what’s in people’s bags, purses, pockets, etc. I think it’s interesting to see what they find important to keep with/on themselves, but also I like to see what products people are using. Ages ago I joined a “what’s in your bag” group on Flickr, and lost hours of my life looking at photos of the possessions of complete strangers.

Second, I carry a lot of crap on me. As the family expression goes, I can fit 10-pounds of crap in a 5-pound bag. For years I’ve referred to it as my urban survival kit, which was born from being a car-less student in a college town for almost a decade. Now as a nurse, I’m still leaving home for upwards of 12 hours at a time, so if I’m gonna need it anytime, I gotta lug it around.

If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that people like being voyeurs (in this case, I mean that very innocently). So I’m gonna show you what’s in my nursing bag that I carry to and from work. There are some things not shown because they’re stashed in my locker, but I do a separate post on locker contents.

This might be a snoozer from looking at the photo, but allow me to explain myself.

Ok, let’s try this clockwise starting top left, looking at the photo of all the bag guts I’ve included:

Scrub coat, extra pair of compression socks and a headband.
Tiny black zipper case with earbuds in them: helps me relax on breaks and long walks to the microbiology lab.
Water bottle with my name on it (Secret Santa 2016 – Thanks, Summer!)
Hand lotion and dry shampoo – you know – to keep my hands moist and my scalp dry.
Tiny ziploc bag of stethoscope parts (that needs to go in my locker).
Coin purse for emergent trips to the snack machine.
“a” bag = electronics bag i.e. power cords, remote triggers, phone camera lenses, etc.
orange and tan zipper bag aka period kit – tampons, liners, sani-wipes – you know, just glam shit.
Face wipes, hand wipes (more so for the car but will dry out if I leave them in the Iowa heat).
The headache med collection: Rx, ibuprofen, Excedrin migraine, and tylenol. Also among the ranks, lavendar and peppermint oil. [Not shown: allergy meds]
Umbrella that I lost in the hospital in 2010 (and found again in 2014 on the unit where I currently work).
Hand sanitizer I got for free at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation National Convention in 2016.
My wooden hand fan that I use to cool off in the break room every chance I get.
3 half-full packs of Orbit gum because I can never remember if I’m out when I’m at the register.
2 packs of nut butter for a quick on-the-go high protein snack. Also a chocolatey “granola” bar.
My blinding light on a badge reel that I use to see into the depths of my giant bag.
Tiny skull and crossbones sentence journal that I wrote about in a previous blog post.
$5 emergency snack money.
Back scratcher that I bought in the hospital gift shop. That thing has come in handy SO MANY times.
An array of pens, sharpies, pencils and highlighters. Also I got my ECG caliper pins that I don’t need because all the measurements are digital.
My portable pulse oximeter that I need to put back on it’s lanyard.
The research articles I’m reading for my Nurse Residency Program project.
My badge which adorned with three pins, my locker key and a squeeze-light.

Not shown:
4500 more unnecessary pens, markers and carpujets.
Loose change, alcohol pads, and gum wrappers.

My stethoscope – my pride and joy – Littman Cardiology IV in bright pink. I can hear things with it that I couldn’t hear with my shitty old nursing school steth. Oh, you say the bases are decreased? Yeah, we’ll ole pinkie hear tells me there are some crackles down there.

What’s in your bag? Do you carry more than you need or do you use all the things you keep in tow? Talk to me, health care professionals!!



My World at Night

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While I’ve bitched and moaned for years about the hardships of working night shift (and believe me, there are plenty of them), I really have come to love my nocturnal world. There are a few particular things about being in the hospital at night that bring me the same lovely, lost emotions that I felt the first time I watched Lost in Translation. There’s both a loneliness and a solitude to walking the halls of this giant campus at night. I noticed it more than a few years ago…I found myself getting possessive of the night, feeling snarley at the staff that came in at 6 or 7am and flipped all the lights on without warning. I felt like the night, in some small way, belonged to me and how dare they trample it with their daytime voices and fresh coffee smells.

