Code Grey: A Nurse’s Life for Me

I don’t particularly enjoy writing about what I do for a living but since it’s nurse’s appreciation week from May 5-11, I figured, I might as well share some insight into my job as an acute psychiatric nurse! Also, in case you didn’t know, nurses week is a nurse’s favorite week in the year because hello, potlucks!

When I tell people that I work as an acute psych RN, I always get the reply – “oh you must be saving so many lives!” or, I get endless questions about medical stuff – which I’m always happy to answer! But to be honest, as a psych nurse, things are done differently. I don’t necessarily deal with crazy medical emergencies – I deal with code greys (highly combative / agitated patients, hence the title) but I also like to think I help brighten someone days when I prevent them from harming themselves or just being there to talk or listen to them.

What’s in my work bag?

I usually bring a backpack with me to work which includes my markers and pens (and let me tell you – nurses love their pens so don’t steal them**), report sheets (I made my own report sheet that fits well with my thinking process), protein shakes, some medications for personal use (usually ibuprofen and antacids) and did I mention markers and pens?!

** I’ve literally stopped charting just to hunt down for my pen at one time. I use a 0.38mm Uniball Signo RT which I purchase via Amazon so I know I’m the only one at work with that pen ;D

What’s a normal day for me?

Honestly? There is no typical day for me. But if we lived in a perfect world… A typical day for me kinda looks a lot like this:

  • 0553 – Clocking in for work and going to the report room.
  • 0600 – Getting my assignment (we have a 1:6 ratio for nurses:patients) and getting report from the previous shift.
  • 0630 – Out of report. I do my daily assignment of either checking the emergency cart, checking the fridge temp and/or checking the scissor log. After which, I get started on making sure my patients’ holds** are legal and they they have consent for their psychotropic medications. Around this time, I also like writing down what time my patient’s medications are due as well as checking to see if they need anything done (collecting urinalysis samples, doing EKGs, giving out flu shots, etc).
  • 0700 – I start doing my vitals + passing medications.
  • 0800 – If assigned to breakfast, I walk with patients to the dining hall. Every patient has their own diet so a licensed staff has to be present during meals, also in case of emergencies.
  • 0930 – Treatment team. During this time, social workers, doctors, and nurses huddle in the dining hall and collectively talk about patients up for discharge and talking about IMs/seclusions/restraints the previous shift.
  • 1000 – I try to finish all my charting. My rule of thumb is – get this out of the way because emergencies can happen throughout the day.
  • 1100 – Gym time. Patients are given 30 minutes to spend time in the gym.
  • 1200 – Lunch time. Same as breakfast – if assigned, to the dining hall I go! If not, I pass out trays on the unit.
  • 1300 – Outside group. Nursing staff usually assist recreation therapy group when it comes to taking patients outside to enjoy some sunshine.
  • 1400-1600 – I take this time to make sure I’ve done everything I needed to do for the day. Charting? Done. Patient education? Done. Care plans? Hopefully done.
  • 1700 – Dinner time!
  • 1800 – Change of shift. Back to the report room to give report on the day to the night shifters.

Holds need to be checked because psychiatric patients involuntarily place and are on either 5150, 5250 or 5270 which determines the length of their stay at the hospital. If you want to learn more, read this! Also, working in a psychiatric hospital means everything is pretty much on lockdown, which explains why when patients are off the unit, they always need to be escorted by staff.

Sometimes, my day doesn’t go as I would’ve wanted it to – I could be giving emergency medications via IM (intramuscular injection) at 0900 instead of charting. Or I could have a patient or two in seclusion that need to one-to-one supervision and we’re short-staffed so I have to do that while getting everything else done. Or I could have three discharges with two admissions already on their way, and end up being over-ratio. Will I get a bathroom break? Will I get a lunch break today? Who knows?

Being a psychiatric nurse is a wild experience but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I may not have code blues (emergency situation involving cardiopulmonary arrest) at work like other nurses do but you got a code grey going on? Well, I’m ya girl for that. And, to all my nurses out there, happy nurses week! Enjoy the endless potlucks! If you have any burning questions, let me know – I might do another work-related post someday.

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  • Such an interesting read – I love hearing about other people’s work days! I would love to have a job at some point where I am helping people. All of mine so far have been very business & money oriented.

    Hayley | hayleyxmartin

  • My mum is a nurse so I could really relate to a lot of this blog post darling. I’m so happy that you have shared a real insight into your day-to-day life as a nurse and what you carry with you for work. I’m sending you all of the love and positive vibes! 🌸💜

    With love, Alisha Valerie x |

  • YESSSSSSSSSS I love reading about your career!! Happy Nurse Appreciation Week! I appreciate you and everything you do for your patients, Eena. Even though you’re not saving lives in need of immediate help, you’re still helping for long-term wellness. I love the things in your work bag. Oh man, your markets!!! Haha. I like that you’re being for real with the 10 dollar bill.

    Oh shoot, your normal work day is crazy! YASSS on going to the gym!!!! So we’re pretty much working out in spirit together, hehe. Oh wow, you really start early – I don’t want to imagine what time you have to wake up. I’m proud of what you’ve done to get to where you are today. Keep it up, Eena! I am rooting for you!!

    Nancy ♥

  • Great post! I had no idea what an acute psychiatric nurse did before reading your post. It’s also nice to hear that you wouldn’t trade it for anything. Enjoying ones work is very fortunate. I also thought it was funny how seriously you take your pens. Maybe it’s a nurse thing! Thank you for sharing your work experience with us.


