Night Shift Rehab Nurse | Life of a Nurse

Tales from a nurse on a physical rehabilitation unit. A few interesting experiences from three years on a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) unit. Specialties Rehabilitation Article

Night Shift Rehab Nurse | Life of a Nurse

Nightshift - You Should Have it Easy

“Patients always sleep through the night. You should have it easy!”  This has been said to, but never by a night shift nurse anywhere. When moved into a facility environment for an extended stay, patients sometimes don’t know night from day. An “easy night” is non-existent!

I love physical rehabilitation nursing and actually have my certification in this area as a CRRN.  I describe myself as a “fixer” and get excited when a patient shows progress. Sometimes this is a slow process; other times it can be overnight. 

For three years, I worked the night shift in a rehabilitation facility.  My position was on the traumatic brain injury unit (TBI). I have many stories, “enough to write I book,” as they say.  Let me share a few of them with you now.

"I'm a Monkey"

A patient that had some post-op swelling from an open skull surgery, was loud enough one night that his roommate was awakened and put on his call light.  I entered the room to assess the situation but didn’t find the patient in his bed.  This was especially strange because this patient was in a “net bed.” For those of you unfamiliar with this apparatus, it is a tented, mesh cover that is held in place by a trapeze bar the length of the bed. Ours were solid fabric at the top and mesh on all four sides.  This keeps the patient safe but does not tie them down.  I could hear the patient singing and looked around the bed. All sides were up and zipped. Hmm… His singing stopped, and he giggled. I looked up inside the tent, and somehow, he had been able to reach up and grip the bar, then pull his feet up around it as well.  He was swinging and when he knew that I saw him, he stated, “I’m a monkey, I’m a monkey!” It took two of us to convince him that he was not a monkey and he needed to get back down into the bed.  The man walked out of the facility the next week with no residual effects from his surgery and no recollection of that night.

Rural Victims

Many of our patients were victims of the rural community in which they lived. One of our head trauma patients went over the handlebars of his motorcycle because of slipping on horse dung in the road. Short stay, but an interesting story! He insisted he didn’t need a gown, only his boxers, and his cowboy boots.  The occupational therapists convinced him they needed to see him dress himself, thank goodness, and he always had clothes on before he made it out of the room!

Another young girl had fallen from the hayloft in the family barn, only to be found by her younger siblings much later, in a coma.  Her mother insisted on staying in her room, and the rest of the family in the waiting room for her entire stay. They got permission to do so from the administration as their religious beliefs directed that they take care of their own, and they lived far from our hospital.  She made terrific progress after a few weeks of aggressive therapy, and her care was able to be completed at home as her family was trained to continue her rehab in her own environment. From diagnoses of a stroke to intense head trauma, our patient’s recovery was sometimes mind-blowing and immediate, yet others were very small forward steps of improvement.  We never knew what to expect, as every human body repairs itself differently. 

A Haunted Facility??

I haven’t mentioned that our rehab facility had formerly been built as a tuberculosis hospital during the early 1900s.  Rumors of it being haunted were ramped among the nurses and associate personnel that had been long-term employees.  Of course, the night shift only added to the mystique and did not bode well for some.  Around 4:30 morning, I went up to put lab specimens in the refrigerator near the lab, which was in the old section of the hospital. I heard laughing and a ball being dribbled in the hallway.  As I stepped back on the elevator, I thought, “Someone had better quiet those kids or the whole place will be awake!”  As the doors were shutting, I realized, 1) we have no pediatric patients, and 2) no patient rooms were in this area of the hospital at all! 

Many nights, our patients would report seeing things, or we would find them talking to thin air and they would swear there was someone in the room.  Was this the head trauma or our resident ghosts?!  One night, a patient that was not to bear weight on his right leg was found trying to throw a chair through a glass window. He was screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Our nursing assistant had to literally tackle him as he ran down the hallway, trying to get out of the unit.  Needless to say, he needed to have another surgery to repair his fractured leg.  Another patient insisted on being put in another room as there were spiders all over the walls.  She was there for therapy after a hip replacement, as overflow from one of the orthopedic units, with no head injury whatsoever.

Staff would talk about windows opening and closing when they were locked, seeing people walking at the end of the hallway where there was no entrance or exit and patients were bedridden. Lights would go on and off when no one had been in the area.  Our supervisor came to the unit one night and stated that she and the security guard had just investigated the basketball court outside for trespassers, just to find that the exit door providing the light to the court was locked, the light they had seen was cold, and the teens they heard were never there. Another supervisor was locked in the chart room all night when he was the only one with the key! He turned the handle and walked out when the sun came up, with no barrier explaining his confinement.

The Best of My Nursing Career!

Whether supernatural things were at work or the patient’s brain injuries were the culprit, my job on the rehab unit those three years was the most interesting and memorable in all my 32 years of nursing!  I had so many tales to share with my co-workers, and unexplainable events to remember!  The work was exhausting, but I learned so much from the LPN with whom I worked, and with the other staff that was invested entirely in the patient’s recovery.  The interdisciplinary team was focused on each patient’s progress, and most often, the patient was able to recover immensely with our assistance. Unfortunately, as with many other facilities, the hospital was closed due to operating issues.  Those nights were the best of my nursing career!

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I'm transferring to a rehab facility in a month. It is a new place my hospital will send all their rehab patients from sister hospitals there. I'm so excited. I currently work m/s and my unit has legal holds.

Know it won't be easier, but it will be different than my current unit.

Specializes in CRRN, COS-C, HCS-D.


Wishing you happiness in your new endeavor!  For comprehensive inpatient rehab, the patient usually needs to get three hours of therapy a day to stay.  This makes doing all of the other nursing teachings and tasks a little harder because you are trying to work around them being out of the room.  I'm sure with your med/surg background, you will be able to juggle this and adapt well.  Best of luck!

You might want to change your screen name to something other than your real name. ?

I'm late to this party but excited that I've accepted a 12-hr nights position on a rehab unit at my local hospital. I have a strong desire to work with neuro rehab pts and I hear we do a lot of this type of work (stroke, TBI, SCI, etc). I hope it's everything I am dreaming it to be but know there will be very hard nights too. Say a prayer that I do well by my patients!