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The worst float ever

Sometimes when a unit is over-staffed, nurses that are “extra” either get to stay home, or they have to float to another unit to help out there. At a hospital I used to work at, ICU RN’s were allowed to float everywhere but the maternity/OB ward.

Once I was floated to the adult psych ward. That really wasn’t so bad; at worst it was very very boring. I, not being a psych nurse, was not allowed to pass meds or attend psychotherapy sessions. I helped out a little bit with the elderly patients, helping to feed them, etc, but the rest of the time I was playing solitaire on the computer. I kept asking other RN’s if there was anything else I could do, but they said no. I finally asked why I was even there, and someone told me that they needed to have a certain number of RN’s there in case of a riot! HA!! If that occured, I’d be hiding under the nearest table, not jumping into the thick of it!

(Please take a moment here to imagine going to work at 7am only to be told that you are to spend the day helping out in a psych ward. God love all the psych nurses, because I simply could not do it every day!)

But this is supposed to be about my worst float experience. On another slow day in the ICU, I was sent at 7am to work on the ortho floor for 8 of my 12 hour shift. Did that, it went fine. I went back to ICU to find out what I’d be doing for the remainder of my shift and was told that I’d be going up to Child Psych.

Oh please God, no.

That’s what I should have been thinking, but instead I was thinking, “Oh, piece of cake. I can brush up on my solitaire game!”

What a sucker.

I then went to a part of the building that I had never been to before. I buzzed the doorbell to get in, and to my happy surprise I found another float RN from med-surg there that I knew somewhat. That’s nice … sometimes the worst thing about floating is not the type of patients you have, but the lack of comaraderie and comfort with the other RN’s on that floor.

She and I were taken to the charge nurse to find out what the hell we were supposed to be doing there. As in the adult ward, we were not there to pass meds or provide/sit in on psychotherapy sessions. Fine with me. She said that she wanted us to go in the playroom and help supervise the kids. (At this point I’m realizing that I’m there for crowd control again, and that it may be a titch harder this time around. Thank God I have a friend here with me.)

We dutifully go to the playroom and are greeted with what look like fairly normal kids… running around screaming and all that. One of the Psych RN’s pulls us aside to give us a few ground rules. One, we are NOT to touch the kids. Not for any reason. She said that we were not properly trained in how to handle psychotic kids and that we could hurt them or ourselves if we tried. Okee dokee.
(So what the heck am I doing there?) Two, we are to just hang out and help. We would be told what to do as needed.

My first assignment seemed rather innocuous. I was extremely wrong about this. A male doctor had to examine a female child. By law, another female must be in the room when this happens. I was told to accompany this child to the examination room and wait in there until the doc was finished. The kid seemed fine; maybe a little rambunctious, but nothing unusual. I go with the kid into the room – it’s a small room with a bathroom, exam table, and cabinets with medical supplies (gauze, tongue depressors, Qtips, etc), a blood pressure cuff/meter on the wall, and a panic button. I made special note of the panic button.

The second, no the nanosecond that child and I walked into that room, she turned into hell on two feet. She was bouncin’ around, tearing up the paper on the exam table, and generally being more-than-a-handful. The doc finally walked in and tried to get her to sit still long enough to listen to her heart and lungs, but that simply wasn’t going to happen. She took the stethoscope right out of his ears, and when he gently took it back, she yelled into the bell (ouch!). He looked to me for help, but I said I wasn’t allowed to do much and then we both realized that in the time it took to have that very brief conversation, she had opened up one of the cabinets and pulled out glass microscope slides! And was trying to break them with her bare hands. When I tried to get the slides away from her, she dropped them and started stepping on them with her socked (where the hell were her shoes?) feet. (What ON EARTH are glass slides doing in an unlocked cabinet in a child psych ward? OMG!)

I figured at that point, if I didn’t grab her in some way she’d end up bleeding, so I broke Rule Number One and picked her up and set her down away from the glass. I then looked up to find the doctor only to see his ass on the way out the door saying, “I can’t deal with this, she won’t let me do anything.” Door shuts. Okay. I then hear the sound of water and look over into the little bathroom area to see our Little Ball of Fire taking whole spare toilet paper rolls and throwing them into the toilet. Without touching her, I pried the TP rolls away, but by the time I did that she was already trying to pull the BP cuff out of the wall. The room was shaped so that there was a short (4-5′) hallway between the main corridor and the exam room. The door to the corridor opened towards me, inside the room, so it was simply going to be difficult to get her out of there without touching her. To open the door myself and try to find help in the corridor would have involved me not directly supervising her, and I’d already seen the trouble she was capable of while in my direct supervision. The door itself would not stay open; it was heavy and closed on its’ own.

