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The unsung heroes of the medical world: 6 things you didn't know about nurses.

Nurses are undoubtedly the unsung heroes of the medical world. From hospitals, schools, homes to correctional facilities, nurses work in a wide variety of settings, providing medical care and support to millions around the world.

Mamamia spoke to three nurses about their job and about some of the things a lot of people may not know about what they do.

“I love working weekends,” and other things nurses never say. Post continues after this video.

Video by MMC

1. We do not know everything.

Nurses are obviously highly educated, medical professionals but like all of us, they do not know it all and often this is one of the misconceptions of nurses.

“We are not a medical dictionary,” Tanya*, a Queensland nurse of eight years told Mamamia.

“So many people expect us to know all of the answers for everything, but the reality is we often don’t have them. The nature of our job often means a wide variety of medical issues are presented to us on any one day and they all vary depending on so many factors, so it can be really hard to just provide an answer at the drop of a hat,” she said.

2. No, we cannot bring home supplies!

“People think we can go to work to shop for medical supplies, the number of things I’ve been asked for is ridiculous,” Mandy*, a nurse of 28 years told Mamamia.

“People think we are like Nurse Jackie, with unlimited access to whatever we want. They often half joke about us bringing home some ‘good stuff’ for them” said Tanya “but we know they really want us to!”

3. We see and deal with some really devastating things.

The reality of working within the medical profession means seeing heart wrenching scenes regularly and first hand.

“Nurses are often the staff that have built the really strong relationships with patients and their family, especially if a patient has been at the hospital for an extended period of time. This can often mean we are the literal shoulder to cry on or hand to hold in some of the toughest moments,” Tanya said.

Mandy told Mamamia about the upsetting experiences which have resonated with her.

“I have seen it all in nursing and mostly families want the best for their loved ones but sometimes we see really uncaring families, and this is so hard to deal with and witness. It is quite heartbreaking to see a patient in such a bad state and a family that just doesn’t care, or worse, wishes them harm. Once I had a patient who had a husband deliberately harming his wife in hospital, so he didn’t have to have her home,” she explained.

nurse-in-theatre
"I have seen it all in nursing and mostly families want the best for their loved ones but sometimes we see really uncaring families, and this is so hard to deal with and witness." Image: Getty.
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4. We see and deal with some really gross and weird stuff!

“Working in the Emergency Room can be a very interesting place! What people ‘accidentally’ fall on and think you believe them is hilarious,” said Sonia*, an emergency room nurse of 15 years.

“I also had a child come in to the E.R complaining of an ear ache and then saw maggots crawling out of his ear,” she said.

But it isn’t just the E.R where nurses experience the weird and well…gross. “I’ve worked in about six different areas of hospitals from the emergency room to palliative care and oncology and in each ward, there are always some sights, smells and experiences that stay with you,” said Mandy.

“I once discovered that a patient was putting her used pads – wet – under her bed so they could dry. Also, the first time I ever saw a prolapsed uterus whilst showering a patient was quite confronting, I had to wash and dry it too!” she added.

Tanya describes her most disgusting experience as “conducting a bowel wash out on someone who hadn’t been for weeks, I remember it vividly, the smell seemed to linger up my nose for days” she said.

5. We make mistakes.

Like any of us in our work, nurses too, make mistakes. Unfortunately for them they can often be at very inopportune times, a situation that happened to Tanya.

“I was working in the palliative care ward and I announced to the patient’s family that their loved on has passed. Right at that moment, the patient took a breath. I was mortified,” she said.

6. We are very hard on ourselves and worry a lot about our patients.

Nurses are unwaveringly dedicated and committed to their jobs, so much so that they never seem to clock off.

“The thing I find the hardest about being a nurse is the feeling of not being able to meet every patient’s needs by the completion of a shift. I will often phone the ward from home to enquire about a patient if I am worried about them,” Tanya said.

Sonia said that nurses often “think about patients even when we go home. I do it so much that I often lie in bed every night thinking about ways to do my job better and provide better care.”

* Names have been changed for privacy reasons. 

Shona Hendley, mother of goats, cats and humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex-secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.

Tags: career , features , hospitals , nurses
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