Death by Bed Bath

It’s a good thing people are harder to kill than I thought in my nursing student days.  In my first few weeks, I thought I’d killed several.  My first great scare was in my first day on a clinical unit.  I was assigned to give a bed bath to a poor old lady who’d had a leg amputation.  I did NOT want to give that woman, or any patient for that matter, a bath in the bed or otherwise.  Of course we’d practiced bed baths in the lab till we were sick of it.  I dreaded clinical that day, knowing bed bathing would not be put off any longer.  I gathered my supplies, a bed pad, two sheets, a mattress cover, four bath cloths, four towels and a blanket.  In the room I introduced myself to the patient and bumbled around till I came up with gloves, a basin of warm water, soap, toothbrush, tooth paste, mouthwash, and lotion.  God forbid, I was expected to do mouth care, too.

Done properly, a bed bath and bed change can be accomplished in minutes.  I believe I probably tormented that poor woman the better part of two hours.  I won’t bore you with the details but I slopped water all over the patient, the bed, myself, and the floor before I was finally through.  I left her wet, uncovered, and freezing, I am sure.  Finally I labored long enough to get her in a clean gown and do mouth care.  I was so relieved to be through when she looked at me with sad eyes and said.  “You put my gown on inside out.”

Sure enough, it was.  Hopefully I suggested, “You don’t want me to change it, do you?”

“Yes.” she moaned.

I wanted to argue, but knew I had it to do.  I worked till I got it fixed, but snatched her IV out in the process.  I hadn’t gotten to the point I could start IVs, so my nursing instructor had to do it.  She was not happy.

Not long after I escaped from her room, her family returned.  The doctor made rounds with the head nurse. They all came came out with their heads together.  I was sure they were all discussing the horrible bath I’d given.  I had no idea they’d be able to tell.  I was mortified. Fortunately, that was not the problem, but it was an awful day.

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Curtis, the Church Lady, and Pecan Pie

imageWith thirty years in nursing, you can well imagine I have my share of strange stories.  I worked in acute dialysis in the hospital, so knew my patients very well.  We talked about their lives, familis, dogs, whatever was on their minds.  One of my favorite patients was Curtis, a huge man, perfectly delightful, but developmentally challenged.  His thinking was about on the level of a eight-year-old.  Curtis had somehow gotten credit at a furniture store, bought a houseful of furniture, and not made a single payment.  He was being hounded for payment, so decided the best course of action was to go in the hospital, where he wouldn’t be bothered. When he told the nurse at the outpatient dialysis clinic he needed to go to the hospital, she explained he couldn’t be admitted unless sick.  He did some thinking and called her back to his chair telling her he had something for her.  (I can’t imagine how she fell for that.). He dropped an impressive lump of excrement into her outstretched hand and was admitted into the psychiatric unit of the hospital in short order.

He was happily ensconced at the hospital, soon moved to the medical floor.  One day he walked into my unit asking for a large patient gown.  He went on his way.  Curtis was not on my mind when I heard a lady out in the hall exclaim. “Oh my God! Take it!”  It seems she had been bringing a pecan pie to her hospitalized friend from church when she encountered seven-foot-tall Curtis, walking naked down the hall, looking for hospital staff to help him with his gown.  Curtis, hadn’t seen a pecan pie in way too long.  He dropped the gown, grabbed the pie and raised a clumsy fist when the poor woman resisted.  She gave up on the pie and fled shrieking.  Eventually, the whole thing smoothed over.  Curtis had his pie and his gown.  The hospital gave the lady another pecan pie and an apology.  By the time Curtis got home, his furniture had been repossessed, so he wasn’t harassed any more.  They all lived happily ever after, except of course for the nurse who got a handful of doo-doo.

Letter to a Patient from a Nurse:

Dear Patient,

You probably don’t remember me,but I was your nurse.  I took care of you when you had your baby, took care of your sick child, comforted you when you were in pain.  I worked extra shifts on holidays and weekends because you needed me.  I rejoiced when you got better.  Cried with you when you needed a friend and tried to help you find the answers.  I sang and talked to you when you seemed unresponsive because I knew you were in there.  I brought Easter baskets for your children so they wouldn’t be disappointed when they came to see you on Easter.  I hugged you and your family.  I talked to you about things outside the hospital to give you something else to think about, trying to bring you a story that would interest you everyday, unless you just needed me to be quiet with you.  I was there for your miracle and to hold your hand when you died talking to Mama.  I never corrected you, knowing it was her hand you were holding.

Nursing was my job, but taking care of you was my privilege.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your life.