Funny Operating Room Stories: As Told by a Nurse

Updated on February 2, 2018
k@ri profile image

Kari has been an operating room nurse for 25 years. She has been everything from staff nurse to DON.


Am I Sterile?

I have been an operating room nurse for many years. It is a very challenging and very rewarding profession. There is a ton of stress, and to even it out, a ton of fun.

In the operating room, sterile is everything. You must know what is sterile and what is not. You must never turn your back on a sterile field. A “sterile” team member is sterile on their front, from the height of the sterile field to the neck. Arms are sterile from elbows to fingertips. Faces, backs and armpits are not sterile.

One day working with an orthopedic surgeon, he slipped on something and fell. As he fell, he went down straight on his back making sure to keep his hands and arms up. His first question after falling was, "Am I still sterile?". It is true, he kept his front and arms and hands off the floor. But all of him was below the height of the sterile field. I was laughing so hard I could barely catch my breath to tell him no.

A Joke

Working on call can be trying and tiring. One day I was on call with another woman. We had been working straight through since 6:30 am. It was now 2 am the next morning. We must have been slap-happy with exhaustion.

The surgeon entered the room and told us the following joke:

“Did you hear about the dyslexic, insomniac agnostic? He stayed up all night wondering if there was a Dog.”

I know the joke is not so funny, but she and I laughed for almost 15 minutes. We laughed so hard that we could not begin the surgery. The surgeon kept telling us it wasn't that funny, which only made us laugh more. The actual surgery took less time than our laughing.


Do You Have A Tampon?

We took extra precautions when performing total knee or hip replacements. No-one was allowed to leave or enter the room. One part of maintaining a sterile field is restricting how many times the door to the outside of the room is opened.

One day, while I was charge nurse, another nurse pulled my to the side. “Do you have any tampons?”, she asked, “Deb just called out of the total hip asking for one.” I told the nurse that Deb probably wanted a femoral wick (a sponge used for drying the femoral canal...more commonly called a "tampon"). The nurse was convinced Deb wanted a tampon until I asked her, "Where will she change it?" That did it, she knew no-one would change their tampon with an entire room of people watching.

What Does Crazy Glue, A Bra Hook And A Rubber Band Have In Common?

Can you imagine a surgery where the doctor asks you for crazy glue, a bra hook and a rubber band? I was working one day, and a doctor asked for for exactly that! I thought he was joking. I just laughed at him. Doctors were always sending nurses for strangely named things that don’t exist. Well, I found out he was not joking the moment he yelled at me to go and get them. I went out and found out that, yes, we had these items. The doctor used them as a retraction device for a finger surgery. He put the rubber band around the wrist, crazy glued the bra hook to the fingernail and hooked the bra hook to the rubber band to keep the finger bent.

Trevor Noah Talking About Signing In For Surgery

Funny Names

We have funny names for many things:

"Hand grenade" is not an explosive device, it is a type of drain reservoir, it looks like a hand grenade.

"Tampon" is not something only used by females, it is a femoral wick to dry out the middle of the bone during total joints.

"Sponge" is not something to wash dishes with, it is a thin to thick piece of gauze to blot the wound with.

"Time out" is not putting the child in the corner because they have misbehaved, it is making sure you have the right patient, right site, and correct implants.

"4 X 4" is not a piece of wood, it is a type of "sponge".

The head covering seen here is known as a "hood"
The head covering seen here is known as a "hood" | Source

Mitochondrial Welder

Surgery is a place where people love to play jokes on the new person. Some of the things we ask for are nonexistent...for example:

"Mitochondrial Welder"--This is often asked for. I once worked with a nurse who had been in the OR for about 5 years. We had asked her for the Mitochondrial Welder when she was new...who would have thought she would fall for it again. One day I found her and a new (to the OR) nurse in the stockroom, frantically looking for something. I asked what they were looking for and they told me "the mitochondrial welder". I laughed and told them to go back and say we didn't have one. I reminded them there is no such thing.

New Drugs?

