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And whatever you do.... DON'T.. FALL... ASLEEP


For one year, I worked the night shift on an adult acute psychiatric unit, in a state hospital. Actually, I worked night shift and night shift only, for nine months. For the remaining three months, I worked evening and night shifts. Two sixteen-hour shifts a week.

by NurseCard NurseCard, ADN (Guide)

Specializes in Med/Surge, Psych, LTC, Home Health. Has 13 years experience.

And whatever you do.... DON'T.. FALL... ASLEEP

The evening shift usually stayed rather busy, and often went by quickly. Then would come the night shift. Night shifts were often slow, unless a patient.. Or two... Decided to wake up and act out because we didn't have any apples, or we couldn't let him or her go outside to smoke at three in the morning.

Due to the utter snail's pace of night shift, it was often murder to try to stay awake, especially after working that eight hour evening shift. Every once in a while however, you would have that bipolar manic who could not go to sleep no matter how hard they tried, no matter how many psychotropics they had taken that evening.

For a couple of months or so, we on unit h were fortunate to have in our midst, a lovely lady whom I will call "ellie". I really did practically fall in love with ellie; she really was quite the interesting patient and I enjoyed taking care of her. She was in her late fifties, and actually rather attractive. When she first arrived on our unit, she was quite delusional, her speech was quite disorganized. She had buzzed her blonde hair and had strangely marked all over herself with blue permanent marker. She often wore these sleeveless, patterned blouses and polyester pants.

Ellie had an odd demand, and she was quite persistent about this. She kept asking the staff to give her dental floss. Dental floss was, of course, forbidden for certain patients, and miss ellie was no exception. She was too ill. Ellie persisted for at least two weeks about the dental floss, until someone finally figured out why it was that she wanted it so badly. Or maybe someone flat out asked her, or maybe she volunteered the information, I'm not sure. Apparently, some women in psychiatric institutions have figured out a way to..... Pleasure themselves, using dental floss. Details? Well, ahem... Though you are all nursing professionals, students, what have you, and many of you are not faint of heart... I will spare you the details as to how a woman may pleasure herself using dental floss, at this time.

Sooooo... I will now skip ahead in the story, to one particular night shift. I had worked that evening shift and as usual, was rather tired and having difficulty staying awake throughout my shift. My coworkers were rather quiet that night, so no stimulating conversation from them. Our dear patient ellie, was still residing on the unit, but she had improved somewhat and was sleeping more. Therefore, no stimulating conversation from dear ellie.

The clock hit three o clock.... Then three thirty... Then four... Then four thirty.... And just about that time, my eyes started to get heavy... And heavier..... And heavier.... Must.... Stay.... Awake..... Must....not....

........fall........ Asleeee...p....

And next thing I knew!!!!... It was five thirty, and there, standing over me, staring at me like a vulture waiting to attack its lifeless prey... Was ellie. Staring right at me. She could have reached over that counter and smacked the red right out of my hair if she had wanted to. But, instead she simply handed me a piece of paper, a "grievance form" actually, and then walked away.

Patients used the "grievance forms" for many purposes, but curiously most of them seemed to prefer writing on them in red crayon. I looked at ellie's grievance form. It said, in bright red crayon:

I need dental

floss and a





out of



I laughed of course.... And then I put the note on the front of her chart with all of the other "grievances" that we had received from her.

I then got myself awake and got my "second wind", and finished my morning duties, taped report, did the head count with the oncoming rn, and then at 7am, I walked out of the nurses station and headed down the hall to the door. As I was walking out of the nurses station, I came across ellie, who was mumbling to herself frantically, and sounded as if everything that she was saying was of utmost importance. As she walked by, I heard her saying the following...

"Cathy.... Cathy the RN .... She was asleep... Sound asleep.... She was definately, definately asleep...". Kinda like rain man.... And all I could think as I was walking out of the building was.... Man am I going to be in trouble!! Ellie is going to get me into huge trouble! Not that I didn't deserve it... I shouldn't have been asleep!!!

Well, I never heard a word about it from my manager or anyone else, thank goodness.

Ellie is one of those utterly fantastic patients whom I was fortunate to work with during my stint as a psychiatric nurse. I have to admit to myself, I really do love psychiatric nursing, and I feel right at home when I'm on a mental health unit. Heh! Kinda like I belong there.

ADN, RN, and allnurses Guide

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19 Comment(s)


Specializes in acute care.

dental floss, hmmm..


Specializes in PICU, NICU,. Has 13 years experience.

Dental Floss...I'm wracking my brain to figure this one out...


Specializes in Agency Nurse-Medicare and LTC. Has 8 years experience.

Just too funny!:yeah:

SharonH, RN

Specializes in Med/Surg, Geriatrics. Has 20 years experience.

What?? I have to know.....how in the world does one use dental floss in that way. You can just PM me if you are ashamed to type it out on the board.

Hey Cathy you know what they say - fine line between pt and nurse. I'm a night shifter maybe I should get some dental floss. lol Thanks for the story.:nurse:


Specializes in Med Surg, ER, ICU, LTC, DRUG & ETOH. Has 22 years experience.

OMG how funny, I dozed off once on nightshift on an Alzheimers unit and got a rude wake up when a pt poured her water pitcher over my head.


Specializes in Mental Health. Has 8 years experience.

Wow...I worked nights for 3 years and I would not fall asleep for anything. I was always commended by staff because out of everyone I stayed awake. I don't trust sleeping on the job and you have obviously proven me right. :yawn: :chuckle


Specializes in Future - Midwife.

I love that story too cute!!!!

Too Funny Lol Dental Floss wow . I will share that at one of my Passion Parties which is my sideline business while I am in school. We sell all sorts of stuff but Dental Floss is not one of the items that we sell LOL:)


Specializes in Public Health, Med Surg, HIV Care.

Sounds like a pain fetish to me, you know tying the floss around a nipple, the clitoris, or something to that effect. The intent could have been self-mutilation and it seems like there should have been physical assessments to make sure she had not pulled a piece of thread off of a sheet and tied-off a body part. Maybe I'm just over-analyzing this, but better safe than sorry, right?

I was working at a residential treatment center for seriously mentally ill. I had to stay as relief called off and my boss had told me it was all right to rest in the lounge chair. Fortunitely for me I'm the type of person where everything has to be perfect for me to fall asleep. I did sit in the chair and put a blanket over me as it was cold that night. No sooner was the blanket over me than one of the patients set the blanket on fire. Thank God I wasn't asleep.


Specializes in orthopedics, cardiac. Has 10 years experience.

very funny, I would love to know the details, lol


Has 5 years experience.

funny story thanks. i know a thing or two about alling asleep on the job.. dont ask...

This is my firsrt time logging in and it was truly an enjoyable story. I could relate to the difficulty of staying awake on the night shift.:chuckle


Specializes in Med/surg;correctional;nursing homes;OR.

Dental floss...?????

NurseCard, ADN

Specializes in Med/Surge, Psych, LTC, Home Health. Has 13 years experience.

Okay, if you want to know, PM me for details re: the dental floss.

Vernonleon came pretty close to the answer.

Vernon: what makes you think we weren't monitoring her closely? We were pretty vigilant about not letting any of the sicker patients have anything that closely resembled thread. =)

funny story!!!! hahahaha..... but i'm curious about the dental floss hehehehehe.....