I have a sick sense of humor! There, I said it. I’m an ICU nurse and have been for as long as I can remember. My pre-nurse past is a distant memory.
But a couple of weeks ago I had a family member of a patient who was circling the drain, ask me why nurses had such “sick humor.” So with all joking aside I explained a few things to her.
When you’re an ICU nurse, (or any other critical care nurse), your days are consumed with patients who are in excruciating pain. Many are dying and fighting to live. Just when you’ve seen it all, you see something even more horrible. Horrendous burn victims or patients with horrifying injuries. Patients who don’t deserve to die and although you know you’re doing everything you can, it won’t be enough.
Then there’s the 95-year old patient who is on every medication known to man. He has tubes coming from every orifice and the patient’s family wants the patient to have a PICC line because they’re “just not ready to let go.”
The frustrations of nursing every day can surely get the best of any nurse, regardless of how strong they are. Nurses cry for complete strangers and drive themselves crazy trying to figure out what else we could have done to save a patient who would have died regardless. So we turn to the best defense mechanism we know, a dark sense of humor. People are so quick to judge nurses and their “weird jokes.” But these are the same people that don’t understand what nurses do. Sometimes it’s a toss-up between laughing or crying your eyes out. I choose to laugh, and I have learned that I’m not the only one. It becomes a crutch that nurses use to deal with tragedy and a common bond that all nurses share.
It’s a survival tactic, and humans are very good at learning this method when they want to protect themselves from emotional pain. Every day nurses challenge themselves to care for their patients. They frequently overlook their own needs for the sake of tending to others.
Call us odd or weird, but don’t call us cruel and make comments about us making fun of our patients for the sake of a joke. Don’t comment about how “inappropriate,” you think it is. Until you know what it’s like to be a nurse, don’t judge us. Till you know what it’s like to use all the strength, knowledge, and skill you have to save a teenage girl from dying from her severe motor vehicle injuries, listening to her loves ones screaming at you to, “please save her,” while the organ donation people are waiting around the corner to take her organs, because we all know she isn’t going to make it. Until you know what it’s like to have a NICU baby die in your arms or watch an old woman take her last labored breath, don’t judge us. We never laugh at our patients; we laugh at situations, and you would do the same.
We’re not angels or miracle workers,. We have a lot of pressure on us to do the best we can with all our patients, but we can’t save everyone.. I love my job as most nurses do. I feel privileged to be in a profession that allows me the opportunity to be present when a new-born baby opens its eyes and when the elderly close theirs for the last time. I’m also there to help and care for them with everything in between. But allow me to laugh, because there’s one thing we know for sure; laughter is the best medicine, even for nurses.
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