Nurses Share The Most Infuriating Things They've Had To Explain To Patients

April 6, 2021 | Byron Fast

Nurses Share The Most Infuriating Things They've Had To Explain To Patients

I think it was Madonna who said “Life is a Mystery.” Well, these nurses have had to explain that mystery to some patients who must have slept through health class in high school. These clueless patients didn’t seem to have any information about basic anatomy, simple hospital procedures, or even how to put a pill in their mouth. For these nurses, life is more like a "misery.”

1. A Pain In The Neck

I was giving a grown patient IV Benadryl for a rash and itching on the upper body. The IV was in the right arm so I started to give the medication into the right arm. The patient panicked when I said I was done. “What do you mean you’re done? You only put it in my right arm, my left is itching too!” I calmly explained that putting medication in the IV sends it to the whole body. She exclaimed, “You mean it even goes to my neck?” I said yes, and she said wow.

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2. It’s A Wonder This One’s Still Alive

As you may know, celiac patients can’t eat any wheat products. Recently, our nutritionist called me over to try to help her with a patient who was having trouble understanding something. I had to spend WAY too long explaining to this patient that white bread was still made out of wheat and that’s why she was still sick.

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3. Take The Advice Sweety

I had this patient who was coming in and her sugars were inexplicably high despite testing and taking insulin regularly. I was trying to figure out what was going on and asked the woman about what she ate each day, her habits, and so forth. After she finished, her husband goes "Hon, you forgot to mention your slushies."

Yeah, this lady was having an XL slushy from the local 7-11 EVERY DAY and had no idea they had sugar in them. So that was why her sugars were so high each day. Then she had the nerve to argue with the nurse about the fact that those slushies are basically sugar water, and she had to stop drinking them altogether.


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4. Not Clear On The Procedure

My wife was about to get her tubes tied and we were being taken care of by the lovely nurse on duty. The nurse asked her to sign a document stating that she would be rendered infertile after the procedure. We were like...duh. My wife and I were laughing and the nurse just straight up said, “I used to think it was funny too.”

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5. The Healing Magic Of Water

I do in-home long-term care for disabled adults, and a guardian of one of the adults has trouble paying the bills. I always felt sorry for her until I found out she had dropped $2k on a magic water machine. And when I found out why, I lost even more sympathy. Turns out she swears the alkaline water helps with her daughter's "autism." She won't pay the bills on time, but by golly, she's able to buy this expensive machine.


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6. Worst Case Scenario

I had a guy come in who wanted malaria tablets but wasn’t sure what area of the country he would be traveling in. If he was traveling in rural areas he would need them, but in the cities, he wouldn’t. He asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I told him he could get malaria. His response was: “Yeah, but how bad can that be?” “The worst? Well, it can kill you.” He left without the pills anyway.

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7. Clean Up On Aisle 12

I once got a call from a discharged patient. She started out: “So I’m wearing these Depends and I’m wondering if I need to change them every day?” I was like, “Uhh yeah...or when they’re soiled.” “Okay, and should I clean myself up after that?” “Yes. Yes, please.” We thought we were being punked.

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8. Hmmm... Health Spa? Or Hospital.

I was dealing with some rather clueless parents and their child who was having seizures. The kid had Lennox-Gastout, which is one of the most severe forms of epilepsy and needs quite complex and extensive therapy. When I found out how the parents were treating their kid, I wanted to scream. Lavender essential oil and ice packs.

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9. Foiled Again

After my c-section, the very helpful nurse handed me a pack of suppositories for pain. The medicine came in individual foil packets. When she handed them over the nurse reminded me not to forget to take the foil off. I looked at her and went "...Nooooooooo! Somebody did that?" She gave me this really tired look and nodded.

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10. You Get One Last Meal

I used to work on a cardiology unit and we often would get patients who had surgery either later in the day or the next day. I was a nurse assistant and would constantly be arguing with patients because they think we are evil for not letting them eat. “I HAVEN’T EATEN IN 15 HOURS,” I’m like I’m sorry dude but either you don’t eat or this process will begin again because these doctors don’t want to possibly kill you.

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11. No PDAs Please

One of my coworkers was having trouble with a confused patient. I went over to help her boost the clearly bewildered patient up in the bed. We usually tell our patients to hug their chest cause it helps us move them in the bed easily. I think this patient heard wrong because he was reaching over to hug me instead. I guess he heard "hug me!"

