Tag Archives: quiet

Superstitions Among Nurses in the ICU (The “Q-Word”, Full Moons)

Informant Context:

Stella is a traveling ICU (intensive care unit) nurse who currently work in Atlanta, Georgia.


INTERVIEWER: You seemed really excited to talk about [laughs] superstitions.


INTERVIEWER: Do you have any particular ones you had in mind?

STELLA: Yeah like, nurses are really superstitious. Um… especially like, in the ICU. Um… so like, we call it like, “Saying the Q word”. Um, you can’t say like, “Oh, it’s—it’s been like, really *quiet* on the unit today”. ‘Cause then it’s going to suddenly be not quiet. Like, you jinxed us. Um… so like, people will like—freak out. Or if you… you can’t say like, “Oh… like, you know, Mr. Jones is doing like, so great today. I think he’s gonna like, be able to get transferred out.” Like, you can’t—if like… Or, you know, it’s like, “Oh, I feel like we’re really making progress.” [You know(?)], you can’t jinx things, you know? Um… like—you just have to say like, “Oh, like, these things are going well. Like, this is great, we’re making progress…” but you can’t be like, “Oh, I think by… I think like, we—we’re out of the woods.” ‘Cause then the patient’s gonna like, code. It’s just like, a superstitious thing. Or like, um… another thing is like, full moons. Like, people say that like, when it’s a full moon, like—patients like, go crazy. [It’s a (?)] thing that like, everyone believes.

Informant Commentary:

Stella went on to recall the first time she violated one of these superstitions, causing some nurses around her 2 become angry with her. This serves as a kind of “rite of passage”, in which a new member of the folk group becomes rapidly acquainted with a folk belief, such as a superstition. Stella also noted the community that these superstitions offer to nurses working in the ICU. When members of a group are mutually forbidden from doing or saying a particular action or word, deep meaning can be communicated even when the action or word remains undone or unsaid. In this way, silence itself acts as an offshoot of “tabooistic vocabulary”.


Stella jumped at the chance to talk about superstitions, insisting that nurses are “really superstitious”. This could be partially explained by the high intensity nature of the medical workplace. A very small error can have deadly consequences, so it follows naturally that this folk group has developed small, vernacular ways—even unscientific ones, in a highly scientific workplace—to avoid failure. In addition, the folk belief in full moons causing irrational behavior is a well-documented phenomenon in folklore studies, stretching as far back as the ancient Rome and earlier. A few medical journals have even published research challenging the correlation between full moons and hospitalizations.

For more information about the inquiry into full moons and their affect on hospitals, see the following (the first is emergency-room trauma, the second psychiatric):

Zargar, M., Khaji, A., Kaviani, A., Karbakhsh, M., Yunesian, M., & Abdollahi, M. (2004). The full moon and admission to emergency rooms. Indian journal of medical sciences58(5), 191–195.

Gupta, R., Nolan, D. R., Bux, D. A., & Schneeberger, A. R. (2019). Is it the moon? Effects of the lunar cycle on psychiatric admissions, discharges and length of stay. Swiss medical weekly149, w20070. https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2019.20070

“Quiet” Superstition in Healthcare

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (PB).

PB: “I work in the healthcare field, and nobody is allowed anywhere in the hospital to say the word ‘quiet’. Because if you say the word quiet, then all you know what will break loose and your quiet moment will turn into chaos. And its in every hospital everywhere in the country, I don’t know about in the world. And if anyone is heard saying the word quiet, they are admonished by everyone around them. And usually we just say ‘you can’t say the q-word!’ And instead we would just say, you know, ‘it’s very calm’, or ‘I like the way things are going right now’. But if you use the word quiet you have broken the cardinal rule.”

CB: “So, why do you think its important that people believe in this?”

PB: “Um, I think that when you work in field such as the medical field where a lot of times things are just not in your control even though you want them to be, you know, you just want to make people better, and you want to have a workload that is manageable, and some sense that there is something that you are controlling. And so by not using that word, you have the idea that you are not bringing on the chaos.”

CB: “What does the quiet superstition mean to you?”

PB: “Uh, to me it means, it’s sorta a part of a brotherhood or sisterhood from being a part of that community in a hospital. It’s something that you all believe in and you all can joke about but its also something like I don’t want your night to get worse and i don’t want my day to get worse, and so we can all do this one sort of silly thing to try and help each other.”


My informant has worked as a respiratory therapist for about 8 years. This position requires that she work with every part of the medical personnel and with every department. She has also worked in about 4 hospitals in the Northern California area. Because of this, she has become very integrated into the overarching healthcare culture surrounding her work.

I interviewed my informant in person. We were in my bedroom on my bed, and the conversation was very comfortable and casual. I had heard many stories from her work beforehand.
When my informant first told me about the quiet superstition, I was really intrigued because healthcare workers are so heavily associated with clinical scientific thinking. However, there are many holes in science. As we have it now, it cannot predict everything, and it certainly can’t predict what will or won’t be a crazy night. In the face of this uncertainty, healthcare workers have begun to believe in this superstition in order to regain a sense of agency. I think that this bad luck superstition is particularly interesting because there is no way to undo it. Once the bad luck has been brought, the entire hospital will be affected until the next shift. I was also really intrigued about how following the superstition was seen as a sign of respect. My informant seemed to acknowledge that the superstition was likely untrue in the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she became a wholehearted believer once she entered the hospital setting.

For more variations of healthcare superstitions see SSMHealth’s blog post “10 ER superstitions for a full moon Friday the 13th”. https://www.ssmhealth.com/blogs/ssm-health-matters/september-2019/10-er-superstitions-for-a-full-moon-friday-the-13

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

My mom repeatedly told me this phrase throughout my young childhood. It was usually when my sister and I would be fighting or have an argument. Sometimes I would be so angry with her, for what ever petty reason, and we would just go back and forth yelling and calling each other names. To get the initial arguing stopped, and curb the name calling, my mom would often sternly exclaim, “ Stop it right now! You know you’re not supposed to talk like that! If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

When my mom would say that to us our arguments would quickly come to an end. It just made sense, when she would say that I would quickly think to myself of anything I could say to my sister at that moment that was not malicious. Many times I would have to remain silent, but occasionally I could come up with something nice to say, and after that fighting just seemed stupid.

Annotation: This phrase can be found in the movie Bambi, by Walt Disney Productions (Which makes me think that’s where she got it from).