Consider the headache.
I know I did yesterday. All stinkin' day long. I showed up at work at 9:40 in a relatively okay mood about working the holiday even though I was missing our first neighborhood Memorial Day parade since we bought the house (last June 1st). I walked on to the unit, said hello to a couple of people, and all of a sudden got slammed with a headache so bad I couldn't see anything but sparkles out of my left eye. If I got migraines, which I don't, I'd go so far as to call it an aura. For about fifteen minutes I provided comic relief to my coworkers as I walked into walls and various pieces of equipment, refusing to admit that anything was wrong. Finally I couldn't take it anymore and told my charge nurse that I had to go sit down for a few minutes until my head stopped hurting so bad. A little while later it was tolerable and I could even see. It's the little things in life that make it worthwhile. As the day wore on my head continued to get better, but it never really felt great, and I was just kind of slow on my feet the whole shift. The whole 12 hour shift.
The obvious question is why didn't I go home? And here's the answer - because nurses aren't allowed to get sick. Not at work anyway. If you call in sick that's one thing, but if you actually show up to work your shift you pretty much have to die on the unit to leave. It's not that the charge nurses are rotten about it, either. Mine today was terrific about letting me not take care of emergent patients until I could see them. I did sit in the break room for a while wondering if I had an aneurysm and figuring out a way to get to another hospital if I did, since no way in hell will my co-workers ever see me naked if I can help it. Death would almost be preferable.
I've seen some pretty extreme behavior to work around this whole "once you're here you stay" philosophy, and I've heard a lot of stories from other hospitals. This is not isolated, this is every hospital everywhere. I have seen nurses have to be put on their own cardiac monitors because they felt so bad. But they finished their shift. I've seen residents (to leave the nurses alone for a second) with viral infections and fevers of 104 have to stay to finish their 36 hour rotation, since, as their chief told them, it wasn't bacterial so it wasn't a danger to their patients, so why did they feel they needed to leave? There's an old saying about medicine eating it's young and this is one of the reasons that saying is true. You simply can't take care of someone else when you feel like you're going to fall over. Let me rephrase that. You can do it, you just can't do it right.
On the other hand, it can be pretty funny. My favorite story involves a pregnant nurse and an incontinent trauma patient with dementia. This guys name was Jesus, or as we say in LA, Hay-Zuss. Well, this nurse was having a bad bout of morning sickness the day that Jesus decided he didn't want to be confined in the hospital anymore and started throwing shit at her. She had the curtain to his room closed and all we could hear was retching as she dodged shit. This nurse was a Kansas girl through and through, and just kept moaning "Jesus! Stop throwing shit at me, Jesus!", but she was pronouncing it Jesus. Like Christ. When we opened the curtain to see what the hell was going on she was sitting on the floor with a trash can in her lap that she was still gagging into, and she kept saying "Oh Jesus, why?" And after she finished losing her lunch, she finished her shift.
And people wonder why there's a nursing shortage.