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There is nothing worse than a sleeping nurse!

sleepEvery profession has their slackers but I think everyone can agree that hospitals should have little to no room for slackers. It’s unfortunate then, that in South Africa it seems the slackers outnumber the worker bees and it’s one of the biggest problems in our hospitals.

This brings to mind all the terribly lazy nurses I’ve met during my nursing days. One RN in particular took slacking to a whole new level. She had this strange idea that sleeping on duty was her right.

We would be on nightshift and she would take a mattress from one of the unoccupied hospital beds lay it down in the break room, dress it with sheets and blankets, and on top of it, she’d change into a nightdress, turn off the lights, disconnect the phone and sleep solidly through the night! She was my senior and I was reluctant about reporting her. It seemed like an accepted habit in the ward, the other nurses didn’t mind because they also slept at night. Still, it was cowardly of me not to stand against it, but many good nurses have blown the whistle on the slackers only to find that the managers are lax in taking action…then you’re labelled a snitch and everybody hates you. To make up for my cowardice, I’d take it upon myself to keep a close eye on the patients and I’d wake the senior RN whenever I was concerned about a patient. She would wave off my concerns saying that I was overreacting and disturbing her. I was not allowed to give schedule drugs to patients without her supervision, so I would give the patients paracetamol and placebos to soothe their pain and get them through the night. It was only when the patient was in imminent danger that I would insist she get up off her lazy butt to help. Even in those cases, she’d do the bare minimum, showing her disdain as the patients “inconvenienced” her. She’d often yell at them in zulu and tell them to “stop being stupid and just sleep”, then she’d snuggle up to her pillow again.

To make matters worse, whenever I did sit down for a coffee break in one of the offices, she’d phone me from the break room to tell me that someone was shouting for a nurse. “I am in my nighties, so please tend to that stupid patient.” she would say. Infuriated, I would oblige (yes, I’m a submissive idiot). In the morning she would get up lazily, messy hair, sleep wrinkles and morning breathe, and she’d sit and write the morning reports and leave me to do the bed baths, observations, and tidying of the ward by myself. I was always exhausted at the end of my shift and often still finishing up my tasks when the day staff arrived. It’s crazily time-consuming and tiring bathing bedridden adults! Keep in mind that these patients were ill and unable to move, plus they’d all have soiled diapers in the morning – there’s nothing sexy about nursing…oh no sir, nothing at all.

The most infuriating part of it all was that she’d put on a show for the day staff, telling them that she had a rough night and she actually looked exhausted, only because she was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. It was disgusting to know that she’d go home to a sympathetic family after a “hard nights work”, come back to work at night, eat, sleep, piggyback on others to get her pay check and think nothing of it. The scary thing is that this is not an isolated incident; there are slacker nurses all over the place, creatively putting together their own makeshift beds. Some of them line 3 chairs up together, soften it up with pillows and cover themselves with hospital blankets, others use mattresses and some just occupy empty beds. There are some wards staffed only with slackers, with no one patrolling the ward at night like I did. There are of course good nurses that keep the hospital afloat but you can only pull the weight of the lazy nurses for so long before you’re burnt out.  If it were a disease, I’m sure it’d be the deadliest disease within the walls of any hospital, there is nothing worse than a sleeping nurse.

  • Gerry

    Are you serious! You can give a patient a placebo, what instead of morphine or the like and get away with it?

  • Arkadia

    Hey Gerry. Well like I said in the article, if I felt that the patient needed more than I could offer, I’d shake the RN out of the bed and probably would have dunked her in cold water if I had to. Placebos worked for the less serious cases. As for getting away with things, there are times when patients are left unattended all night through so that the above mentioned nurses can sleep easy and nothing gets done about it. The Matrons seem to have the same mentality. I quit nursing because, no matter what you try, the slackers always outnumber you and it burnt me out.

  • Arkadia

    To add to my frustration with this situation, the RN I speak of, would encourage the student nurses to sleep at night! Moulding more lazy nurses. In a different ward, I would walk through the wards hourly to check on patients, a sleeping RN would tell me to stop walking around the whole night. “Night time is for sleeping” she would say. Professional responsibility escapes these nurses. It’s not a concept they can grasp as unbelievable as that sounds.

  • Renad-ncik

    Iowa, Des Moines, USA – worked at hospital as tech with nurses who slept through the night. When awake they ate all the patients food. Thinking about starting a web site, Sleeping Nurse with pictures.

    • Arkadia

      You’re always welcome to post your stories here on NursingHabits. Just let me know and I’ll give you access to start posting! 🙂 It would be interesting to have more than one perspective on nursing from nurses around the world. Do stay in touch. 🙂