Tag Archives: nursing

Nursing Superstitions


My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


“I’m not technically a nurse yet so I’ve only really seen this stuff happen…but you kind of catch on. The biggest one I think is to never say that you’re having a “quiet” day, because that’s when everything like, blows up in your face. I’ve had nurses seriously freak out at each other for saying that. That’s the big one, I think…there are also a few nurses, no one that I know really well, but some people say that if you tie a nurse in a patient’s sheets they’ll live through your shift. They’d only do it to the really sick people — you know like bad accidents, or kids, or something. I don’t know if it works, necessarily, but I will say that when we think we’re keeping our patients alive, we’re working a lot harder and people tend to stay alive just a little bit longer, if that makes sense.”


The never-say-quiet superstition makes a lot of sense, though I’m not sure if it’s specific to nursing. I remember at my high school job scooping ice cream, we had a similar rule about not saying that the store was “slow” because that would mean a rush was imminent. The superstition about the knot, however, it interesting. It’s like the nurse is trying to create a bond between their patient’s life and the physical world; like they’re trying to keep the patient physically tied to their life. Though a simple gesture, it speaks to how seriously nurses take their work. They’ll do anything to keep their patient’s alive, even if its as simple as a knot in a bed sheet.

Birth Plans Jinx the Actual Birth

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mother talks about how she feels “birth plans”, or when the parents think they know more than the nurse, will jinx the birth of the baby.

Mom: One last nursing thing I thought of.

Me: Okay.

Mom: In the past few years, some expectant parents have done research on the internet and have downloaded these “birth plans” which indicate their preference on labor, mobility, hydration, and nourishment, monitoring, pain relief, augmentation, which is what they want to do to speed up labor…

Me: Like, literally?

Mom: No, like distraction.

Me: Got it.

Mom: The birth plans basically just include things about what they want. Inevitably, things never go as planned. Either the moms require a C-section, the mom and or the baby do not tolerate labor or the baby has to go to the neonatal intensive care nursery, which is where the sick babies go.

Me: That’s where you used to work.

Mom: Yes, but then I left because it was too sad. Is that okay to say?

Me: Yes, yes.

Mom: Okay, but yeah. Nurses believe that the birth plan jinxes the mom and baby because the delivery never goes as planned. It’s kind of like life: you think it’s going one way and then it comes and changes everything. All nurses think the birth plans sets the moms up for feelings of failures. Nobody can plan what will happen for sure with labor and delivery. There’s just too many variables.

My mother, especially in her profession, does not like it when someone talks about nothing have gone wrong, or anticipates that nothing will go wrong. She always wants people to be prepared for anything, which is what you have to do when you’re working as a nurse. These parents coming into the hospital believing their child’s birth will go smoothly obviously irks my mother, as she thinks they have jinxed themselves and, most importantly, their child. I know this also bothers my mom on a different level, as she hates it when her patients think they know better than her. After working as a neo-natal nurse for thirty years, she hates being told by a twenty four year old what is going to happen.

Knocking on Wood in Nursing

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for some time.

In this piece, my grandmother talks about being “jinxed” in the nursing profession and what she does to combat them.

M: We would always teach the younger girls about knocking on wood.

Me: Why would you knock on wood?

M: A lot of times they would be really happy with how their day was going, and would saying something like “today’s a really good day”, and us older nurses would hate that.

Me: Why?

M: Because we felt as if they were jinxing us. So we would make them go “knock on wood” to prevent the jinx.

My grandmother has never seemed like a superstitious woman, but perhaps in her profession, where there is a lot of luck involved, superstition comes naturally. A lot that happens in nursing is unexpected and not avoidable, so having superstitions is a way to make them feel as if they are somewhat in control of the situation.