by rosmary/via Flickr

By Marcy Phipps, RN, whose essay, “The Soul on the Head of a Pin,” was published in the May 2010 issue of AJN. She’s a frequent writer for this blog.

The long shifts in the ICU are often chaotic. The days are packed with procedures, “road trips,” transfers, and admissions. The high acuity of our patients adds to the emotional intensity, and even the relatively smooth days are busy. Assessments, medication administration, and charting are all pressing and time sensitive, and there are a lot of strong personalities among us, resulting in occasional combustible strife.

Nursing is a high stakes occupation, no matter the unit, and the stress can be overwhelming. I’m grateful to work with a group of nurses who have excellent senses of humor. The levity provided by a quick laugh can be priceless, and sometimes a pointed stare or quick comment provides an essential release to a tense and pressurized situation.

Lately, along with our usual quips and sideways jokes, we’ve been inventing new nursing games with compelling names. They’re spur-of-the-moment games, usually inspired by whatever’s currently happening. My favorite, so far, is “What’s that on my stethoscope??”

The answer? On this day, it was a drop of mannitol, which had dried into an unusual crystalline pattern. We came up with a lot of other possibilities, though. At the time, we found the game to be hysterically funny.

But mostly, we welcomed the chance to shift our focus, for just a second, to a situation that had no stakes at all.

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