What is One of the Most Memorable Moments in Your Nursing Career?

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Whether you are just starting out or you have years of experience, all nurses have those moments, good and bad, they will never forget.  These moments have an impact on us as they are etched into our memory bank and woven into the colorful tapestry that defines our nursing career. 

I need your help. As we are preparing the next issue of the allnurses magazine which will be published in a few short days, I would love to get input from nurses of all ages, specialties, and levels of experience as soon as possible. Just before the last magazine was published, I sought your help and you responded quickly with some fantastic comments. I know I can count on our allnurses readers to contribute again.

Whether you are just starting out or you have years of experience, all nurses have those moments, good and bad, they will never forget. These moments have an impact on us as they are etched into our memory bank and woven into the colorful tapestry that defines our nursing career.

Nurses are the core of healthcare. We touch so many lives in ways we might never imagine. When we look back over the years, we can see the faces of those whose lives and deaths have touched us. Not only are we the most trusted occupation but I dare say we are among the most compassionate and caring professionals that have the privilege and opportunity to touch many lives in some of life's most vulnerable moments.

A Beautiful Tapestry of Memories

I saw this quote by Donna Cardillo several years ago that has stuck with me.


When I think about all the patients and their loved ones that I have worked with over the years, I know most of them don't remember me nor I them. But I do know that I gave a little piece of myself to each of them and they to me and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry in my mind that is my career in nursing. – Donna Wilk Cardillo

What is one of the most memorable moments in your nursing career?

It can be something you witnessed or that you were directly involved in. How did this event affect you? What changes, if any did you make in your actions or thinking?

Share your memorable stories so others can be inspired and touched as they reflect upon their many nursing memories over the years. I know everyone is busy, but please take a few moments to post some thoughtful comments.

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Editorial Team / Moderator

Lunah, MSN, RN

33 Articles; 13,748 Posts

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN. Has 15 years experience.

Worst day: 22 patients blown up when their bus hit an IED in Afghanistan. The most critical came through my two trauma bays and a few went directly to the OR (about 20 steps from the trauma area). Two badly injured young children, brother and sister, with head injuries. They were both my patients and I resuscitated them successfully until we could get them out of our tiny facility. I heard later that the receiving Afghan hospital just put them in a corner and let them die. Poor babies. They just didn't have the means to deal with their head traumas.

Best moment: successfully advocating for a patient to get them transfered to an appropriate level of care to diagnose the rather subtle stroke that I knew was happening (stubborn physicians). Finding out I was right and the patient got what was needed for an optimal outcome. Two years later after being gone from that ER for a while, hearing that the patient's spouse said that I was the only good thing that happened to them that day (a friend took care of the spouse in my old ER when the spouse was rather ill, and she told me this). I realized that we really do leave a mark on some patients' lives.

Specializes in Flight Nursing/Critical Care/Education. Has 21 years experience.

Most memorable moment? Performing a surgical cricothyrotomy in the back of an ambulance in the middle of the desert as a flight nurse. The patient had been joyriding on a motorcycle through the desert in the middle of the night and the passenger on the back did not survive. We flew to the nearest trauma center where the patient eventually walked out the doors from. It reminded me of how fragile life is and how honored I am to be able to do what I do!


1 Article; 2,220 Posts

Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg. Has 20 years experience.

I remember a patient we had on our Oncology unit. She had breast cancer and was in/out because of complications related to her chemo/radiaton treatments. One of those that whatever can go wrong did! We all felt sympathy for her and did our best to care for her when she came in. I happened to be her nurse one day when she was admitted. I knew her entire story (from beginning of diagnosis until now about 1 year in) because I also did charge and therefore heard most reports even if not my patient. She was in bed and I was starting admission paperwork etc. Then came time to assess her wound (which is the primary reason she was admitted). So after obtaining some info I asked if I could assess the wound, did she need pain meds first etc. She gave permission and moved her hands that were placed over her chest on top of the saturated dressings. I removed these dressings to find that her entire chest was one large cavity. Because of the copious drainage she had placed 2 medium sized baby diapers along with various gauze pads into the chest wound/cavity. I started removing these and of course they were also foul smelling (because of the malignant wound and infection). I just kept taking these out while asking how she was doing. Next thing I know she raises her hand to my face (hand still dirty with wound drainage) while thanking me and telling me how thoughtful and caring I have always been to her. Instinctively I jerked back a little but then stopped just as fast. In that very moment my humanity and empathy kicked in and I just could not bring myself to offend her in that way. I let her touch my face, thanked her for the compliment and just kept cleaning the wound until completed. I finished my work and did not hurry out, but as soon as I was done I did go wash my face. Even though this happened many years ago it stays with me for different reasons. She was a very strong person who just kept going forward no matter what the situation, not feeling sorry for herself but accepting her fate even while fighting to the best of her ability. And also because it reminds me that people need our humanity and empathy, not just our sympathy. It is always harder for us to put ourselves out there and feel empathy but it can make all the difference to our patients when we are able to do that. That incident, although not planned at the time, has helped me be more mindful in those moments that I am able to make a difference for someone.

