Adventures In Nursing: The Only ICU Bed

by Robert Schnell

You are an RN in a very busy ICU, only half way through a long, arduous, twelve hour shift. The Emergency Department is full and they have a new “customer” coming to you, but, at present, you don’t have a bed available.

The only potential bed, Bed #4, is currently occupied by a “customer” that was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and just passed away. Family is mourning at the bedside.

Once they leave you bag, tag and ship the body to the morgue; Pronto! The bed is “STAT Cleaned” and a new “customer” is settled in before it is even cold.

The new admit (a profoundly cachectic bronchopleural fistula) is very unstable and coded almost immediately. He was resuscitated for two hours and did okay for about 30 minutes then coded again and, this time, unfortunately, expired. He is bagged, tagged, sent to the morgue. Bed Stat cleaned. (Is there a pattern emerging here?) Now we have the bed for our “customer” impatiently waiting in the emergency room.

He arrives. You get him settled into Bed #4. All the while the “customer” and his significant other are complaining (nurse speak for “bitching and moaning“) nonstop about the long wait in the emergency room.

They are rude, smell of ETOH, nasty, demanding, sarcastic, condescending, borderline hostile, and, “icing on the hate cake“, self-proclaimed right wing evangelicals.

Should you mention that the last two “customers” in that very bed both just died? (No, best not. Not good customer service.) We didn’t have a bed sooner because the last “customer” lingered, but did eventually die, thereby freeing it up for our current “grateful” client (a frequent flyer, well known to the emergency room staff, here again threatening “to off myself” which he knows guarantees his homeless self and significant other a warm respite from the bitter cold, winter nights forecast)!

The now openly hostile significant other and the intoxicated patient could care less about the two previous patients. Can it be that empathy for others is not their strong suit? We had the bed STAT cleaned, as a matter of fact, it is still drying as we speak to the discordant “customer” and his “girlfriend“.

Oh Look!“, says the nurse pointing at the bed.

They look.

Is that blood and stool on the side rail? We’ll get that wiped up.

There! All better.

They should be happy now, right??!?

Not quite. He grabs the TV channel selector, switches to FOX News, and demands another cigarette.


But, but …. we are a Smoke-Free (nonsmoking) hospital!

Uncomfortable quiet.

That will be the last “moment of silence” for awhile …


Published by undergroundcartoonist

Underground Cartoonist is a former ICU nurse that has worked at numerous civilian, military, and veteran Intensive Care Units across the country for better than three decades but has been sketching, drawing, and cartooning since he first picked up a crayon in kindergarten. Dabbled with political cartooning, writing, and general illustrations but the bread and butter came from health care. Recently left professional nursing to concentrate on camping, hiking, nature, the outdoors, trees, trails, and peace of mind. Love a campfire; rather watch it than TV. Avoid bureaucracy, career ladders, ladder climbers, and hero worship at all cost. Evenings spent with a good book, reading until the book smacks my nose when I doze off. Generally up at sun rise, listen to the mourning doves, put the coffee on, and play it by ear the rest of the day.

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