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12. The Human Sponge

I once had to listen to a dialysis patient explain to me very seriously why he had gained six kilos of water weight in two days. That’s a lot of weight for two days! He was convinced he’d gained water weight because he had "sat in the tub for too long" and had magically absorbed over 13 lbs. of fluid. That was not a fun conversation.

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13. There’s No “I” In Stupid

I was working in the ICU at the time and information written on the whiteboard: “Patient had pneumonia.” The patient’s family was freaking out, pulling their hair. They were really angry that the hospital gave their family the dreaded strain of P-neumonia. It took hours explaining to them that is how pneumonia is spelled. Dictionary. Internet. Coworkers. They still insisted.

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14. Father Doesn't Quite Know Best

We once had a father bring his daughter into the hospital because she got her period for the first time. He brought her to the ER no less! We had an OBGYN come down and help the poor girl through it. Imagine how traumatic that was for a 10-year-old, "Yes honey, you got your period, it's an emergency, we need to go to the ER NOW."

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15. Breathing Is Overrated

I once had a patient with a bad case of lung disease, who pretty much couldn't breathe and was drowning in the air she couldn't breathe out. I had to explain to the family that she should think about quitting her nicotine habit. Afterward, I heard the family telling her to smoke through her nose and to just take shallow puffs.

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16. I Blame The Coffee Shop

I’ve had patients come in for their surgery with a coffee in their hand and then yell when we told them we’d have to cancel the surgery, with one lovely fellow screaming, “Why do you even have a coffee shop then if I’m not allowed to drink coffee? Why would they sell me coffee if I can’t drink it?” No eating and drinking 10 hours before your surgery means no eating and drinking anything. Not Tums, not breast milk, not coffee, not anything. But we’re the morons when it happens, of course.

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17. The of Stupidity Of Positive Thinking

One day, a girl in her early 20s arrives in the ER with the telltale signs of an STD (can’t remember which one). I explain to the girl she probably has said STD and they want to run a test. Girl insists she can’t have an STD but they run it anyway. Sure enough, it’s positive. The girl proceeds to tell me that the test is wrong and to run it again. When she explained how she knew, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry...

She said she's only been intimate with her boyfriend and they were both virgins before they got together, therefore, it’s impossible that she got an STD from HIM.

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18. Excuse Me, Are You Busy?

I was running through a ward because of an emergency and a patient stops and asks for some toast and jam. I had to explain, “No I can’t get you toast and jam right this second because you are diabetic for one and there is a cardiac arrest going on in the next bed” which is why I am running past you and the room is full of doctors shouting and the loud emergency alarm is going off.

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19. It’s A Wrap

I had a patient whose blood sugar was extremely high. One of the goals is to drop the blood glucose and the patient is placed on an insulin drip. This patient's numbers were not changing at all over a couple of hours. The patient kept asking if she could eat to which the reply is always, NO! I then noticed a candy wrapper in the patient's bed. I then lifted up their blanket and what did I find? A pile of candy wrappers.

I then had to explain nicely why eating candy at this time was bad.

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20. They Come From Within

The first time I came across a patient with this belief I thought it was a one-off. I’m not sure where it started but I’ve been hearing it more and more. It turns out that a lot of people believe that we have maggots living in us all the time, and when we die they come out to eat us. That’s just gross—and not accurate!

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21. Not Abreast Of The Situation

They were first-time parents, probably about 15-16. Baby still in utero at this stage and I was discussing breastfeeding with said parents. They asked me if they can feed the baby the same food they have: “Can I give him some of my kebab??” After a lengthy conversation educating these two on the importance of feeding baby MILK, they tell me not to worry they understand.

They will feed the baby three times a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)...with the cow’s milk in the fridge. Argh.

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22. You Light Up The Room

I can’t believe the ridiculously high number of times I have to tell patients not to smoke in their rooms. The walls are lined with oxygen! If a fire starts, you will literally blow the roof off of this place!

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23. How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?

I work with patients after they have had open-heart surgery, so I'm not surprised when they have a lot of questions. There’s a lot to take in. But the number one question really makes me wonder. I can't even remember how many patients have been sooooooo surprised that their chest hurts. You’ve just had open heart surgery! It's gonna hurt!

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24. It’s All In The Family

We had a whole family running around our ward while they waited for the father’s surgery. The kids are fractious at this stage and are playing tag up and down the ward corridor, almost banging into a few frail patients. I shout at the boy to stop before he ran into the catering lady who was carrying a tray of tea. Eventually, they calmed down.