  • i’ve always known that anyone who works in the medical industry will have an extremely early bird schedule and yeap i’m right. your schedule amazed me. how do people wake up at 5.30 am? i can’t even wake up at 8 in the morning for work and sometimes i end up feeling so sleepy in the office like i only got 4 hours of sleep. nurses and doctors are amazing! also, i never knew code grey existed. this is interesting to know. we usually hear code blue or red (does this even exist or is it just a fictional thing made by medical dramas? okay, silly question) but never grey.

    • A code red means there’s a fire somewhere in the hospital/unit. When they announce it overhead, they usually identify the location as well!

  • I just want to say that you rock! Doing such a job means that I have incredibly huge respect for you and that just increases seeing how much you have to do in a single day! Such an interesting and informative read!

  • this is such an interesting post, I enjoyed reading it! I would definitely like to work as a nurse in the future and so this gave me an insight of how everything works!!

  • I’ve spend a lot of time in hospitals and I can tell you I have so much respect for the nurses. It is not an easy job, but I’m sure it’s rewarding knowing you make a difference. I work in the education sector and that’s not an easy job either. Sometime kids I work with have mental and developmental issues, and one obviously has to be focused and concentrated all the time…but still it is a rewarding job. It is nice to know you can help others and make someone’s day better.

  • I’m a nurse too, and I totally understand how stressful and unpredictable our day can be. There are days when I want to throw in the towel. Haha… I’m still here caring for my patients (12 years and counting). Despite the many challenges, it is a very fulfilling and rewarding career. Happy Nurses Week!

  • This is a really cool post, I’ve never read much about nurses that work as acute psych RN’s. And this is true, though we want to stay on schedule, things don’t always pan out the way we hope or expect! It must be very different every day. I don’t think I could ever be a nurse but you guys are all amazing! <3

  • I didn’t realize you are a nurse and a blogger. I’m glad it’s Nurses Appreciation Week. Thank you. I know nurses are always busy and running around everywhere and are short staffed. Nurses are constantly on the go. I enjoyed reading about your day.

  • This was so interesting to read! It’s always so cool to hear about others jobs and what they do day to day. I wish I could have a job that was more interesting! It sounds like you really love what you do which is wonderful to see. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Chloe xx

  • This was really interesting to read about your work day. My mom was a nurse (not a psychiatric one) but I always wondered what exactly she did during the day. I do know that there was a lot of physical lifting which was hard on her because she was so skinny and small.

    Nurses do a lot and should get more credit for their work, and they work long hours too (like you!).

    We should be really grateful for nurses–they are our unsung heroes!

    Trace x |

  • This was such an interesting post! My mom is also a nurse and I always thought it was so amazing how much nurses impact their patients and make an impact on their community. Thank you for all that you do! Happy nurse’s week! 🙂

  • Wow, Eena, this was such a fascinating read. I’ve never heard the term code grey before but it’s a very good one. I have so much admiration for nurses and the jobs they do. I certainly couldn’t manage it, your ward sounds so full on. Happy nurses week and thank you so much for the glimpse into your working life! Lisa x

  • I really enjoyed reading about a day in your life, Eena! It sounds like a very worthwhile role, you do an amazing job! It’s great you have such variety too, it must be so interesting doing a job like that. It sounds like you work so hard and make such a difference. Happy nurses week, lovely! <3 xx

    Bexa |

  • This is such a great read. I always want to know other peoples stuff in their bags haha! Anyway Happy Nurse Appreciation Week! What you do is amazing and it makes me want to be able to help other people too.

    Only Yesterday

  • Happy nurses week! I had no idea about your experience as a nurse, so this was really interesting to learn about. Dangg you start your day so early–so impressive 😮 It’s great that you’re able to work gym time into the middle of your schedule. I always wonder how people who work traditional jobs find the time to go to the gym, because I know that after working 9-5, I’d be too tired to head to the gym and instead would head straight home for dinner! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  • I think it’s interesting that people don’t realise the difference between emergency nurse and emergency psych nurse (regarding that “saving lives” comment)! You’re also saving lives when caring for suicidal or self harming patients though..
    Very interesting post and I’m impressed with anyone working in psychiatry. I am/was (for various reasons I’ve left the profession) a nurse but in oncology/palliative care. People say that’s tough, and it is, but to me, psychiatric care is so much more difficult. I could never do that! Now there’s lots of psychiatry in what I used to do… but still different.

  • Always interesting to read more about someone´s daily life behind blogging! I love your work attitude – brightening someone´s day is one of these small things that end up being a big difference! Besides, apparently, I really knew little about the daily routine of nurses – so enjoyed reading and learning more!

    Have a nice weekend!

  • This was so interesting to read! I always love learning about other people’s jobs, so thank you for sharing what a day at work looks like for you. That is wonderful that you love what you do, and even though you aren’t dealing with code blues it’s still amazing the positive difference you are having on people’s lives! Happy nurses appreciation week Eena!

    x Kara |

  • I know a lot of nurses (hello, Filipino! Just to fit into that stereotype) and honestly, I don’t know how you guys do it! I commend every single nurse and they’re always the ones who’ve helped cheer me up, alongside actually healing me, whenever I’ve ended up in A&E (which is more times than I care to admit). But yaaasss, Eena, all the props to you for doing this! Keep it up <3

    Chynna |

  • I respect the medical field and all those people that work in it, and you’re a Psychiatric nurse! OH MY!

    I have so many friends and a best friend in the nursing field. Thank you so much! We should appreciate nurses all the time for all that they do.

  • You’re superwoman, Eena, because this is SO MUCH to handle and you do it on a daily basis. I’ve never put much thought into how much goes on behind the scenes at a psychiatric hospital and this provides so much perspective. You are really just on your feet all day!