What do nurses fear lately on the job? These responses are heavy, but worth the read

We asked, nurses answered: ‘What are your fears involving work?’

. (Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels)

Did you have any idea just how many health care workers are nervous about a physical attack on the job?

We’ll get to all that. First, let’s rewind: Earlier this month, we asked -- if you’re a doctor, nurse, or any kind of health care worker, what are you seeing lately?

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As the pandemic rages on, we genuinely wondered what was happening in hospitals and other medical facilities, and our viewers and readers provided some really telling answers.

We’ve now heard from about 530 of you; nurses, doctors, medical assistants, respiratory therapists, physicians assistants, laboratory employees and more. (And if you’re in health care and you’d like to weigh in, it’s not too late! Scroll down -- we have the form at the bottom of this article).

A lot of the responses fell into similar themes, so we organized them that way. Some entries were edited for grammar, clarity and/or brevity.

To get a better idea of what’s going on in our hospitals, here are those responses. We didn’t collect names, so each answer is anonymous.

Again, the question was, “What are your fears involving work?” Here’s what people said:

Mental health: The ‘never-ending exhaustion’

“My fear is my mental health, which has been declining since the pandemic started. You see death daily, you’re constantly being yelled at by family members and patients for not doing a good enough job. When in reality, they wouldn’t be sitting in this room, had they gotten a vaccine. I fear that one day I will lose all compassion and empathy. And that’s a terrible fear to have.”

“I fear I will never regain my empathy.”

“You’d be surprised, but it’s not getting sick. It’s having to be the conduit for another family’s grief. When they are forced to be outside the room or the building and I’m standing in the room holding the hand and stroking the hair of their loved one as they watch on helplessly -- (that) has been the most draining part of the pandemic for me. I carry every ounce of their pain and their suffering, and the burden of carrying their grief has been a lot for me to bear.”

“That I’m ruining my health by pushing myself to the point of never-ending exhaustion. I’ve been vaccinated and had COVID. I’m dedicated, but I can feel my mental and physical health declining on a daily basis.”

“(Having) PTSD later in life from the things I’ve seen.”

Burnout: ‘I feel like a robot’

“I never thought I would be the one to get tired of seeing patients. I lived for this, throughout my training. I was the resident who came in on my day off to make sure my dying cancer patient got discharged without a hitch, so he could catch his last flight home to die with his family. I was the resident who kept in touch with patients long after they were discharged from my care. My greatest joy was to be able to make my patients not only feel better physically, but spiritually and emotionally. Now, I’m dragging my feet between patients, reluctant to open the door and step into another person’s life. I have played this role for so long that I can still play it well. I say the same words, I do the same things that always made my patients feel that I cared for them as human beings. I don’t think anyone has noticed yet that I don’t have the same heart for it -- but I’m afraid it will start to show soon. I’m getting so tired.”

“Losing my mind -- after seeing one death after another, or losing my sensitivity. I feel like a robot.”

“That I will lose more good clinicians to the burnout we are feeling.”

“My fear is that my co-workers will become hardened and just go through the motions due to the emotional drain this has put on us, rather than taking care of each individual’s needs.”

“That I will lose my compassion. My big heart is such a huge part of who I am, but it’s getting smaller, just out of a sense of survival.”

“Not having a job -- or being so burnt out that I hate my career.”

Problems with the system: ‘It has reached a new level’

“No solution is being developed for the numerous problems we continue to face. We are running out of time. The system is going to break. Then we won’t be able to help anyone.”

“We’re understaffed. (I fear) medication errors. Burnout (like myself). Non-COVID patients not receiving adequate care. The medical system is BROKEN!”

“I’ve lived (these fears) -- losing 22 patients in one week; simply not able to get them a simple drink of water; 1:36 nurse-to-patient ratio, (etc).”

“Many of us fear getting injured due to shortages and expectations by management. While there are always risks in health care, it has reached a new level.”

“My breaking point, the facility’s breaking point -- how much more can we all handle? Everyone and everything is fragile.”

Time off/money concerns: ‘Not being able to afford missing work’

“Having a hospital visit I can’t afford, because I have a high-deductible insurance plan and I can’t afford to miss work.”

“I can’t afford to be off work. My hospital does not compensate you when you’re out sick. They use OUR vacation time if we need to be paid.”

“Calling in sick and getting punished for it, instead of having (an) understanding to stay home.”

“Getting sick and not being able to afford missing work.”

Unruly patients and their families: ‘The level of hostile patients’

“I might lose my cool one day. My last patient was unvaccinated, in the ICU for worsening hypoxia. The second we got him a little stable, he won’t wear his nasal cannula, he won’t take any of the meds ordered and he won’t let me draw his blood for labs. He claims we are making things up as we go. How do I deal with that? Why come to the hospital? I fear I can’t take more than one of that a week.”

“(I’m scared) someone will hurt me so I’m unable to work. I fear a patient will purposely infect me with COVID. We all have had patients and visitors attack us.”

“The hostile, inconsiderate people who have no regard for their fellow man and who think they know more than scientists and educated health care individuals. Many are verbally and physically abusive to staff, and still, we have to care for them.”

“The level of hostile patients due to wait times.”

“That I will be assaulted and not make it home to my family.”

“That someone is going to get physical because they don’t want to follow the ‘rules’ and safeguards in place.”

“Trying all that I can, and having family scream at me or degrade me. It happens all the time.”

“How angry people are, and what they might do.”