New drugs come out every day. One day, in the urology room, an anesthesia provider decided to have fun with one of the nurses. He told her the patient kept moving and he needed some "nomoveatall'. She was desperately calling Pharmacy, when I found out and stopped her.

This became a big joke....but some people never learn.

Later that same month I found this nurse calling Pharmacy to ask for some nocoxafloxin. Once again, the request came from the urology room. I told her to hang up, there is no drug called "no cocks a flopping.


Special Place for Special People

The OR is a special place for special people. Your ego has to be strong enough that it doesn't get caught up in the fun and games...and big enough that it doesn't get hurt by them. I love my job and all it's inconsistencies. The bonus is there is always a need for OR Nurses in this world.

A Joke About 5 Doctors

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Kari Poulsen


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      • Frances Metcalfe profile image

        Frances Metcalfe 16 months ago from The Limousin, France

        I laughed out loud. I wonder what jokes were made when I was under the knife? My son works as a care worker for severely disabled people - the humour is very black! How else do you cope?

      • profile image

        Erjohn 3 years ago

        Nice post. I think that developing a brand peiatnslroy and staying consistent with that is so important. People get too caught up in thinking about how they need to sound on social media. While it is certainly good to keep that in mind, I find it is best to relax and just be yourself with it. People want something that is valuable but also relateable.

      • profile image

        Tricia Spaeth 3 years ago from Mequon, WI

        One night, my last night "on -call" because I was 8 months pregnant. Well I got called in for a hand injury. It was essentially a messed up hand because the drunk patient smashed a glass beer bottle on a table. So we started the hand reconstruction at 10:00 pm. We usually use a basic room for on-call, so extra special instruments, sutures, plastics supplies etc were kept way down in another area of the OR. Well luck would have it, the doctor decided he was going to try to reconstruct the nerve, meaning microscope, special supplies etc. Mind you it is just me and a tech who is scrubbed in. I had to run back and forth to a separate part of the OR. I finally wheeled in the entire suture cart. Well, at 6:30 am, totally exhausted, the doctor starts with the cast. He is making a huge mess on the floor. Yes, we have to mop the floor post on call cases. He made such a mess. Well, he turns and slips on the floor. The entire room breaks out laughing, I did ask between laughs if he was ok, and the tech had to leave the room stating he has allergies he was laughing so hard. We now call the MD Hang time, since it seemed he hung in the air a little before crashing down on the floor and taking the linen bag with him. I still laugh when I talk to the tech about that case.

      • profile image

        Spastic Surgeon 7 years ago

        As a surgical tech with nearly 30 years experience here is one of the many stories that stick out for me. Some of the funniest moments happen after the patient receives a little bit of sedation just prior to surgery.

        It’s not uncommon for the Anesthesia staff to give a patient some sedation while they are in the pre-op holding area. It helps them to relax and reduces their anxiety.

        One guy was given some Versed about 15 minutes before surgery. As he was being wheeled out of the holding area, going down the OR hallway, he starts singing the most memorable part of a Three Dog Night hit song, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog….Jeremiah was a bullfrog…Jeremiah was a bullfrog”.

        This guy was a hoot, he said he wanted his gallbladder back after we took it, wanted to make a Christmas tree decoration out it.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

        Pradeep, LOL...that must have been embarrassing! :D

      • profile image

        Pradeep 8 years ago

        Wow.. that's funny

        I had a funny experiences as well

        Last Valentine's Day I was taking shower. My roommate was out of house to buy milk to make tea. Suddenly the doorbell rings. I thought its him and went to open the door in my under pants to find 18 years old daughter of my landlord is there to give me the bill of electricity. it was really the biggest embarrassing experience

        check out similar experiences at

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

        ORCharger, If I had a dime for every time someone's been sent for the Otis elevator...I've been asked for the "sterile fan", a right sleeve, and extra large pouch...I guess we just learn to laugh at ourselves a little easier than most. :D