It was at this point that I remembered the panic button and said a small prayer of thanks. I pushed the button and waited for Someone Trained In Dealing With Psychotic Kids to come and rescue us. Thank goodness I didn’t hold my breath waiting for that, because help never came! So they knowingly put a completely inexperienced “psych” nurse into a room with a tornado child and then ignored the big flashing light outside the room! I think I waited about a minute (which felt like 10), trying to position myself between Tornado Child and whatever she was headed for before I thought, “Screw their rules! They aren’t helping me!”

I picked the kid up (she was like 7, but was quite small and thin), walked to the door with her squirming, opened it and walked out into the corridor. Deserted. I marched towards the nurses station with TC still firmly planted on my hip and was met by the charge RN, whose eyes got very menacing when she saw me breaking Rule Number One. I put TC down (who shot off like a racehorse) and not-really-that-politely asked why no one answered the panic button. She said she was on her way to get it and I told her it had been on for quite some time already. I told her that there was glass all over the room, soggy tp rolls in the toilet, and that I didn’t think it was very nice that the MD left me alone. Her face softened a bit when she realized that the MD had come out several minutes before I had.

The remaining 3 hours were spent watching what had seemed like normal children turn into monsters. Dinner time went fairly well…. we helped set out the food, plates, utensils, then helped clean up. Kids seem quite content when eating. After that, parents were supposed to come visit, and that’s when the real fireworks began. Kids that had been only semi-weird turned into full-blown weird and they had to put some in an actual rubber room. I was told to sit at the window of this room and watch the kid to make sure he wasn’t going to hurt himself. When he calmed down, I was told that I could go inside of the room to sit with the kid, but the look on my face and the tone of my “are you kidding?” stopped that right there. I have honestly never been so verbally abused in my life, and that includes the confused adult patients going through alcohol withdrawal. Kids can be very very mean and I was pretty shocked at some of the things coming from their mouths. Med-Surg RN was having a similar night, and I think we finally ended up skipping outta there a 1/2 hour early.

I never had to go back, and I think that if I was told that I had to, I would have gladly taken an unpaid suspension.

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Fascinating! makes the ETOH’ers we deal with seem like a piece of cake!

What a great story! Not only the story but your writing style, you had me rolling on the floor!

I am a psych/addiction RN and can relate, although I work with adults (many whom behave like children) I have been floated up to the children’s unit on occasion. All of the other RN’s on my unit freak when we have to float an RN to child/adol. so I volunteer. I don’t really care for it too much either. It’s awful that they told you not to touch the children. I can see avoiding unnecessary touching but for the child’s safety or yours or someone elses, you need to be able to redirect or restrain the child if necessary. What a nightmare, and what a loser MD to leave you stuck like that.

Yes, I’ve been called EVERYTHING, not by the kids,who I have minimal contact with, but by the adults. I actually got called nurse Ratchet (sp?) for the first time about two weeks ago!
I just thought “it’s about time someone called me that!” I won’t mention the nasty names I’ve been called.

I’ve seen awful family relationships on these kids units though and my heart goes out to them. No wonder so many of them are screwed up. For instance, one kid who had some form of psychosis…he was a very pasty looking blonde boy, about 8 years old, well he was supposed to be discharged home on the day I was floated up as charge nurse. I had called his mom early in the day and she was supposed to pick him up around 2 pm. Well, I waited until about 4 pm and gave her a call. A man answered the phone and put her on. “Oh, I don’t got no way to get out there” she tells me. I’ll have to maybe try getting there tomorrow.” “Oh, I said to her,” were you planning on calling to let us know this? “I forgot,” she tells me. WHAT A NASTY WOMAN! I was so upset that she would just forget about her child and then just not bother calling! I also think her story about having no way to get there was BS. The other nurse working up there told me that that wasn’t uncommon. Most of the families are nasty and neglectful. There are a few exceptions of course. The really weird part is the boy knew he was supposed to go home and I had to break it to him. When I told him he didn’t bat an eye, he said “OK” and just went on playing. I’ve got a son that age and it just haunts me to this day. You should read the charts on a child psych unit. It seems like about 90 percent of these kids have horrific family lives and many have been placed in foster care after having the opportunity of allowing their bio. families to mess up their heads for the first 3 or 4 years of their lives…the formative years. Oh jeez, I’ve gone all serious. I’m sorry, I could go on and on.