Later I’m at the nurse’s station doing my documentation when I catch the mother of this family waddling away from the clearly marked PATIENT ONLY male bathroom. I walk up there and ask if she’s just used the bathroom. She said she has. I ask her, did she not see the huge yellow sign saying male patients only—radioactive hazard.

From her waddle, I ask if she’s pregnant, and she says yes with the smarmiest look on her face and thinking I want to blab about the fetus I have no interest in. I pull down the door sign and ask her to read it. Her face absolutely drops. I tell her she needs to leave the ward with her children NOW. A hospital isn’t a playground.

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25. Have You Got A Cure For Boredom?

I was explaining to an old man that after he has put in the eye drops for dilation, he needs to sit with his eyes closed for them to work. Apparently, the first time he got the drops, he simply wandered off because he was bored. So after giving him these instructions, guess what he did after five minutes? He wanders off again.

I must have had an "I can't believe I have to explain this" expression the third time I was putting in the drops.


26. If I Only Had A Brain

More than once, we’ve had the family of a braindead patient ask about (or, more recently, DEMAND) a brain transplant. It’s such a sad situation, but I almost laughed the first time it happened.

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27. He Got An Earful

I’m a nurse at a kindergarten and have insane stories. One of the most recent ones involved a little boy and rock salt. While he was out on the playground, he found rock salt on the blacktop. He thought it looked cool and wanted to keep it. When it was time to go back inside, he was afraid his teacher would see it and take it away from him, so he decided to hide it.

Unfortunately, his larger gloves, and probably less-developed fine motor skills, kept him from being able to fit the handful of rock salt into his pockets. So being a creative problem solver, he shoved some of his precious rock salt into the only other place he could think of—deep down in his ear. It was so far in, I did not feel comfortable attempting the removal in my office.

So imagine how fun that phone call was? Explain to a concerned parent that they have to take their kid to the emergency room to remove rock salt he stuffed into his own ear for safekeeping.

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28. I’ll Have What He’s Having

A patient in a ward I was working in saw the guy in the next bed getting his dose of morphine. So he thought he’d ask me for some. I had to explain that “You cannot have morphine just because the man in the bed across from you got some. He is a cancer patient and you have come in with a chest infection.” I think he thought because the bottle was open I might as well dish it out.

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29. I Vant Your Blood

I work in skilled nursing currently. Lately, every time I go to do my finger sticks, I alert my patient by saying, "Hello it's your favorite time of the day. I need your blood." The patient usually says "Oh jeez, you always need my blood." And I reply with something along the lines of, "It's not me, it's this machine, it's insatiable. We have to feed it at least three times a day or else".

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30. Maybe Try Brain Supplements?

I had first-time parents on my ward with their three-day-old jaundiced baby. The mom felt so bad and explained that she’d been careful with what she ate. I told her that she’d done a beautiful job, and this happens with a lot of babies and it is nothing that you did wrong. Then the dad spoke up: “I know you said there’s nothing she did or ate, but I was using a lot of supplements while she was pregnant...could it have been something I ate?” I was like: “huh?”

I proceeded to spend the next five minutes explaining how he did not share a blood supply with the baby so there was basically no chance that his dietary supplements caused his baby's jaundice. He still didn’t get it.

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31. Heartbreaking News

This was a sad day. The patient and family had been waiting for a long time for the patient to get a defibrillator for his heart. There was a lot of joy when it finally happened. But then I had to explain to the patient, and his family, multiple times that although he does have a defibrillator now he still needs to take his heart medicine...a real headache of a conversation.

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32. Please Play Doctor

The number of parents who have Tylenol/Motrin on hand for their kids, but don't give it to the kid because "I wanted to prove to you they actually have a fever," is TOO DARN HIGH! They act like we're going to assume parents are lying. Your kid has a fever of 104 and looks terrible. Give them the medicine you have in your flipping diaper bag to show us you've purchased it! Don't just show us you have the tools to be a competent parent, actually BE a competent parent and administer medications as needed.

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33. Save The Peroxide For Your Highlights

This well-off, well-educated patient had gotten heavily into H2O2 infusions, which was why she was with us. She had developed a mycotic aneurysm. That's where bacteria infect the wall of an artery in your brain, causing it to weaken and bleed. They're easy to get if you're, say, injecting foreign substances into your bloodstream without sterile technique.

I had to explain that intravenous infusions of hydrogen peroxide by an unlicensed practitioner will not keep you young, save you from cancer, or extend your life.