I love going outside the hospital, in good weather, and taking a walk around the adjacent football stadium at 4 or 5am. It’s the part of the day where the prime hours of the bats and the birds overlap a little bit. The perfect walking time is right around the same time color starts to appear in the dark sky. Once the first group of day shifters start to make their way in, that perfect walking time is over.

I used to do this regularly back in the misguided days when I was a cigarette smoker. It was an excuse for me to get out of the building, and walking around was a way to avoid having security sneak up on me. I would often run into patients out doing the same covert thing I was.

I no longer smoke, but I still love the idea of walking around a night. I was detered a year or two ago when a local serial groper pervert was caught in one of the hospital’s parking ramps – but really I just have to remain alert and keep my phone and pepper spray with me. I won’t have the night solitude stolen from me.

At night, I rarely have to wait for an elevator, or slow my pace when walking down any corridor to accomodate slower walkers, wheelchairs and beds in transit. Cafeteria lines are short, and from my spot up on the 7th floor, the city lights of this lovely river town sparkle and twinkle in the distance. When I go to the lower level at night, I can faintly hear music playing over the loudspeakers echoing down the empty linoleum hallways, an occurence you’d never come upon in the day time.

I like going into patient rooms at night, especially if they are sleeping well. I’m pretty stealthy after 11 years of night shift, so I can sneak in quietly, work in the soft glow of light from a computer monitor or IV pump. In the event that’s not enough, I have a tiny light clipped to my badge for checking Foleys and chest tubes in the dark. The other morning a patient commented to me about how they never heard  or felt me come in and detach their IV line from their PICC at 0130. Charting my cares while listening to a sweet old lady snore softly from a warm bed can provoke some nice feelings in a nurse.   Nights aren’t always quiet and content, but when they are, it’s really great.

And the best part is that, just as the day begins, the hallways fill up, the phones start ringing, the teams of doctors start rounding, families show up to visit and patients wake up with a list of needs from bathroom to teeth brushing to pain meds to showers…. I give report and stroll out into the blinding light of day, heading straight to my warm, soft bed.


Night Shift is a Harsh Mistress

Where the hell do I even begin to talk about my twisted love affair with nighttime? I could start by talking about high school and how I started skimping on sleep to study AND work a job. I could talk about my early 20s and my first overnight shifts doing home healthcare. But I’d rather just jump to telling you about what it’s been like to work night shift in a huge hospital for the last 8 years (it’ll be 9 in August of 2014).

As I type this, I’m fresh off a rare evening shift. l’m trying to stay awake until sunrise so i’m not wrecked on my next two night shifts. My brain’s a little toasted from running all over the respiratory ICU, so I’m presenting this to you in lists. I make a lot of lists.

The Things That Make Me Love Nightshift
1. The quiet/emptiness.
Ok, maybe not on the units. But in the hallways…it’s still. The stairwells are silent. There are no floods of chattering people coming to work or appointments, huddles of doctors, or sounds of the Java House coffee grinders. Just the faint, distant whirr of a carpet cleaner 2 pavilions over. At 3am, I take walks in the empty hallways (mostly the parts of the hospital I don’t ever get to see). I photograph art, hang out in the stairwell and whistle songs (the acoustics are brilliant), or sit in a chair somewhere remote and close my eyes. I always wonder if the bored security guards watch me and wonder “what’s this weirdo gonna do next?”

2. Maintenance Vs. “Doing Stuff”
Two days ago, I heard one of my favorite nurses say “On night shift, we just maintain. We’re not sending people to the OR or discharging them, they’re not getting physical therapy…we just gotta keep things from going down the tubes.” I don’t think she meant this in a negative or lazy way, I just think she meant that we’re partners with the night, when humans sleep and their brains “run updates”. We keep homeostasis and comfort til the sun comes up and it’s time to “do stuff” again. I like the idea of being partners with the night, recharging people’s brains, though I’m not always getting a fair share of rest for myself.

3. Night Shift Nurses are Awesome!
Now, day-shifters, don’t get me wrong. I love all of you and you get tons of respect from me. But the night-shifters, by and large, are a buncha’ weirdos…..MY PEOPLE! And I’m not talking nurses on rotating days/nights. You fellow healthcareworkers of the dark, you make me laugh. And since we’re not constantly surrounded by patient family members, managers and
all the other thousands of people that pass through the hospital each day, We can have conversations, vent, and display our messed up senses of humor with far less risk of being overheard.

