Caused a bad accident after driving home from night shift

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by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Dear Nurse Beth,

I'm not sure how to put this into a simple question, but I'll give you a rundown of what I'm going through.

I fell asleep driving home from my last shift and caused a bad accident. By the grace of God/undeserved luck everyone is physically okay (probably totaled all vehicles involved). I have never fallen asleep or felt like I couldn't handle working nights until this incident. I've never been in a car accident before.

On top of feeling pretty awful physically, mentally I'm not doing well. I keep crying thinking about how much worse this could have been. I'm afraid to go to work and have to drive home again. My knee jerk reaction is that I'm not going to return, which feels like a slap in the face to my manager. I also realize it's not fair or realistic to give my employer an ultimatum (change me to days or I quit). It doesn't help that I'm the insurance holder for my household. I don't want to leave my employer for that reason and also because I like where I work. I think of myself as a good employee, but I'm getting into my own head and freaking out. Any advice would be appreciated. I'm going to contact a counselor offered to employees next week to also try and work through all this.

Dear Not Doing Well,

Thank goodness no one was injured. I'm so glad that isn't added to your trauma.

You are doing the right thing to get professional counseling.

You have experienced a violent accident in which you could have been killed, and your brain has registered that event.

There can be severe emotional and mental trauma after a near-death accident. You may have post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms may include flashbacks, anxiety, a dread of working/driving, unexpected mood swings, embarrassment, shame, panic attacks, and more.

I would talk with your manager about working day shift. It would be expected for you to be afraid to drive home after a night shift for some time. It's not an ultimatum to have a conversation. Consider taking some time off of work and focus on forgiving yourself and your mental health.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

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1,756 Posts

Great advice. Seeking counseling is the best thing to do after something that traumatic. Is it possible a spouse, family member, or friend can drop off/pick up from work if day shift isn't available? Transfer to another unit with a day shift need? Those are options to check into.

Kerry Ballantine, ADN

Specializes in OB/GYN.. Has 37 years experience. 1 Post

I also fell asleep while driving home after a 12 hour night shift. Fortunately, I hit a parked car. That car had a minor scrape, my car had $12,000 of damage. The only other damage was to my psyche (and bank account).

From that day forward I make sure to take a nap before work. It doesn’t have to be a long nap and even just lying down for 20-30 minutes is helpful. Additionally, if I am really tired after work, I will find an empty room to take a short nap before getting behind the wheel.

Counseling sounds like a must for you. I would definitely have a conversation with your never know what arrangements may be able to be made. Just remember, no one will take care of you better than you. You won’t be helping anyone if you are not around to do so.

Best wishes for you.



Specializes in retired LTC. 7,735 Posts

My sympathies to you for your accident. I know your taking time off has been mentioned. And Nurse Beth commented re PTSD.

Don't know how long you've been at your facility, but might you qualify for FMLA? Maybe short-term disability? I'm not sure how this all fits in for you.

As one who did experience an MVA in 1984, please know that its something that NEVER really 'goes away'. Get the help you need and the job should fall into place.

Good luck.

Late thought - does your employer offer EAP services?

Edited by amoLucia


speedynurse, ADN, BSN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in ER, Pre-Op, PACU. 544 Posts

I think it’s just important to be honest with your employer. I went through a similar experience a few months ago and it was also very traumatizing. After that, it has made me dread going back to nights, but there is no chances of moving to days in my department. I am thinking about transferring back to my old department where there are days available. Counseling may help, but it may also keep you in that cycle of dread if you continue on the night shift. I never had too much difficulty with nights either and these past few months have been difficult.