Laughter, the Best Medicine for Nursing School Blues

I graduated from my first nursing program in 1984 at the ripe old age of 22. I was the president of the Student Nurses Association and had some teachers that loved me (from my perspective) and some that hated me (from their perspective). Nursing school is painful, and it seems to last forever- until you are done. Then, you have to go get a job and really be a nurse and you know absolutely nothing! Nurses Announcements Archive Article

Laughter, the Best Medicine for Nursing School Blues

You know how to make a bed, even with someone in it, but you don't know how to get around to making the bed when the patient keeps asking you questions and sending you on errands. A new nurse is about as worthless as a newborn baby. We run circles around ourselves and have all the best intentions but take too long to get way too little done. However, even after over 20 years of nursing, I would not have traded my nursing career for anything, except maybe a huge lottery win.

While I was in nursing school I had the privilege, I can't say it was a pleasure, to take care of 2 very old men while doing my nursing home rotation. We spent 2 days a week in a nursing home and were assigned 2 residents that we cared for consistently. At the end of that rotation, you picked a resident to write an extensive case study on. It was painful. Adding to the discomfort was the clinical instructor. Mrs. A could only be described as a "battle ax"- I can't think of a better descriptor. She was scary and made us all tremble. A nursing cap askew or a slightly stained polyester pinafore could send her into a rage.

One of my two residents, I'll call him Mr. Smith, was 96 years old, blind, deaf and only minimally responsive. He had a sweet wife that came in every day to feed him breakfast and spend the day with him. My job was to get him up and ready for her. I will spare you the details of such chores. One day, late in the rotation, I came in to wake up Mr. Smith. He was lying on his back, mouth gaping open, and quite still. I came closer, just to make sure he was still breathing. I came closer still, as I couldn't tell if he was alive. I leaned over the side rail, which was fully up and hit me about waist high, and spoke loudly and quite clearly, "Mr. Smith it's time to wake up and get ready for the day!" Mr. Smith didn't move a muscle; he didn't even close his mouth. I leaned over again, hands at my side bending over the side rail, and spoke a little louder, "Mr. Smith, it's time to get up and get ready for your day."

Nothing, nada, mouth still open, gaping. Do I see him take a breath? I cannot tell. This time I reach up, put my hands on Mr. Smith's bony shoulders, and speak even louder, "Mr. Smith, it's time to wake up!" Next thing I know, I have a little old man with a bear hug-choke hold around my neck. Mr. Smith has his arms around my upper neck and back and is pulling me to his face and chest. I am over the side rail, feet off the ground kicking, and now I really am afraid. I am NOT afraid of Mr. Smith. Oh no, I am mortified that Mrs. A will walk by and see me, feet flailing, "accosting" a resident and I will surely be thrown out of the nursing program! I cannot get free. My elbows are bent; my hands tightly against Mr. Smith's chest and my legs are kicking in the air as a 96-year-old corpse tries to do something related to kissing me. I yell out, one more time, "Mr. Smith, do you know who this is? This is not your wife; this is your nursing student!!" All I get in return is a low pitched, "ha, ha, ha."

Since nursing school is a chance to experience all types of patients it also included a rotation to the OB ward. In my program, you did not just get to watch a few babies being born; you got to share the experience with a willing family. We were assigned a couple in the middle of their pregnancy. We attended doctor visits and ultrasounds and interviewed them. We were then called when they were on their way to the hospital to deliver. Of course, all of this "fun" would culminate in a huge paper.

I was assigned a wonderful couple. They were in their mid 30's and this was their first baby. They were amazing! The husband was a nuclear engineer, the wife a speech therapist. They were professionals on every level and spent much time researching this new experience. They had decided to have the baby naturally, no pain meds, no epidural, just the two of them (and me) with their Lamaze and breathing.

I truly enjoyed getting to know this couple. Our interviews were stimulating and their research on the subject of birth and child raising was exhaustive. Then the call came.

It was about 9 pm on a weeknight. We were excused from class the next day if our birth family called, so I was on my way! I arrive at the hospital and take up vigil in the corner of the room. It was a lovely experience the first few hours then the scene before me became gruesome. I shrank into the corner and tried to become a part of the wall, a light fixture, something inanimate that could not be drawn into the experience.

Let me digress, just for a moment, as the scene I am going to describe was not like any other births I had so far experienced. I had observed a sweet woman give birth. She had quietly endured 3-hour labor, a baby was born, and I never heard the woman cry out. She didn't even seem to sweat. I figured childbirth must be a piece of cake.