      • profile image

        ORCharger 8 years ago

        Soooo funny! On my first official day in the OR, in the middle of a case, one of our ortho docs yelled "I need the Otis elevator, STAT!!" My precepting nurse said "Go grab it. It's right out in the hall" as he pretended to be busy doing something. I was running through the halls, scanning the cupboards for some ortho instrument that I never heard of, when Tim (a surgical tech) walked by and asked what I was looking for. I franticlly explained that "Dr. Bozo" (not his real needed the Otis elevator, STAT!!! Very calmly, he said "It's right over here" and led me over to the main hospital elevators, just outside the OR entrance. He pointed to the the top of the elevator's doors where the elevator company's logo was displayed. I looked up and saw a small metal plaque with "OTIS" written on it. I was so embarassed. I didn't even go back to the room (my precepting nurse was still in there...I would never abandon my patient!). Men are so dumb! Us girls in my OR never do that to the newbies!! (Well at least not as often!!)

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

        nursebetty, You should do just fine...the type A-ness is learned and a huge ego is not needed, just a strong sense of self. It is more the desire to work in the OR setting that ensures success or failure. Let me know how you do, and e-mail me if you have any specific questions or need to vent. Good Luck! :D

      • profile image

        nursebetty 8 years ago

        kari - funny stories, but I am going for OR interview in 2 hours never having had any experience in an OR...and now a little 'concerned' about the 'type' of person I may need to be to withstand the pressure. I'm not a type A personality; do not have a huge ego; am in mid fifties (new RN of 3 years)but have wanted to try OR nursing forever! Wish me luck....I think I might need it after reading your articles!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        I've got to get some shut eye also! Don't want to waste tomorrow sleeping! Good luck with the week!

      • mayhmong profile image

        mayhmong 9 years ago from North Carolina

        wish I can stay up longer, and catch up on all of my fellow hubbers, but I need some rest. Looks like another long week of no days off again...

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        May, are you also feeling like an insomniac tonight? or and agnostic insomniac I should say. LOL, that joke is sooo stupid, but it still makes me laugh. This is about when I first heard it, also.

      • mayhmong profile image

        mayhmong 9 years ago from North Carolina

        I wonder if there's a dog...

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        May, It's not all fun and games, but when it is, it REALLY is! We have a lot of fun.

      • mayhmong profile image

        mayhmong 9 years ago from North Carolina

        Can't believe I read through the whole thing half awake!? That was too friggin hilarious! What will they think of next?

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        mythbuster, The laughs help us, and the stress makes us more willing to laugh! It's a different world, but fun.

      • mythbuster profile image

        mythbuster 9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

        Twisted! I'll bet you need all the jokes to get through the stress at times.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        trish, I do not allow people to talk about the patient in my rooms. If someone comes needing surgery, they are trusting us to take care of them. My biggest job in the OR is a patient advocate...if I catch someone talking about my patient, I will lay into them and show my claws! The need has only presented itself 2 or 3 times in over 15 years, so rest assured it is not common.

      • trish1048 profile image

        trish1048 9 years ago

        Hi K@ri,

        I've had my share of operations, and I've often wondered what they talk about while I was away in neverland.  I've imagined all sorts of things they could have said, and the thoughts were not nice.  Of course, the best part is, I'll never know :)

        A very nice hub!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Thanks Elena, glad you enjoyed it! I agree, although it doesn't go on in every case, it's a good thing people are asleep. We try to behave when they are awake:)

      • Elena. profile image

        Elena. 9 years ago from Madrid

        k@ri, you funny OR nurse, you! I gotta tell you, I've got tears streaming down my face! Geeeez wheeez, it's a good thing people are knocked off while all this fun goes on over their open bowels! Laugh!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        I can just see his face when that pager went off. LOL!

      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        No, ward clerks didn't go into ORs (in this case, delivery rooms).  We were the  Radar O'Reillys, keeping a lot of balls in the air.  Being a teaching hospital, it would've been the med students who needed to check before they sat.  They were the lowest of the low in the pecking order, even lower than a WC, who for at least the first week of each monthly rotation already knew more about than they did.  And med students were so gullible!  If the newbie on duty was hanging around the nurses station with nothing to do, I'd ring his pager just to watch him get all excited.  Oh boy!  Then watch his face fall when it dawned the page came from the nurses station.  ;)  I'd just smile and say "Pager works, get some sleep" (in the room set aside for students, not a gurney!).

