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I Don’t Know How You Can Do This

Or the other statements, “I could never do this” and “It takes a special person to be able to do this.”

These words are usually uttered by family members who walk into an ICU room to see me calmly managing a patient on drips and vent, hooked up to monitors and other various tubes and wires.  I’m sure these words are spoken many many times every day all over the world.

I appreciate hearing it, but it always makes me think of the jobs that I could never do. Sure, there are lots of jobs that I’d simply be unhappy doing, but there are a few that I’d almost rather starve than do.

I could never be a dentist or hygienist.  I cannot handle dealing with teeth.  If I see my that my intubated patient has a loose tooth, I’m done for.

I could never be an exterminator.  In fact, I was talking to an exterminator the other day (If you don’t live in California, you are probably not aware that it is, in fact, resting atop a gigantic ant hill).  He was friendly and chatty and I myself mentioned that I don’t know how he was able to do what he does because I literally shiver with disgust at the mere PICTURE of a large bug.  He then asked what I did and I replied that I was a nurse.  He looked at me for a moment and said that the site of blood completely freaks him out.  There’s no way he’d ever work in the medical field.

Within my own profession, I can imagine doing almost any type of nursing.  That isn’t to say that I’d enjoy it or even be good at it.  But there is one branch of nursing that I will never go into.  There is one patient population that I cannot even begin to cope with taking care of, and that is burn patients.  I don’t know how you can cause someone so much pain day in and day out, even if it’s in the name of healing.   Any burn unit nurses out there?  How on earth do you work in such a unit?

What are some jobs that you could never do?

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I think after nursing I could probably do anything. People always told me they couldn’t do what I do, starting when I was a CNA in a nursing home, but I kinda think that anybody can do anything. If you have the luxury of not doing it, then you think you can’t do it. I think the only reason I can handle blood, guts, stool, and the awful sound of sputum being suctioned, is that I simply have to, if I want to help these people out.

What’s weird is that things that don’t bother me on the job still make me squeamish when I’m off work, like stories about lacerations. Can’t handle ‘em. The stories, that is; I can take care of cuts just fine!

How about Psychologist, Nail Technician (yikes), or even Butcher? I also couldn’t imagine dealing with a class full of kids all day long, oh no! :) Cheers, Julie

I’ve always said I could never be a waiter because I am too clumsy to carry all those plates without smashing a bunch of them every day. And remember orders? Yikes! But in reality if pressed, I imagine I could do it.

Currently, while I am trying to get into nursing school, what I do now is write software documentation for programmers to use to write code. One thing I am confident I could never, ever do is write code. It’s SO HARD but yet, SO BORING.

Plus I am 100% with you on the exterminator thing.

great question. the funny thing is that every time i’ve faced tasks i thought i could never do… for lack of options, i did them, and it usually wasn’t so bad — as in picking cotton one summer.

i can’t deal with 3 year olds. learned that one summer working in a private daycare. 2? fine. 4? fine. 3? a disaster.

i couldn’t work in an animal shelter — couldn’t deal with the decision to euthanize or with animal cruelty. on the other hand, i would love to work at a vet’s office —

what else… hmm. well, as i don’t see how you can do what you do — i’d say nursing! having to deal with someone like me as a patient, oh — more power (money and benefits,too) to you all!

I could not be anything they have ever profiled on the show “Dirty Jobs.” They haven’t profiled nurses yet, have they?

I have one more: funeral home or morgue, anybody? Cheers, Julie

I’m not sure which job I could never do! Family members and patients say this to me all of the time too, but I just think if they were in the same situation and someone needed their help then they wouldn’t think twice and everyone would be able to do some of the things we do!

I don’t think I could work at a slaughterhouse. I am OK with slaughterhouses in theory (although I think transport and care prior to slaughter could be improved), but I’m not sure I could deal with it day in, day out.

I don’t think I could be a low level, mindless paper-pusher stuck in a cube farm. I would begin an inexorable slide towards insanity and end up either unemployed and homeless or on the news for going apeshit.

That list would be quite long. I know it takes a special kind of nurse to work ANY pediatrics. The emotional rollercoastering would be tough. But, in the same breath, med-surg nurses are a special breed as well. I don’t know how you can deal with that type of chaos.
We all have a certain ‘make-up’ that we mold into, I fit quite snugly into the critical care mold.

I thought I could never be a nurse because at one time in my life, I was scared to death of needles. I didn’t like the sight of them at all, period. My mom had been trying to talk me into to going to nursing school for years and I wouldn’t because of that. When I eventually did go, I was amazed that it was simply a “mind of matter” thing getting past that fear. I still don’t like being stuck too much but I can easily handle them around other people now. And I guess that’s the thing. A lot of people would probably be amazed what they can accomplish if they force themselves to get over something. A nursing job I don’t think I could do? I couldn’t work in an ER if someone came in with a compound fracture of a long bone. It makes me queasy just sitting here.

i could never be a preschool teacher! of course nurses teach all the time, and we teach a lot of people with limited capacity to understand, but if i had to be that patient all day, every day? with someone who could only be reasoned with so far? i would snap.

Ex-EMT who saw *everything*.

I can’t stand to handle raw chicken.


My sister is an ICU nurse, and I am (just now) a law student, and it strikes both of us, I think, that we would not be suited for each other’s jobs. All it takes is her casually saying “Yeah, my patient peed on the floor last night” and I’m gagging a little. At the same time, midway through a description of what I did last night (it involved a book. And a desk.) she’s literally sleeping.

So it doesn’t even have to be a “distasteful” job by most people’s standards.

[...] has been host to Change of Shift three times.

As you said, I could never do anything dental cause mouths are too gross….as are feet, so forget podiatry or pedicures!

I could never be a respiratory therapist. I’ve seen a trached patient cough a loogie halfway across the room…and I had to leave. Blood, sure. Poop, sure. Dead necrotic smelly flesh, sure. Sputum? Give me a bucket, because I’ll hurl. And I’m an (new) ER nurse.

i am starting a nursing blog my self. i don’t think there is anything hard to do. its just a matter of doing what you like.

I think those of us who are nurses, and good nurses, were destined to be nurses. That’s why we can’t see ourselves doing anything else. I work in an adult ICU and have never wanted to work in Peds. I have a friend who works in PICU but shivers at the thought of working with adults. Each of us have our calling, and are lucky we have found it.

Anything with eyes. I once traded a cornea removal post mortem for a trach care. As the transplant nurse was pulling out the tools I just about fainted. I’ll go clean a trach now.

Also dirty dentures. Gack!!!

I’m with you on the burns stuff too. I floated to a floor that had them and as they were short staffed, I got one. Poor guy had just come back from the OR and had the dressing sutureed to the non-burned parts. They asked if I wanted to assist a tub therapy. No thanks…

I’m working psych now. I still occassionally miss acute care but not so much that I want to go back.

Great blog by the way.

Funny! I thought I was the only nurse repulsed by teeth. Put dentures in a dead pt? NO WAY! I will pay a co-worker to do it for me!
On another note, isn’t it amusing how those same people that say “I could never do this” are the ones who want to tell you how to do your jobs??
-adult critical care….26yrs

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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