When asked what I do for a living I tell people that I am a nurse, and when they ask what kind of nurse I respond, “Have you every seen the television show ER, it’s pretty much like that.” Even though I have used this response often as a joke, behind the laughter I wonder just how much people rely on these media images to form their views of nurses. I enjoy medical television drama just as much as the next person, but as a medical professional I am able to discern fiction from reality. The continuous sexual tension between doctors and nurses, daily life or death decisions, and those touching moments when patients profess their eternal gratefulness for the care they’ve received, these are far from the truth, …. the truth is much more dramatic.
One evening as all the healthcare employees gathered around the nurses station we began to share our most bizarre and disgusting war stories, as is usual in nursing culture. The stories start off light with tales of accidental exposures to various bodily fluids including urine, feces, sputum, etc. I contributed to the topic by sharing my run in with a patient who concluded that by encouraging him to eat his dinner I was out to kill him, so he retaliated by throwing a handful of his own feces at my back. I finish my story by reminding the laughing crowd that this experience, funnily enough, did not occur in a psychiatric ward.
The stories continue with each nurse sharing experiences that create stranger and more grotesque images than the one before. For nurses, experiences with bodily fluids are unfortunately not unique and even common. Although not all of these incidences occur on purpose, it is interesting how creative patients get with their output when they are put out. I begin to share some of my more memorable experiences in nursing including sweet-talking a six hundred pound man to shower for the first time in a month, stopping two elderly women in wheelchairs from fighting over the only male resident in the nursing home, and on multiple occasions watching a six-year old inhale multiple packets of various condiments including but not limited to mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, tartar sauce, relish, and grape jelly.
Even though these experiences have only scraped the surface of the bizarre human behavior I have witnessed as a nurse, I have yet to find a fictional story that matches them peculiarity or spontaneity.
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