I still thought your story was a hoot!


One word: Euthanasia!

Parents & the child!


I am a nurse on a psych unit. The story is interesting, well written, laypeople have no idea…on the other hand, what’s with this euthanasia comment…are you a nurse too??? why don’t you euthanasia …???

Geena: Would you like me to put your story on your day in the Children’s Psych road up on nursetown?


I am a student nurse who is about to start a semester of med surg and psych at the VA hospital. I am not quite sure what to expect this semester. I found this sight and am quite shocked of what I read. I really hope I don’t have to deal with anything like that….

I was just linking this site to my blog because of the article. I have worked in psych for the past 3 years. Both units, child and adult, so I can relate.

Except I love it.

I love the people. I love the kids. I hurt for them. I cry for them. I understand their anger and pain and heartaches and each day I hope that maybe I’ll help just one of them.

And it makes every cuss word, kick in the stomach, death threat, or worse worth while.

Well i have to say im not suprised hearing about any of these horror stories. I am currently a student attending a public highschool soon to be boarding school next year. At the age of just 16, i have been to the moon and back with my share of problems. Just today, i was told by both my parents that they are pretty sure that they will indeed admitt me to a psych ward of some wort soon. having suffered from depression from the past few years this may seem not to be much out of the norm for someone with my condition. however, i feel very strongly that i do not need to go ;and i feel it is more than stupid of them to even considder this. i dont know what to do. being in what i would considder a sane mind, trying to be a normal kid, this is quite difficult for em to cope with. i do not in any shape of form want to be in a place known for horror stories such as the above ones. what can i do?

I’m 17 and i’ve been in the psych ward twice for being suicidal, and cutting, i’ve got lots of stories. Most of the time when people throw fits it’s because they get bored, there should be more activities. I fortunately never threw any fits or had to get restrained but i’ve seen it happen a couple times.


Um this is just another paranoid schizophrenic reliving their “grand” past. Noone gives a flying shit about psych ward stories they are so overplayed. Every man and his dog has one, or could make one up. Congratulations, your a hero.

I have worked phych for over 4 years doing privite duity, and at first it was scary! :-[ but I stuck with it, and the people there have their own touching storys that make a person think.

I have worked phych for over 4 years doing privite duity, and at first it was scary! :-[ but I stuck with it, and the people there have their own touching storys that make a person think.

I really enjoyed working psych and hope to go back to it. The adult unit is where I liked to be- it was great to see patients come in totally out of it, off their meds and completely psychotic= then after a few weeks of meds and therapy, you got to meet the real person- not the disease. That was always really rewarding, to meet the person behind the psychosis. The adolescent and chid unit was the scariest place on earth. Some of those kids are just doomed- couldn’t have worse biological parents from a genetic standpoint (illness, addiction, abuse) and often ended up in foster care where they met further kinds of abuse. These kids get VIOLENT. Really violent. I’d rather work with the grown up psychotics than the adolescent ones. Plus it’s just too hard for me to see little kids like that, knowing the rest of their lives will likely be like those of the adult patients- in and out of the hospital for the rest of their lives.

I feel your post was very ignorant.
“Where were her shoes?” The girl is in a psych ward, she is not allowed to have shoes. I found you to be very insensitive. Hopefully they will not put you in a position where you deal with people.

I feel your post was very ignorant.
“Where were her shoes?” The girl is in a psych ward, she is not allowed to have shoes. I found you to be very insensitive. Hopefully they will not put you in a position where you deal with people.

I think that sometimes the parents are just at their wit’s end and cannot manage these kids any longer. Mental illness is often caught from the children as well as from the parents imo.

That was quite an interesting story. I’ve worked as a psych nurse for five years now and its refreshing to get a general nurse’s perspective on it. Have you seen this blog?

That wasn’t a well run psych facility you were sent to. I have worked psych in some of the most dangerous settings around, forensic, and designated assaultive units. We always had a prime goal of getting through the day without injuries, to ourselves and our patients. To send somebody there and without the training and the inclination was unconsionable. As an experienced psych nurse it sounds like I would rather take the suspension than work with those dufuses.