        As for the non-existent surgical instrument, my own version was to send an OB med student on a wild goose chase for lab results that could only apply to a 90-yr-old on the Geriatrics floor or a 4-yr-old on Peds.  ;)

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Your stories make me laugh with fond memories! Do you recall a foam that you could scrub with, it came in a metal bottle like mousse does? I remember a time when you always wanted to check before you sat, because the docs thought it was great fun to spray it on your seat while you were gowning or otherwise distracted. It is so true that these people need to be kept busy!

        I bet that med student never fell asleep again, and I bet he tells that story to this day. LOL!

      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        I can *totally* relate to OR staff pulling practical jokes to ease the tension!  Back in the 70s, I was the babysitter...uh, ward clerk...on OB in a teaching hospital.  Our residents were real cut-ups ('scuse the pun)...imagine M*A*S*H's Hawkeye and BJ delivering babies instead of treating war wounds.  When things were slow (meaning most of the month of July), they'd have "duels" up and down the halls using giant syringes for water pistols.  One day the action was in front of the nurses station, so when one ran out of water, he stepped into the half-bath at the back to fill his "pistol" from the toilet!  OHNOYOUDONT! I yelled, and shooed him out. Other times they'd fill rubber gloves with water, tie off the ends, and toss 'em back and forth.  When they tired of that, they'd put the balloons in the tubes used to send paperwork back and forth (like in a bank's drive-thru).  Tubes not coded for a particular floor would land (literally) in a basket in medical records in the basement.  Problem being OB was on the 7th floor, and a heavy tube would come out of the ceiling in MR like a rocket, then open on impact!  MR was sure the water bombs were from 7th West, and we could precisely count down the seconds until they'd be calling to cuss out Frick and Frack. Of course I always said *our* docs couldn't possibly be responsible for such pranks.  ;)   

        A tired med student once fell asleep on a gurney in the hall.  Woke up in a delivery room under a sheet with his legs in stirrups, looking at a gowned and gloved Frick or Frack clicking episiotomy scissors and cackling.  You betcha the poor guy never fell asleep on a gurney again! These two got away with stuff because when it counted, they were *the best* OBs anywhere.  But when they had nothing to do, watch out!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Proud Mom--Yes it's stressful, but sooo much fun. There is never a boring day! Thanks, and I glad you are OK...wouldn't want to see "Woman chokes on cookie while reading about new drug nocoxaflopin".

      • Proud Mom profile image

        Proud Mom 9 years ago from USA

        No wonder you love your job! I've always thought it had to be a stressful job, but you guys know how to break the monotony.

        The urology joke made me choke on the cookie I was eating!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Thanks. (I've been accused of taking my job too seriously at times...but when you take people to the brink of death, cut them open, sew them up, and wake them up...doesn't it make sense)

      • 49er profile image

        49er 9 years ago from USA

        These are some great and very amusing stories.

        My mother is a nurse, as was her mother, and they also have some very amusing stories, but this is not to say they don't take their job seriously, because they have just as many tragic stories to tell. Like you said, humor can be a great way to remove stress.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Thanks! I'll go take a look.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

        Hello k@ri,

        I was an OR nurse at Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center waaaaaaay back in the 70's. I also loved it! As you say, it is high stress but also a lot of fun. Most everybody loved orthopedic surgery. With most of the is not a life and death situation like it can be with some other types of surgery. Therefore the best jokes and laughter were always heard in those rooms.

        Since you are a fellow nurse, take a look at some of my hubs regarding the emergency stickers. The medical people really grasp the importance of how they can truly help in emergency situations. An entire hospital system up in Rhode Island is putting information about them into every person's package when being discharged from that hospital.

        Looking forward to reading more of your hubs! Your newest fan.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 9 years ago from Ohio

        Thanks. It's not all fun and games, but humor is a great way to relieve stress!

      • Shalini Kagal profile image

        Shalini Kagal 9 years ago from India

        k@ri - this is so funny! One doesn't quite realise that you can have fun in serious places like hospitals too! Looking forward to hear more OR stories.


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