why we don’t say the Q word

Nurses are superstitious. In the ICU, some superstitions are so widely accepted that they can be described as standard practice. Taping atropine to the door of the patient’s room, for example, will stave off bradycardia. Not changing tapes when they’re due to be changed, because you think the patient will be extubated soon, will result in the patient failing their wean (and staying on the vent).  Never, ever bring a book, homework, magazines, or any other downtime paraphernalia from home. If you do you’ve guaranteed yourself a very busy day. If you think your patient is headed toward coding, taping a sage kit to the door can drive away badness. If green oral swabs are taped to the door, you know you’re watching nursing-craft at work.

The number one superstition that all nurses follow, and that all nurses will curse each other for not following, is this: Never, ever, ever say the Q word! Q = quiet, and if you say something completely idiotic like, “boy, it sure is quiet on the unit today”, not only will everyone within ear shot want to cuff you, but within hours the entire day will fall apart. Patients will code, machines will malfunction, rivers of poop will flow. And it will all be your fault, because YOU said the Q word.

This time last year, I said the Q word, figuratively, in my life. I thought, gosh, I am so happy. I am having a baby, having a girl, exactly what I wanted! I am out of a bad relationship, I’m in a job I love, I have a new car, etc etc. I said the Q word, and on December 13th, it all fell apart. My baby died. I went home with an empty uterus, an empty nursery, engorged breasts, and empty arms.

I’m a nurse. I really should’ve known better.

Almost exactly a year later, I am thisclose to saying the Q word again. Everything is right where I want it to be (within the realm of possibility). I have so much going on that is giving me joy and bringing me happiness. So there is this shadow, tracking me down in my spare moments, a whisper on the wind, a soreness under the sweetness… it says to me, don’t say the Q word. 

Winter has arrived and with it the physical representation of what it feels to live this life full of joy. I’m walking along, but I know it’s all thin ice below my feet. I’m dreading the plunge. I’m practicing holding my breath. I’m muttering my superstitious mantras, and playing over and over all of the horrible endings, in hopes that this prevents them from materializing.

It’s not Q-u-i-e-t, on the inside. It’s more like frozen, with dread. Will it always be this hard to be, simply, happy?


Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

8 thoughts on “why we don’t say the Q word”

      1. I don’t like to think of her as an angel. She was just a baby, my baby, if that can be called “just”. She died, sooner than I wanted. So was she born? Does she have a birth date? Or just a death date? I have no idea.

      2. Maybe over time you figure out what feels right (as right as it can feel after your baby has died) to you. And maybe then it changes over time too. I don’t know.

  1. Thinking of you, Avalon, and JoJo. Sending so many hugs, and much love from a far. I know I use “angelversary’ too, but I don’t like it either. It sounds like a celebration of death, but I don’t know what to say. So, I just kind of fell in with the crowd (which I’m normally known for NOT doing!)

    I can see our little girls off somewhere in a snow covered forest chasing snowflakes right now.

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