Going Above and Beyond: Gross Confessions of a Nurse

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The romantic, heroic appeal of being a nurse has drawn many of us to join the profession.  Much like the nurse in the photo above, we imagine angelic versions of ourselves curing and healing patients.  If I knew then what I know now about the things I would be doing as an R.N., I may have run screaming from the profession years ago.

When doing direct patient care I often hear, "I could never do what you do!"  Mostly my response is, "we all have things that we're good at," and with that logic, I'm good at wiping where the sun don't shine, catching vomit, and getting bodily fluids on me without passing out.   (((((SIGH)))))

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Of course that is not all there is to the nursing profession.  We treat, ease pain, medicate, and care for people when they are at their worst and most vulnerable.  Just sometimes, we have a real dirty side to our job that most people just can't stomach or wish to talk about for that matter.

Which brings me to my next point...

I need to vent... and maybe also give myself some kudos for going beyond the call of duty during an icky patient situation.  I can honestly say, I've been in the thick of many disgusting circumstances as an R.N. but this one topped them all.

My patient just had a cesarean section and I was preparing to transfer her to the maternity unit.  Her baby was preterm and along with the father of the baby they went to the NICU.  My patient and I were alone in the recovery room at the time.

As I was collecting all of her belongings, she suddenly felt nauseous.  This can happen after any surgery secondary to side effects from medications, manipulation of bowels, or blood pressure issues.  I like to think of myself as a well prepared nurse.  Well prepared nurses take the time to gather all the supplies needed so they can focus solely on patient care.  They don't find themselves scrambling for supplies last minute because they are ready for anything at a moment's notice.

Unfortunately in this particular instance, I was NOT a "well-prepared nurse".

The recovery room had been flooded with patients all day and the supplies were never restocked.  There were no emesis basins, no trash cans close by, no bed pans to be found... absolutely no receptacle of any kind!

Unfortunately, there was no time to treat her with an anti-emetic, like Reglan or Zofran. I knew she was going from nausea to full fledged vomiting any second.  I frantically ran around looking for something for her to throw up into without success.  To keep the poor girl from vomiting all over herself and the bed, I grabbed a few clean towels and tried to pile them up beside her to absorb "anything" that may come up.

This is when it gets really gross.

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Looking back, I was dangerously close to my patients head and in the line of fire of anything that was to come up.  As I was positioning the towels it was too late.  She ended up projectile spraying bile, bicitra, and god knows what else straight into my face!

How bad was it?  It was so bad I could taste the Bicitra I made her drink before her surgery and so bad that my eyes burned from the acidic bile that was now seeping into them.  Thaaaaaaaat bad.

It was over before it began.  There was no time to react, I was in complete disbelief.  I stood there for a minute, frozen.  I had so many close calls over the years, but this was a direct hit!

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Honestly, I felt worse for my patient at the time... she was completely and utterly mortified.  For the entire shift this patient was gracious and appreciative.  She was the kind of patient you bend over backwards for because she was a peach and easy to care for - little did I know!

When you wear your patient's vomit a part of you dies inside

She apologized profusely as she continued to vomit into my sad pile of towels lying next to her.  I had to lie to her and say, "No, it's ok" as her vomit dripped off my face... it was sooooooo... NOT OK!  I was crawling out of my skin!

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My nursing career flashed before my eyes and I wondered to myself, "So this is my life now."  I did feel bad for her though, because she was so mortified herself.   The fact that she was sobbing and vomiting made me ignore my horror and focus on helping her.

It felt like hours, but it was just a few minutes of vomiting then dry heaving and finally it was over.  She was crying, I was trying to imagine myself on a beach somewhere, and we were both a sight for sore eyes indeed.  Finally, I was able to call out for another RN's help.  As soon as that RN came I ran to the nearest bathroom to clean up.  I shouldn't have done it, I glanced in the mirror and immediately regretted it.

I'll never un-see the reflection I saw of myself. 

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Not sparing the gory details, I looked somewhat like one of those celebrities that got slimed on that Nickelodeon show from the 90's.  My hair was clumped and saturated, my neck and chest glistened from the moisture, my scrub top was saturated through, and my eyes were twitching and squinted shut trying to keep what was left on my forehead from dripping in them.  It was a sorry and pathetic sight.

At that point I went all "Monster's INC" decontamination style, remember in the movie when George had a 23-19 violation (white sock stuck to his back) and had to be showered, shaved, and decontaminated.  Minus the shaving, that was pretty much me.  I scrubbed my face & hair with hibbacleanse, brushed my teeth, gargled, autoclaved, and finally changed my scrubs - both top and bottoms.

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After doing my best to scrub all the puke off, I went back to my patient, who was still apologizing and distraught, and assured her... "It's fine, it's no big deal, worse things have happened!"  I mean, that was a total lie after all - no worse thing has ever happened in the history of all nursing, at least to me anyway!

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Probably the worst part was when all the other nurses heard the news that I was a human emesis basin.  I was pitied... but more or less felt like a pariah or someone with leoparsy.  I felt like no matter how hard I scrubbed or washed I still had that nasty bile smell all over me.  Most likely it was all in my head, but that kind of stuff is traumatizing!  I expect no one wanted to sit next to me, or near me for that matter.  I got looks combined with condolence and disgust. Kind of the way one would look at a mangy stray cat that showed up on your doorstep in the middle of the night.

All in a days work for a nurse.

Even though I was a bad, ill-prepared nurse who couldn't even provide an emesis basin for my patient, I was slightly proud of myself.  I maintained my composure, didn't retaliate on my patient, and kept myself from throwing up all while providing care with dignity for my patient.  It takes a strong stomach and some big cahonas to get through a situation like that, not to mention a serious commitment to your job!

I believe the Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing was created for cases like mine and if I could nominate myself for excellence in nursing after this I would!

For days after "the incident" I would come to work and the other nurses would say through quiet laughter, "I heard what happened to you!"  As you can imagine it's a "fun" story to have to retell and relive day after day let me tell you!  The nurses genuinely felt bad for me I know, we all understand the dangers of direct patient care can strike any time.  It's an occupational hazard!

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I was more than relieved when after a few weeks my nursing horror story was replaced with a new one courtesy of another unfortunate nurse - Thank God!

When you enroll in nursing school you don't take an oath to willingly leave your dignity and self-respect at the door but sometimes that's just what we do as nurses.  We put our own feelings aside, whether they are feelings of disgust, sadness, or anger and provide care with dignity for our patients - no matter what.  This was a nursing horror story that I will never forget but as with all of nursing it is one I most especially learned from!

Hard lessons learned:

  1. Always keep emesis basins stocked in EVERY ROOM AT ALL TIMES
  2. Nausea will almost always lead to vomiting when you are the LEAST prepared for it
  3. Never get too close to a patient's face who is nauseous unless you are prepared to dodge chunks 
  4. Don't ever be alone in the recovery room if you can help it (an extra set of hands would have been helpful)
  5. When all else fails, put on a brave face - hopefully someday you will look back and laugh

So that, my nursing friends, is how I went ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty as a nurse - I wore a patient's vomit all while still providing top notch nursing care!

Do you have a story you wish you could forget of something horrendously disgusting or mortifying that happened while working as a nurse?  Did you go "above and beyond" the call of duty and live to tell about it?  Post in the comments below or share it with me on my facebook page!  Thanks for reading!

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