I’m 16 and a successful conquerer of depression and severe OCD. I was hosp’ed in a psych ward over my 15th birthday, and let me tell you, that it’s easy for YOU as the nurse to complain. While I was never restrained or psychotic, I saw my share. Kids in psych wards are suffering every bit as much as kids on medical units. It’s YOUR job as a nurse to help perpetuate understanding and sympathy towards the plight of the mentally ill. But I see your point, and this is the problem with childrens’ psych care: inexperienced staff. That isn’t to blame you, how can you know the unfamiliar? Your story just highlights the issues in child inpatient psychiatric care. N, age 16

Thanks for bringing a smile to my face today. I can feel your frustration and also know that you can see the humor behind what happened to you after the fact.
I am the 7-3 House Supervisor of a 200 bed psych facility. Prior to being promoted, I was the Unit Manager of the Youth Enhanced Unit and the Children’s Unit. I would rather work with the adolescents and children any day rather than working with the adults due to the personality disorders that they display. Kids can be very manipulative and very sneaky when they sense that someone doesn’t know what he/she is doing.
Most of the kids bring tears to my eyes and you dread the day that they must go home to their extremely dysfunctional families. Most of the kids we deal with have been raped, burned, beaten, and have seen more violence and mistreatment than we can ever imagine. It’s a great (but also a terrible) feeling to have one of the kids that have been discharged call or come back to be admitted to tell you, “Ms. Pam, I missed you. I feel like this is my home and you always help me. I sure do love you, do you still love me?” They are insecure and the only way that they have been taught how to handle their feelings is through aggression and violence, even self mutilation. I have cried many times over these poor souls. If I can help one child to possibly smile through their hurts, to experience some small measure of joy, I think that I have done well for the day.

Great Story! Even though you posted it a few years ago, I enjoyed reading it.

I am a returning RN and I used to work in a locked ward,head injury patients. I never liked psych nursing per se and your story reminded me why. It’s definitely not for everyone and Thank God some nurses like it!

I wanted to leave a comment after a friend of mine had emailed your blog to me.
I spent a good part of my life in and out of psych wards, and I hate to admit it but you hit the nail on the head.
I was released last Saturday after a 3 week stint for a suicide attempt, even in the adult ward…. the patients still act like children.
I feel badly for a nurse being floated to that section of the hospital, your on the frontlines. However, I must say, its just as bad being a patient… especially one that doesn’t scream or throw things.


I had to check my 11 year old son in a psych ward for the first time ever because he threatned to kill himself in school today. The amblance, police and I were called. After evaluation in the hospital, they thought it was best that he stayed. He cried and cried and asked me to please not do this to him. My heart is tearing apart. I fought back tears and then cried like a baby when I finally said goodbye to him. I’m still crying. He’s been on ADHD meds and schitzo meds for a year now. I hope I did the right thing. I found this site while trying to find more info on child mental wards. I’m glad I found you guys.

I pray you never care for my son or anyone elses’s child. In a psych ward or any where else.

Please dont judge too harshly , just because nurses think these things and may vent to each other in this way doesnt mean for a moment that we dont do our job or that we dont care. If we dont vent and we dont develope some thick skin we will burn out and be of no use to anyone. I know some of my patients would be suprised to hear what I am really thinking but they never will, be cause I put on my happy nurse face and do what needs to be done, thats what being a professional means. The person you should be angry at is the institution that would put an untrained nurse in that environment.

I’m a nurse, a midwife, and a mom of a 14 yo with numerous psych diagnoses and several hospitalizations. I came across this site while researching issues with RNs being “floated” to other units. I was appalled at the blog that began this thread (and I’m not easily shocked at all). And the person who recommends EUTHANASIA??? Are you a nurse?! I pray not. Interestingly, my son, my husband, and I have all thought of death as the easiest way out of our unbelievably difficult situation a time or two. Thank God, that’s never happened and I pray it never will. My son’s birth mother drank and took drugs while carrying him, leaving him with disabilities he (and we) struggle to overcome, or at least cope with. I know as a nurse that burnout is common when you see so much of life’s most intense situations, and that “floating” is often inappropriate, but usually, compassion for others’ pain is why we go into this field. Please, nurses, PLEASE understand that many times patients’ pain is difficult to comprehend or doesn’t seem to make sense–but it exists, often to such depths that its expression is shocking. I am thankful for many people who have over the years been kind, compassionate, and patient with my own “Tornado Child.”

Great story! One has to have spent some time working in psych to truly appreciate what it’s like. One year of working on a child/adolescent unit was all I could handle. I was good at my job. My problem was I left every day feeling as though I could do nothing to truly help these kids. They’ve been through horrendous experiences that the ordinary person cannot even imagine. Just to get a smile from some of them is a major accomplishment. God Bless those who work in pysch forever. There will be a special place in Heaven for all of you. As for the euthanasia comment. They’ll be a special place for you elsewhere!

Imagine how the psych nurses felt having to put up with a med-surg RN who doesn’t know anything about psych.I’ve been a child/adolescent psych RN for 6 years and I think it’s great, heartbreaking, challenging and teaches me something every day.
If you want to really feel yourself and others, come work with me. If I had to work med-surg I’d kill myself, with all the backbiting and the patients all tucked away in their rooms. Yuck.
At least, on psych, we have Mental Health Specialists, who often know more than the RN’s and who are often a lot more fun than a bunch of inbred RN’s.
Everything is relative. Our patients soak up love and attention and want to learn things more than any children you’ll ever meet.

I get backbiting and inbred from having worked med-surg right after nursing
school and seeing how small-minded, petty and not very helpful most floor
nurses are, though of course there are always exceptions…
also, when I worked as a paramedic, most medics didn’t like them since they
weren’t usually very helpful as far as transmitting information about their
Of course I understand that understaffing (national issue) affects morale,
but the thing about working on a psych floor is the RN’s are outnumbered by
the Mental Health Specialists which is great ( more guys, more varied
backgrounds, less rigid ways of thinking).
Let’s face it, nursing school doesn’t exactly encourage radical, creative
Of course there are bitches on psych, but, believe me, they don’t choose to
have a non-psych RN come to float, that’s a management decision.
They know perfectly well how unprepared you are, but they are often tired,
stressed out, mad at management themselves and realize they don’t have time
to both explain the job and do it at the same time.

I have a couple good friends who are floor nurses, but I look at them as the
Why didn’t you call the Manager of Patient Services when this happened and
refuse to continue your shift on that unit?
Why did you let the MD leave the room?

When she first started getting out of control, that’s the time to tell the
MD to grab the patient and get her out of there.

anyway, thanks for the email!
ps how do I get a password so I can answer direct emails?

Interesting story and I’d like to know more about the no touching rule… as it seems to me as a non-nurse mother that loving, caring touch would be a good thing. What is it that I do not know?

As far as the rule for no touching goes: You do not know what these children have gone through. No touching is a rule in psych wards for patients of all ages, but most important for the younger children. Those who have suffered physical or sexual abuse would not take well to touching by strangers, whether it seems as though they do or not. Nurses in psych wards are not meant to be mothers, and should not be seen as mothers.

As a person who has been in a psych ward, I’m not pleased with the tone taken in this article. You treat seem to treat these children as though they are just your average brat, not a child with problems deeper than you will know as a “floater.” You admit that you cannot sit in on therapy, which makes sense, but you must realize that is an important part of this process, and you do not know what is going on with these patients. You reaction to the children is similar to someone complaining that a patient could not feed themselves because of an illness. Different disability, same thing.

I’m 21 and I have been hospitalized for psych reasons 6 times. I only started being hospitalized when I was 20, though. And I only started having psychotherapy and taking meds when I was 19. I had a hard time when I was under 19. I was understimulated, and also misunderstood because I didn’t think the same way as others, but I thought just as well. But others thought that because I didn’t think like them, I didn’t think as well as them, and that made me so depressed. Now I finally have a diagnosis I’m content with… Pervasive Developmental Disorder– Not Otherwise Specified. Itotally agree that almost everyone who is a patient in a psych ward is probably in pain and why is it that just because it’s in the mind, it’s not acceptable to express that you have pain in the mind, or even worse, in the soul?

Because I never dealt with my problems when I was younger; instead I daydreamed of more stimulating lives where I would be able to prove my competence. And the awful depression that I got that had nothing to do with the mental difference but everything to do with the understimulation, just made me need to solve those other issues more, since my understimulation issue had seemingly caused permanent damage. And I had to make sure I never got understimulated again.

Your experience was terrible oh trust me I will never go into adolescent psych!!

Got devotion?

So, what brought you to the hospital today?

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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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