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34. Chair Dance

Tonight we had a confused patient, and he kept asking to sit in a chair. Ok sure, we got a couple people to help and get him into the chair. He wasn't far enough back so we told him to push his bum further back, but he just sat there so we re-worded it and told him to wiggle his butt back. He then proceeded to just wiggle in place, more like a dance move than a purposeful movement, and was totally serious. It was adorable lol.

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35. Clueless

I had to explain to a young lady where her vagina was. She wasn’t sure, even though she was being evaluated for an STD check and had her 6-month-old son with her. When I gave her the antibiotics for the treatment, she also informed me she didn’t know how to take a pill. She was 27 years old.

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36. It’s Not Magic, It’s Medicine

I used to work in an ER in Chicago. We treated a kid with the flu who had a fever. Gave him some Tylenol, fever came down, so we sent him home. Three hours later the family returned complaining that the fever came back. I had to go explain that you had to give the Tylenol AGAIN, and one dose doesn't just magically fix the flu.

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37. Butterflies Are Free

The patient was a 45-year-old teacher who had lost his foot to unmanaged diabetes. We informed him that we would be using maggots to disinfect his wound. I had to explain that “No, the maggots we put on his leg wound will not grow into butterflies and no you can’t keep them as pets.” Although I do wish they turned into butterflies—that would be awesome.

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38. If You Really Love Me…

Here is why healthcare team doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have to make sure we don’t assume anything is common sense and explain everything as if people have no clue. A woman complained that she didn't like how her birth control made her feel. I told her sorry, there was nothing I could do. The next time I saw her she said she'd come up with a great solution.

When she told me what it was, my jaw literally dropped: She was having her boyfriend take it for her.

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39. It’s Just A Bedtime Snack

I’m a neuro nurse. I once had a patient who was going into surgery the next morning, meaning they couldn’t have anything to eat or drink after midnight. Well at 4 am I go in there to check on him and he’s drinking a cup of milk and eating cookies that his family had brought him. I asked him why he was eating because he had surgery in a few short hours and his reply was that he has a bowel movement every morning so he figured we would be okay to eat because it would be out of his system before surgery.

That’s not how this works grandpa!!! Ugh, surgery canceled.

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40. Don’t Rub It In

A woman had a fluid retention issue which caused her legs and feet to swell up with all the extra fluid. Her response to this was...I kid you alternate soaking her feet in boiling water, then in rubbing alcohol because it "made the skin feel tighter." The result was absolutely horrifying. The skin had basically rotted off of her feet.

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41. Mother May I?

I was working in the maternity ward at the time and checking up on a woman who’d just had a daughter via c section. In her defense, she was a little out of it. But her question still surprised me. The woman asked me if she was allowed to pick her baby up. I just said, "Well...yes...she's YOUR baby."

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42. A Picture Is Worth... A Whole Bunch Of Words

A patient couldn't understand why they didn't need a specific prescription anymore. Her levels were normal yet she thought she needed the medicine to stop it from happening again. The doc spent 30 minutes explaining to her the medicine was harmful to a patient like her if her test results were back to normal. After tons of "debate" the doc sighed and looked to me for help.

So I went and made a super simple drawing using red and green crayons (from the kids table in the lobby lol) to explain good and bad. The doc laughed at the drawing because it was so, so, so dumbed down to an insulting level of someone reading it but after showing it to the patient they understood in like two minutes and left happily.

Between patients, I had a chat with the front desk ladies and overheard the patient saying if the doctor started out with the diagram her visit could have been much shorter.

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43. A Stroke Of Genius

I had a patient who’d just had a stroke and the next day his family came to visit. They were bearing armfuls of gifts and food. I had to stop them and explain to them that they should NOT be bringing fried chicken and French fries to a patient only a day out from a stroke. Let’s just say their heart was in the right place.

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44. You Also Get Your Vitamin C

When we have newly diagnosed diabetics we teach them to inject insulin by practicing on an orange. The patient maybe wasn’t clear on what we were doing because after he’d finished practicing he proceeded to eat the orange. I had to explain that that’s not how you get insulin into your body.

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45. You Said, What Now?

I work postpartum and I had a father of a baby who was not present at delivery. I gave him a rundown on how the delivery went. He stopped me and asked what a vaginal birth was. I basically probably looked dumbfounded and said “...when the baby comes out of the vagina???” Luckily he grasped it after that, I was afraid I’d have to break it down further.

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46. I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

I had a patient who was breathing through an endotracheal tube and her family was concerned that she was hungry. It took me quite a while to explain why they shouldn't put chicken down Mama's endotracheal tube, the "tube" part of "intubated." It goes into your mouth, down your trachea, and that's how a machine breathes for you in the ICU.

