Thursday, October 18, 2007

That Smell

I wasn't sure how much longer I could go without discussing the scatological. I suppose that it was inevitable that the subject would come up eventually.

One of the most important things a nurse does is take care of a patient's basic needs - oxygen, temperature control, food, fluids, safety, pain management and elimination. The last one weirds out students and potential students. Many a nursing student has learned to his or her horror that we have to manage poop.

When we learn basic care, it was a shock to us all that we had to evaluate poop. That means we had to look at it and notice the color, size, consistency and, yep, the odor. We have to be able to tell if the odor is normal or if there might possibly be blood or infection in there.

I have to admit I wasn't sure how I would hold up under the unpleasantness myself.
And really it's not a big deal. I got over it when I had to do stool cultures on a patient, and to make it more interesting she was given a laxative that morning. I was in her poo every 15 minutes for the rest of the day. After that many excursions there really isn't any room left for feeling disgusted. It became as normal to me as doing just about any other kind of work.

Having cleaned up lots of poop over time, I began to see things more from the patient's perspective. If I were to put myself in their place, and someday I just might be there, I think I would be very grateful to have someone willing to clean me up and put me back together with a smile. I would appreciate knowing that my normal bodily function is not a source of disgust, but accepted as a normal human function. When I clean up a mishap, I try my best to make keep my facial expression neutral, get a conversation going about anything other than what is happening, and contain the aftermath quickly to keep the smell down. I know that given the choice, they would rather I not have to do that for them. But since I do, I try and make it better for both of us.

The question I hear frequently is "do you ever get used to the smell?" The answer is yes you do. Just like you get used to an unpleasant part of any job, whether it's lousy coffee, a tempermental copier, office politics or micromanaging bosses, you adapt to dealing with the smell. Some people suggest putting Vick's or a piece of gum in a surgical mask and covering your face with it before dealing with poop. My best advice is to let yourself get through it. After a couple of whiffs you don't notice it so much anymore.

Given the choice I'd rather deal with bad smells than I would a chatty co-worker who wants to share every detail of his life from the time we said goodbye yesterday until he showed up this morning; from what he had for dinner, to what he watched on television to the dead squirrel he saw on the way to work. At least the former is over rather quickly if you can manage it well.

Just please remember to wash your hands before you leave the room.

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