Specializes in Med-Surg, Geriatrics, Wound Care. Has 11 years experience.

One for me was a woman admitted from hospice at home for increasing respiratory distress. She just could not get enough air. We had her on bipap and respiratory treatments. Family including her daughter were there. The patient was too ill to make any requests, but the daughter was constantly asking for things and changing her mind (more respiratory treatments, repositioning, medications, etc). She was very distressed. Eventually the patient died and the daughter told me she appreciated the care we were giving her and reminded me that this was the day her mother died. I know that losing one's mother is heart wrenching for many people, but that daughter was able to articulate it very clearly. This situation reminded me of the need for empathy, and truly the reason I chose to become a nurse.

Davey Do

1 Article; 10,290 Posts

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 44 years experience.

Over 20 years ago, I had a nursing experience which changed my life when a situation occurred with a mentally ill client diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia. This client lived at an apartment complex overseen by staff who worked for my employer, Mixed Nuts Health Systems (MNHS) through an Assertive Community Treatment Program. I was to administer his monthly Haldol Decanoate injection.

He had a history of being water-intoxicated, exacerbating his psychotic symptoms, causing him to be admitted as a psych inpatient, so MNHS purchased a urine spectrometer to measure his urine specific gravity. The plan was to make sure the client was not getting water-intoxicated by monitoring his intake and routinely checking his urine specific gravity.

Water intoxication can also cause electrolyte imbalances which can be life threatening. Both times this client had had a psych admission to the hospital his electrolyte values remained within parameters, so the psychiatrist, Dr. J, believed we could monitor this client at home as long as his specific urine gravity remained within parameters.

This is an illustrated version of the interaction that took place after I administered the client's Haldol Decanoate injection and checked his urine specific gravity. To my recall, it's pretty much verbatim:


I experienced some PTSD symptoms such as depression, insomnia, irritability and the like after the stabbing. MNHS arranged for counselling with an independent therapist and it helped some. Dr. J said he would prescribe me some Xanax if I wanted, I thanked him, but said I wanted to deal with my psyche pain through other methods.

I became obsessive with working out at a gym, working out up to three hours at a session, read some self-help stuff, and got involved in an Emotions Anonymous (EA) program. All these pursuits helped, but it wasn't until my supervisor suggested that I seek services from a friend of hers- an art therapist- did I find the ongoing remedy to my pain.

I did some drawings in my journals of the stabbing and the art therapist and I would discuss my feelings, she giving her interpretation and support in guiding me through my journey. I had a profound revelation after she saw a drawing where a character in one of my drawings used the F word.

As she was looking at the drawing, I felt embarrassed and immediately apologized for my use of the F word. "Oh no", she calmly replied, "Never apologize for your art. Your art is who you are and nothing or no one should stop you from expressing yourself!" She went on to say something along the lines of art being my salvation; a pathway to a higher consciousness.

Words cannot express the effect, the paramount importance, of that moment, that revelation.

Art began and continues to be a balm, my bliss, a benzodiazepine for my anxieties, an analgesic for all my pain, and one of my life pursuits.

I have that delusional patient, who believed he and I were two characters in a movie, to thank.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills, BSN

158 Articles; 323 Posts

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement. Has 25 years experience.

As an on-call hospice nurse on 2nd and 3rd shift, I often went to patient's homes when they were having extreme pain, agitation, or other symptom management issues. One night I was called to the home of a 40-something woman who had fought a hard fight with breast cancer. Her family had filled almost every space in the house and was offering the best care you can imagine. Her mom greeted me at the door to let me know what the concerns were and how she was doing since we spoke on the phone. I went to the bedside to find her two young children lying in bed with her. She was minimally responsive, and at first glance, I knew she was getting close to the end of life.

I did a thorough assessment to confirm what my gut told me. Then I sat down with the adults in the family to discuss what she wanted and needed at this point. Next, I sat on the floor with her children and talked to them about what their mom was going through.

As a young mom myself at the time, my heart was breaking and aching with every word I told this family.

I stayed with them for many hours and started care that would keep a nurse at her bedside until she passed. I ended up back there for the next 3 days and had the honor to be with her when she took her last breath.

This family welcomed me into one of the hardest moments of their lives. While I was breaking inside, I worked with compassion and cared like never before because I could see my children and me in that bed since the first night.

After her death, I received a letter about how much my care meant to them. What they didn't understand was how much they blessed my life during one of the most challenging time of theirs.

Career Columnist / Author

Nurse Beth, MSN

174 Articles; 3,076 Posts

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development. Has 30 years experience.

When I try to think of one memorable moment... I don't have one moment or one patient. I have a collage in my mind of moments and people and feelings that I'll never forget.

One of my first patients had Crohn's disease. She was in her 40's, which I thought was old, but now I know she was tragically young. She had had abdominal surgery and had montgomery straps across her abdomen, but the incision was not approximated. The tissue was not healing, and the wound was wide open.

Her nails were perfectly manicured, her hair styled. She wanted her bedside table just so, annoyingly so, with her water and belongings lined up precisely. She was hard to please.