I then was lucky enough to sit in on a young girl giving birth. I knew enough of her language to realize that she was not enjoying the experience. She groaned, she cried loudly, she yelled, and boy, did she sweat! The baby was born and I had to re-think my original assessment of the experience of childbirth. At that point, I was fairly open-minded to the idea of having a child someday.

Now, back to my Master's prepared soon to be mother and Ph.D. prepared soon to be the father. My assigned couple had decided that they would do natural childbirth. To them, that meant, no drugs. This was a topic near and dear to their hearts as they felt that it would be much better for them and for the baby. Remember, they had done their research. Needless to say, as this well-educated mother entered the transition phase things became quite intense. This phase can best be described as when the head of the baby starts to feel like a watermelon being pushed through a donut hole, and the donut hole is not going to allow it. Well, about this time my sweet, calm and educated young mother to begin to bellow. Previously she had alternated between laughing, crying, moaning and groaning but now she was bellowing. She called her husband to her face, grabbed the front of his shirt and said, "I want drugs, and I want them NOW." Her husband started to stammer something about natural childbirth and I swear I saw her head twist around at least twice upon her neck. Her face became all crinkled and grotesque as she pulled her sweet hubby closer to her face. The bellow then became a low growl as she said, "get me drugs or you are never f------ touching me again." I remained in the corner, watching this horror movie unfold before my 19-year-old eyes thinking I would NEVER, EVER have children.

I was also told by one of my instructors that I would never make it as a nurse because I laughed too much! Funny enough, I'm still a nurse after all these years. I was often told that my laughter and easy smile have made all the difference for a child or their parent going through a difficult hospitalization. Considering that hindsight is 20/20, what would I have done differently with my life? Lots of things. Would I still be a nurse? Most likely, and I never plan to quit laughing!

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I really enjoyed what you have written here. I can tell you nursing school hasn't changed too much since you have been through with the exception of the clothes probably. I am currently going through a program myself and what you said resonated so completely words could never get the job done. I can really see the being well intentioned but knowing nothing aspect. Besides laughter do you have any good/great advice for all the new grads starting out so that we can become more efficient? This is really starting to become a major concern of mine!

Specializes in med/surg, psych, public health.


Thanks for sharing a well written and descriptive account of part of your nursing program.

Ok, considering hindsight is 20/20 and you are a nurse and you never plan to quit laughing,

I just have to ask...did you decide against the "NEVER EVER having children"? :wink2:

Loved your post. I'm not even in nursing school yet, but I think it was better that I already had my babies, because if I knew what it looked and felt like before I wouldn't have ever became a mother. When I was giving birth to my second child, doing it all natural, the student nurse who was in the room with a big smile on her face said, "oh, here's the head. Do you want to reach down and feel it?" The L&D nurse had a look on her face like she knew what was about to happen after that statement and it did. Even though it was right when my son was literally tearing me, I looked at her and growled " I feel him already! Get him out!" After we were all cleaned up, the student nurse came over and thanked me for allowing her to be in the room, and I quickly apologized for snapping at her. :p

Actually I am the same as I have always been kind of on the fence. I thought for sure I would get the dickens scared out of me especially bearing witness to a c-section. And I have seen some of the major extremes too. I actually made a statement saying that I was surprised that it hadn't scared me haha!

I have to agree that nursing school hasn't changed much. My OB rotation was pretty interesting as well.... after watching and helping out, I realized that I am not ready to have kids.... for a long, long time.

It is interesting to hear the perspective of an experienced nurse and how times have not changed much... Thank you for sharing~

I've been a nurse for 20+ years too. Sounds like a lot of us have similar experiences. The laughter is absolutely necessary. It turns every experience into a good experience.

Specializes in Mental and Behavioral Health.

That was AWESOME! I'm trying to laugh very carefully, because of my toothache. Your HURTING me! LOL!!

WHEW! I needed to laugh though!

Thanks for the enjoyable story, it gives me something to look forward to since I'm starting a BSN program this fall at the age of 37. I live in a very rural area and we would get called to transport to hospital so I have had some of those expiriences as an EMT, and I know that I have heard that devil growl more than once for labor pains.:wink2:

The only thing better than that was in one case we had a delivery in route and the father got very upset when the child was born and cleaned up that it had a very "lite" skin tone since dad and mom's were on the other end of the spectrum,:banghead: it took all 4 people in the ambulance to make him understand that the baby would darken after it had been expossed to the light for a while.:wink2:

Those stories made me laugh! and made me very glad my child bearing years are way, way in my past...I believe it is true that we "forget" those experiences for a reason!

This got me through school!