Lately my brother came across a book with a list of gross things and I have to say they were hilarious. I laughed so much I needed my ventolin inhaler. These things were funny because in all honesty, we have seriously all been there: stepping on dog poo, not wiping it off properly and keeping the shitty smell with you for miles, trying to wipe it off with tissues and getting it all over your hands and so on and so forth.

As some of you may know, I find gross things hilarious. I don’t know why, but seeing another person in a somewhat disgusting circumstance really makes me laugh. Like the time when I was in Rome with my family and there was a huge mound of animal droppings right in my father’s path and my mum screamed out: ‘watch out! WATCH OUT! YUCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKK!’ Because despite my mother’s vociferous warnings, my dad stepped squarely into the mess. And when he tried to scrape it off it just smeared everywhere and my mum was so angry and my sister bewildered and I was leaning against a wall laughing my head off. Or the time my dad was caught in a toilet in Spain without toilet paper and I had to hand him table napkins instead. I found it too funny. Especially when they were too flimsy and his fingers went through….and then there was no soap and my sis and I ran all around Cordova looking for sanitiser. That’s comedy gold.

While writing this and remembering, I must admit I am thoroughly amused. The funny thing is that in Spain, my sis could have easily helped but she simply said that I was the sister who was better with these ‘gross experiences’ and sent me to handle it.

However when it comes to writing a list of gross things/experiences, nobody can write it better than a nurse. People are disgusting, we produce ghastly smells and sounds and exudates. We are pretty awful. And us nurses are generally elbow deep in the mess and we totally take it in our stride.

So here it is people, a list of totally and utterly disgusting things from a nurse’s perspective.

1) bed sores: when a patient has been bed ridden for a really, really long time without a special mattress or proper care, the pressure from the bed creates these huge, deep cavernous wounds, sometimes they go right down to the bone. The smell is atrocious and particular and hits you as soon as you enter the room of the affected person. People who have never seen or smelt a bed sore will not know what hit them, but for us nurses we know exactly where the smell is coming from before even examining the patient. The edges of the wound will generally be greenish-black with rotting flesh and it will be oozing pus and blood, which kind of looks like a creamy tomato sauce. In fact, in my first year of nursing school I couldn’t touch lasagna.

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2) dentures: when people care for their dentures properly, there is really no problem here. I had a friend who at 18 had a small stroke and she fell in the bath and knocked out her front teeth completely and required dentures until she was fixed with new ones. She was super careful with them and nobody was the wiser. My issue is this: before surgery one is required to remove them and even though we tell patients several times they still forget. Then as you are wheeling them to theatre and the nurse at the holding bay asks ‘any false or moving teeth?’ they all of a sudden remember and pull them out in a flash, in rather an unsubtle fashion and before the nurse can register what is happening, she finds the teeth in her un-gloved hand, adorned with stringy blue fixative glue and old bits of semi-chewed food. Vile.

3) poop: ok, so this comes with the territory. You can not be a nurse and not be ok with faeces. So, yes, poop can be kind of gross but it is something one can get used to. The actual log is not what grosses me out. Sometimes when bed-bathing an elderly patient, you remove the nappy and say ‘oh, no stool has been passed.’ and you chart it. But then, all of a sudden like a cruel joke the patient begins to defaecate. And you hold a new nappy in place or an incontinence pad until the person is done. Now here comes the really disgusting part: most of the time these patients are very old or unresponsive so they can not tell you they are ready, so when the poo seems to stop coming out you must assume they are done and you wipe away the mess and proceed. But then, like an even crueller joke, more emerges which you were totally unprepared for and you might have just removed your gloves and it stains everything and you have to begin the bed bath all over again.

4) malaena: this falls into the poop category, but this is black, tarry stool which contains blood and usually is produced when a patient has internal bleeding. It smells of fruity poo, like someone who has really gone to town in the loo and then sprayed air freshener. My friend in ITU received a baci panettone for Christmas and decided to share it with the staff. She saw some chocolate on her forearm and simply licked it off.
Well, it wasn’t chocolate.
And she was violently ill.

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5) phlegm: this is most likely produced during the months of October until March, when chest infections run rampant. It varies in colour but the worst is when it’s sort of a brownish green colour and it smells. The doctors will generally want to send a sample to the lab so you have to give a patient a sterile cup and wait until he or she hacks up a good 10mls of the stuff. And sometimes it does not shoot out but just dribbles and you have to try wipe it up and save it.

Well, there are many, many more. The list can go for miles and if I were not so busy I would sit and write out some more. And even though these things are kind of vile for us nurses, it is definitely no fun for the patients. Sometimes after throwing up, patients apologise profusely. We tell them not to worry and clean it up without issue.

So even though I laugh about these things, I am not insensitive towards the people suffering such afflictions. But if you do not find the humour in such things, this profession will inevitably be one’s downfall.

Until next time, people.

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