4. TLC time.
Many night shifts are just giant shitstorms of one exhausting task after another, but I still feel I get to pamper my patients a little more at night than during the day. I can give backrubs (which no patient has ever complained about – even at the most bizarre times of night!) I can clean their rooms and make all the tangles of tubes and wires and cords more manageable for day shift. In the middle of the night, I can give a comatose patient a real soap and water bath, and sing to them (with the door closed, of course). I’m no saint, but if I have to be there, and they absolutely have to be there, we might as well try to make this shit pleasant.

5. Walking Away from the Chaos
At 7am or so, the hospital gets crazy. From the ridiculous traffic surrounding the medical campus, to the skywalk flooded with people marching to their departments with thermoses of coffee in hand, to the units which are abruptly flooded with doctors, visitors, physical theapists, meal delivery, ringing phones, endless call lights, it’s an overload of stimuli……And I put on my hat and coat, and walk to the bus or car with the sun shining on my face. There are few feelings more satisfying than that.

Things That Absolutely Suck About Night Shift (the less poetic list)
1. Say goodbye to socialization with ‘normal’ people
99% of the people I know, love and want to spend time with are awake when I’m sleeping and vice versa. In the past, I’ve left parties at my own house to go to work. I’ve regretted not curling up with Doug and a blanket on cold winter nights. I’ve skipped shows or events I’m excited about.  I’ve said no to lots of activities that happen in the daylight, too. I’ve also skimped on major amounts of sleep just so I could hang by the pool or beach an extra few hours, or spend time with friends. I wish I was better about getting out into the day time. If you ever wanna’ hang out at 3am on a Tuesday, I’m probably free. 

2. Invisibility
I’ve never met my current supervisor. I know you all are like “that’s aweome! What’s the big deal?”  While this has not presented any real problems at work, invisible workers generally don’t get recognition, promotions, etc. like day shift workers who interact with management regularly. I’d like my boss to know how awesome I am at my job.

3. Bad Timing
My body has no idea what is happening. I can sleep for 16 hours without problem, then stay awake for 32 hours (yes, I know this is probably killing me slowly), and then sleep for another crazy stretch. I also get insomnia when I’m not working. I lay in a comfortable bed under a fleece blanket, and my internal monologue runs on hyper-drive. I sometimes wake up at 3:45am to poop or eat a snack because that’s what I did 3 other nights that week. Doug is amazed if he sees my face before 11am on a day off. And this started when I was a teenager. I should donate my brain to the University upon my death, so they can see what decades of my sleep disorder brain looks like.

4. Ya’ll Need to Shut Up
People don’t get how tired you are unless they’ve done it. This is not just a night shift thing – it’s also a hospital thing. But with night shift, you’re defying your brain’s chemistry on top of the regular work. It’s a different, messed up kind of tired. The kind of tired that drains every facet of your being. you’re so tired you hurt, you can’t form proper sentences by 9am because your brain’s surge protector is about to click off, you’re hungry but the idea of lifting your arm to feed yourself is just too much work, AND you have to be back on shift later that night. Next time you see someone who works in a hospital, offer them a quickie neck rub or an apple or something (this includes when you see me).

5. Waking up at 5 and not knowing if it’s AM or PM.
Before Doug and I met, I lived alone and worked full time rotating shifts. I’d wake up at 5 (to be at work by either 7am or 7pm), However, in the fall and winter months when the days are short, there were times I’d wake up for work in the dark and have no idea if it was morning or night. (I could have easily gone to bed in the morning and woken up a full day later.) So the clocks in my house were set to military time for years before Doug became my beacon of sanity and timekeeping.

I could keep going, but it’s 2am. Gotta step away from this devil-laptop or I’m going to doze off. Maybe my next list can be about all the shit I do at home to stay awake on my nights off.

p.s. my cat is snoring in the chair beside me. *sigh* this is my life. and i love it.