Sunday, January 06, 2008


From the mouths of patients...

I forget, often times, that there are people in this world who don't have degrees or, for that matter, any real iota of interest in medical science. To me, your body is the most important and proximal possession you have and will ever have. And most people, judging by my 12 hour shifts, have not even glanced at the owners manual. Everyday I am shocked by how little people know about their own bodies. And it is not that I expect people to understand the renin-angiotension system of the kidneys, but just that, as we say, "the air goes in and out, the blood goes round and round, and any variation on that is a problem."

And so I find myself being broadsided by questions and comments from patients and families that my first instinct is to make a smart ass remark to ~ and I have to exercise a significant amount of personal restraint. I find it remarkable the places that people choose to get their medical information from. And better yet, when they are corrected by a medical professional, how fervently they fight for their inaccurate speck of knowledge.

My job, a lot of the time, is teaching. Educating. Informing. And I like that part. It plays to the 8 year old Cathy inside me, chalk in hand, ready to play teacher. Everyone listens with rapt attention and I hold court for a few minutes about why they're cutting you open and how. Or why that tube is there. Or why you haven't pooped and why you should.

A few of the one-liner gems I've had in the past few weeks are as follows:

* On my way transporting another patient, I am stopped, quite suddenly and abruptly, by a man in the hall who says, "Excuse me, Nurse, but is there a bug going around?" I say, "A bug?" He says, "Yeah. Like a stomach bug. Because my stomach hurts... *pause* Why?" Why, indeed. Sir, you are in a hospital, first of all, a place of many bugs. Second of all, nurses are not abreast of each and every strain making the rounds.

* Patient's wife: "Why is he peeing so much? I mean, where is it coming from?" Me: "Well, we gave him some medicine that will make him urinate a lot. The purpose is to pull the extra fluid from his tissue and then he'll pee it out." Her: "Uh huh. Where's his tissue? And what does that organ do?" Literally. She wanted me to point out the organ in his body called The Tissue.

* Patient's son: "I don't get it. If it isn't in the small intestines or the large intestines, then where else is it?" Me: "There are more places in your body than just your small and large intestines, sir." Him, in all seriousness: "Oh yeah? Like WHERE?"

* Patient's son, who has been with him all morning says because the patient is actively dying, "Nurse, I'm going to go get some food from the cafeteria. While I'm gone, please don't mercy kill my dad, ok?" Me: "What? No, no, we don't DO that here. No one is going to mercy kill your dad." Him: "No, well, I saw on tv that a lot of times they mercy kill patients. And a friend told me that his dad was mercy killed at a hospital while he was out. So please, don't mercy kill my dad." Someone needs to lay off 60 Minutes. (Tempting retort: Oh com'on. One more mercy killing and I get a set of steak knives!)

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