I offered her some orange juice, and she took a sip. To my horror, I saw the orange juice bubble out of her abdominal wound. It's the first time I felt completely inadequate and realized sometimes there's nothing we can do.

The next day, I offered to shave her legs because she'd been in the hospital for weeks. She let me and I could tell she loved her smooth, silky legs when it was done, even though she didn't say much. I was off for a few days and when I came back, she was gone. She had arrested and died. I wish I could have said good bye, and I still think of her.

So many of my memorable moments involve such small things. Covering someone with a warm blanket- a toasty blanket wrapped all around, next to the skin, toes covered. Sheets on top. Like tucking in a baby. I loved doing that. Giving ice chips to patients with parched lips and dry mouths. Holding someone's hand with no words spoken.

I cared for a young mother in ICU who had a brain aneurysm and was on life support for organ donation. I'll never forget the husband, there with his 2 daughters, at the bedside, all night. I so wanted to ease their pain, and so I took loving care of his wife, even though she was gone. Turning her and propping a pillow to her back. Combing her hair.

One of the simplest, most routine things I liked to do working on a cardiac unit was have food ready when my patients got back from their angiograms. They'd always be starving, and I'd go down to nutritional services myself if need be to get them a bite to eat. I preferred sandwiches so they could eat with their hands- they weren't allowed to have the head of the bed elevated enough to sit up and feed themselves.

It's the many moments of comfort, a hand on someone's shoulder, a tissue, breaking the visiting rules. Getting extra chairs in the room for visitors, calling the doctor to get pain medication. Making a pot of fresh coffee.

There's no way for me to pick just one moment, and I am grateful for every memory. I hope I made a difference and I'm privileged to have had the opportunity.

Specializes in Medsurg. Has 15 years experience.

Without writing a novel.

Worst day: i had plenty of those. Most memorable one is when i had a family of my dying patient at the bedside. I came in held the husbands hand, gave him a hug, asked if he or his daughter want any water or tea. Cant remember word for word but he started telling me he doesnt know what hes gonna do--- he has "needs" and then asked if i was single and tapped my butt. ?

Best day: my patient that i admitted came in with a whole lot of stuff going on. One of which was a new trach. Plenty of days i told him "roll your eyes at me all you want but your getting up and going to therapy" or my " my goal for you is to be you...but home. Not here" with my sad eyes. Long story short i watched this 50 something year old man who came in being physically impaired, tracheostomy, emotionallh broken man not only get his trach removed(which i was the one who removed it!!) WALK OUT of our facility to his car and drove HOME. Not sure who was happier his wife, kids, himself, or me.


3,413 Posts

Has 38 years experience.

A child after a minor surgical procedure was brought from PACU to our lower acuity discharge unit. Still had an IV, still expected to be monitored for 30 to 60 minutes. He was autistic and thrashing about, pulling at his restraints, trying to get to his IV, incision, etc.

Co-workers were ready to get more IV sedation, hold him down, etc.

He was my patient, I untied his restraints. He curled up on his side and went to sleep. Problem solved.

A young boy after spinal injection for chemotherapy, came to PACU. Struggling, fighting, wanting to sit up. Everyone telling him he had to lay flat. Again he was my patient. I asked him what he wanted. He wanted a popsicle. I let him sit up, eat his popsicle, after which he laid down and went to sleep. His oncologist happened to walk by while he was sitting up eating his popsicle and was pleased to see his patient was calm and happy.

jrbl77, RN

250 Posts

Specializes in Med Surg, Parish Nurse, Hospice. Has 46 years experience.

I have 2 memories, both about codes years apart. I had been a nurse for about 5 yrs and was pregnant with my first child. I had a pt that needed a CT scan but wasn’t doing well on the med surg floor. This was in the early 80’s. I went with him, of course, he coded. No crash cart in CT. Bed in high position, unplugged, I’m hugely pregnant. Don’t remember the outcome, but CT got crash carts shortly after this.

Much later in my career, I had a pt come in with resp symptoms. I had a bad feeling. I was working at a small community hospital with no ICU and no resp therapy on weekends. As she declined, I kept telling her she needed to get in bed. She was rather on the large size and I could see her coding in the chair. I finally got her in bed and things came together. ER doc intubated her and we hooked her up to the vent. Shipped her out to a larger hospital. She came back to see us about a month later. I asked her if she know understood why I wanted her in bed. She laughed.

Specializes in ER - trauma/cardiac/burns. IV start spec. Has 9 years experience.

Worst days - too many to count, young boy died despite cracking his chest to try to stop the bleeding from his heart. Walking new residents and the family of their patient through a DNR and then the death that followed. The Pyridium overdose, my first OD on my first night as a new grad and dealing with the kids that forced her to take the meds. The young woman who shot herself in the head, the teenage boy that set himself on fire to "prove" he love for a girl, the just married (2 hours before) 97% burn patient(family demanded total care), the old man that lived alone and drove himself to the hospital while having a heart attack.

Best day - catching a "silent heart attack" the ER physician had seen 2 days in a row and did not recognize.