And why is it always CHICKEN? It's never a hamburger or some Spaghetti-Os or ice cream. It's always fried chicken these people (yes it happened more than once) wanted to put down ET tubes.

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47. Visitors With Benefits

This patient said he was afraid to be alone in the hospital and asked if his girlfriend could stay over in his bed. I had to tell him, “No we won’t let your girlfriend stay over in your bed because you’re scared to be in hospital on your own. I can hear the bed creaking and your heart monitor is beeping. You’re not fooling anyone, she’s going home!”

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48. You’re Not A Starfish

I once had to explain to the uncontrolled diabetic that they were going to have to amputate her foot. Of course, this was very troubling news to give but what I had to explain was even more troubling. I had to tell her that “ won’t grow back.”

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49. I’m On A Liquids Only Diet

I’m often asked by patients about weight loss. One of the biggest reasons I find people can’t hit their weight goals is due to liquids. It's like people think the calories in what they drink don’t count. Chicken salad won’t do much for those drinking 2L of coke a day or eight pints after work. The one that actually surprises people though is juice.

One patient quit drinking pop and instead was proud of their more than three glasses of apple juice. I had to explain the amount of sugar in juice is about the same as pop—or that vitamin water is just sugar water.


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50. The Birds, The Bees, And The Puppies

I’m a nurse at a veterinary clinic and the vet and I once had to explain what a neuter was, to a grown man and his wife. They then asked me what the benefits of neutering were so I explained that along with the obvious not having puppies that it also eliminated the risk of testicular cancer and dramatically reduced the risk of prostate cancer and helped with behavioral issues such as marking, roaming, aggression etc.

They interrupt me with, “WAIT! So he won’t be able to have puppies? I thought the females had the puppies?” Needless to say, it was a very long appointment.

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51. The Pasta Did It

I was working at an ob/gyn clinic when a husband came in with his pregnant wife. The husband had lots of questions about food but one of them stopped me cold. I couldn’t believe it but I had to explain to the concerned husband that if his wife ate spaghetti that the pasta wouldn’t wrap itself around the baby's throat and squeeze it like a boa constrictor.

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52. Check-Out Time

It’s always difficult talking to families when it comes to withdrawing care from a terminal patient. One family I was dealing with had a real hard time when I suggested it was time to withdraw care from their loved one. But the reason for their hesitation really shocked me. Turns out they didn’t want to miss out on the patient’s final welfare check.

I spent over an hour trying to explain tactfully to my patient’s family members why it was unethical to wait to withdraw care just so they could collect a welfare check the next week. There was no concern for the patient's suffering, just about getting the next check.

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53. Parenting Can Be Nuts

I had a two-year-old come in with full-blown anaphylaxis, hives, itching, facial swelling, whistling with inspiration, the works. The patient had previously been diagnosed with a peanut/tree nut allergy by an allergist, prescribed an EpiPen, and the parents had the EpiPen with them upon arriving in the ER. Apparently, the parents were letting the patient eat a can of peanuts in bed. This is to say nothing of peanuts being a choking hazard for this age group, and the kid has a KNOWN allergy to them.

They did not administer the EpiPen despite the patient's obvious respiratory distress, due to the cost of the EpiPen. I'll admit this is a legitimate issue, but an ER visit is expensive too, and for goodness sake, your kid can't breathe. So we got the reaction under control. Monitored the patient for several hours to ensure no rebound, and sent the family home. I thought that was the end of it—but I was so wrong.

Two hours later, same shift, who should return? Why the anaphylactic two-year-old with their parents. The parents said when the kid was eating the peanuts in bed, they made a mess. I'll buy that, two-year-olds are messy eaters. So the parents just brushed off the peanuts from the sheets and put the kid to the sheets covered in peanut, of course, the kid wakes up covered in hives, extremely uncomfortable, and they come back to the ER.

Patient was admitted for parental education.

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54. It’s Not A Fashion Accessory?

I’m a nursing student who works in a pharmacy. I find that people need a lot of explaining for things that should be common sense and this is why in the pharmacy we have to give extremely detailed instructions and counseling. I had a woman upset that she became pregnant after using a Nuva Ring, which is a round birth control insert.

I told her that birth control is not 100% effective so it’s possible to get pregnant while using it. But then, I heard the rest of the story, and nearly burst out laughing. The patient was wearing it every day...around her WRIST.... so it wasn’t quite effective.

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Sources: , ,

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