Licenses at risk: ‘My license is on the line’

“I fear losing my license daily, because I am a new grad taking seven to eight patients a night without a single nurse aide. I use my resources. I call my charge nurse for advice. I call pharmacy to make sure IV drugs are compatible. I call respiratory because I have three COVID patients dropping to 70% oxygen, and two dementia (patients) trying to hit me and jumping out of bed. There’s nothing I can do. There’s not enough staff to have anyone sit or stand by the fall-risk patient that will likely jump out of bed while I’m doing CPR on another patient and calling respiratory to make sure my other two are not crashing. I fear we are losing patients because there’s too many for us to keep a close enough eye on.”

. (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

“Collapsing over dead from working too much. Or losing my license to practice because the work load is so much.”

“My license is on the line. I’m also in fear that I will fail my patients. I’m someone who gives my patients and my co-workers my all. ... During this time, it’s just not possible anymore.”

“Making a simple mistake that would not only cost me my license, but also someone’s life simply because I am stuck working 70 to 80 hours a week.”

“That being put into precarious and unsafe situations every day will cause me to lose my license, that I worked very hard to achieve.”

Children: ‘These kids are suffering’

“Children are getting sicker, and we do not have enough ICU nurses to care for them, so they are being put on acute-care floors where nurses are forced to take six patients at a time.”

“I work in pediatrics. These kids are suffering because a parent thinks their child should have the right to choose if they wear a mask or not at school. There are many kids out there who don’t get that right, because they have other issues and this will kill them. I am tired of losing my patients to this. I am seeing more (people) sick everyday with something that could have been prevented by a piece of cloth!”

“Hospitalized children are suffering. No one seems to realize this.”

“We don’t really see any babies COVID-positive in the NICU much, and I pray that doesn’t ever change.”

Losing patience with others and the profession: ‘(I fear) that one day I am going to snap’

“We’ve had patients lie about their vaccination status, and one patient actually said they were deaf and we had to remove our masks so they could read our lips, but (he or she) admitted before leaving that they weren’t deaf, but didn’t ‘believe’ in COVID. Family members are so distraught at not being able to visit that they threaten staff, who have no say in hospital policy.”

“No matter how hard we try, it’s not good enough. And I’m not talking about saving a life. I’m talking about patient satisfaction, since that’s what this job is all about anymore. Patients aren’t patients anymore, they are ‘customers,’ and you know what that means. They are always ‘right.’”

“Families lie about COVID status -- putting us at risk every day.”

“That one day I am going to snap at a family or a patient.”

“Every nurse will be a travel nurse, because there is no more loyalty.”

Death: ‘I go into work every day fearing which patients are going to die today’

“That people will continue to reject the vaccination and more people will die. The people who refuse vaccination occupy beds needed for our friends and family members who are having strokes or heart attacks and waiting for hours just to be seen in the emergency department.”

“I go into work every day fearing which patients are going to die today or who is barely going to make it into an ICU (and that’s if we have a bed available). Some days, we don’t have the ICU beds we need, so we have to hold the patients and try to keep them alive until a bed is available.”

“That if I contract COVID again, even though I am vaccinated and boosted, I’ll not survive it, as I am already a long-hauler from the start of the pandemic.”

“To have more COVID surges, with intubated patients dying daily in high numbers.”

“I’m in the high-risk group ... every day, I fear I will breathe in COVID, die, and never see my grandchildren grow up.”

Getting others sick or exposing them: ‘Being anxious every work day for two years can really manifest as physical and chronic pain’

“I’m afraid of getting sick, getting my family sick (or) my co-workers sick. I’m afraid my co-workers will leave for more money and better safety precautions. I have a very small department. I can’t afford to lose any more techs, whether to COVID or to another job offer. Plus, it takes forever to train somebody.”

“(I’m) terrified I am going to make my son sick. I don’t go out to eat, I do grocery pickup and wear a KN95 everywhere. Too many people don’t care. Even my extended family who is vaccinated don’t wear masks and eat out all the time. I’m not speaking to the half of the family who isn’t vaccinated. One gave COVID to three others, and one died. It still doesn’t change their opinion.”

“My fear is (bringing) home infections to my family, some who are high-risk. My mental health has suffered as a result of this pandemic. Being anxious every work day for two years can really manifest as physical and chronic pain.”

“I fear getting exposed and bringing it home to my family. I have children too young to be vaccinated.”

Our latest poll results (at last check, we had 530 total responses, with 521 answers to this specific question). (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

Being spread SO thin: ‘I’m always afraid that I might make a mistake and hurt someone’

“Missing something critical because there is no time; taking care of patients that you know won’t make it out alive. Lastly, I fear that staffing will only get worse.”

“That people will die -- not because it was the natural course of their disease, but because an error occurred or an alarm sounded, but no one could respond because they were busy in another room.”

“Not taking care of a patient well enough that they end up dying because we are so overwhelmed and we can’t do as much as we should be doing.”

“I’m always afraid that I might make a mistake and hurt someone -- especially with patients who are rapidly declining.”

“That something happens to a patient on my watch, because I wasn’t attentive enough due to short staffing.”

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to complete my job to a high standard.”

The future: ‘The standard of care in the U.S. will deteriorate’

“That the new generation of caregivers won’t be able to stick with it. They don’t have the passion they need to sustain a career in health care.”

“We’ll never have enough nurses to meet our needs. The standard of care in the U.S. will deteriorate permanently.”

“That this will never end. The health care system will crumble, and people who wouldn’t have died before the pandemic will -- it’s already happening.”

“Not having enough blood on the shelf for all of our patients. This shortage is unreal and has lasted longer than any I’ve seen in 35 years.”

“Logistics are getting harder and harder: equipment, repair parts and staffing. Eventually, when we need something critical, we won’t be able to get it.”

“That this will never end and the general public will only get more impatient and selfish.”

“I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I keep hoping things will improve. It’s not. I feel like I’m swimming in quicksand.”

Are you in health care? If you’d like to fill out our survey, here it is: