When the Nurse Becomes the Patient

Old Worm by Jean James

I work in the medical field, so I’m quite used to embarrassing things happening to other people.  I’m the first person to reassure my patient who just shit on the floor, “Don’t worry about it, it happens all the time.”  Anything to make someone feel better.  But what do you do when you’re the one with the embarrassing problem?

Three months after the birth of my second child I went to the bathroom one morning, and though I didn’t shit on my floor, I did have something very wrong with what came out of me that day.

Because I’m a nurse I have a tendency to examine the things that come out of my body.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding a magnifying glass or collecting samples, but a quick peek just to make sure everything appears normal.

This particular day was really no different, a quick glance, followed by a second look, followed by a horrified stare, until it sunk in what I was looking at, or more clearly what was looking back at me…

“O.M.F.G., there’s an f’ing worm in my shit!”  As my brain was trying to wrap itself around what my eyes were trying to deny, I could feel the panic creeping up my chest.  The idea that a living creature just made its way out of my ass was more than I could digest.  And as I began to accept that this indeed was real, my next thought immediately raced to the question, “Are there more?”

I needed help.  I was sure this didn’t qualify for a 911 call, so I had no other choice than to call for my husband.  My husband is not a medical person, he’s not comfortable with excrement, vomit, or any other abnormal bodily fluid.  So believe me when I say calling him for help was truly my last resort.

Hmmm how do I put this, “Honey, there’s a worm in my shit”

His reply, “What!!? Are you sure?  How do you know it’s really a worm?”

Me, “Just look for yourself.  It’s a goddamn worm!  I know what a worm looks like and that’s a worm…in my shit!”

Him, “Well how’d it get there?”

Me, “I don’t f’in know!  How does any worm get in your shit!?  This is kinda of new territory for me.”

Him, “What are you gonna do?”

Me, “Jesus Christ!  Go get me a Tupperware. I’m gonna scoop it up, call the doctor and bring it in for testing.”

Him, “You’re gonna scoop up your own shit?”

Me, “Yes, I’m gonna scoop up my own shit!  How else am I going to prove a worm just came out of my ass?”

So the nurse in me kicked on and I collected my own stool sample, worm and all, and called the doctor’s office demanding to be seen immediately, which wasn’t a problem when I explained why.

Since I work in a small hospital, I know the doctors fairly well.  It’s rather incestuous how we nurses use our doctors as our personal physicians.  Normally I’m not bothered by this.  When I had my children I wasn’t the slightest bit embarrassed or uncomfortable carrying on a normal conversation while my doctor was up to his eyeballs in my cervix.

But like the rest of the animal kingdom, I tend to be a bit shy when it comes to number 2.  So carrying my own cup of shit with a worm sticking out of it to my primary care doctor/co-worker was nothing shy of mortifying.  Could either of us ever look at each other the same?

When it came time for me to see her, it was kind of like talking to my husband all over again.

Her, “So, what’s going on?”

Me, “I passed a worm in my stool.”

Her, “How do you know it’s a worm?”

Me thinking “Is she f’ing kidding me.  I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure.”

Politely I opened my brown bag and pulled out my Tupperware o’shit and showed her the forensic evidence that was my worm.  The look on her face was priceless; controlled horror, followed by the ever professional, “…hmm…wow…yup that definitely looks like a worm.”  And just for good measure she called in her nurse for a second opinion, as I shrunk lower in my pool of embarrassment.

Knowing she was way over her head, my doctor decided to send me to the Gastroenterologist (a.k.a. the ‘ass man’), as we were lacking a Helmintholgist at our small community hospital.

I vaguely knew who this G.I. doctor was; I hadn’t had a lot of dealings with him.  And after meeting him I realized his personality suited his profession.  Unfortunately for me, he was the only available G.I. doc at that moment.  He carefully examined the contents of my little Tupperware surprise and concluded there was a worm in my stool.  Well, thank you very much Captain Obvious!  Now that we were all in agreement that my worm existed, I more importantly wanted to know how it got there and if I had to worry about any more surprises on my next trip to the bathroom.

I had already done an internet search (because that’s the kind of crazy person I am) prior to coming to the doctor.  I learned more about parasitic worms that I ever wanted to know.  Their life cycle is so gross I’m not sure I can even tell you…okay I will, but I’m giving out one of those warnings:

This might be disturbing to children and people with weak stomachs, and everyone else in between.

In order to get a worm, you must first ingest something contaminated with fecal material (Ewww).  The eggs of the worm hatch in your stomach and migrate into the circulation, which then carries them to the lungs!  The larvae mature in the lungs then climb their way out into the throat where they are swallowed into the stomach, and make their way into the intestines where they develop into adults.  The adult worm can live 1-2 years feeding off of partially digested food.  I’m so going to puke just writing this.  Okay, so when I learned all this I counted back 1-2 years to try to figure out where the hell I was, and to my horror discovered I was in Mexico…on my honeymoon!  Feeling more like an investigator for the C.D.C. (Center for Disease Control) than a nurse, I relayed this information to Dr. Lackluster.

In return, he stoically tells me my worm must go to the lab for positive identification, and only then will we know for sure.  He remarks that parasitic worms are quiet common throughout the world.  Then he drops his bombshell theory as to how this particular worm came to find a home in my intestines.  He said I most likely got this worm from eating dirt as a child…DIRT!!!  So I quickly do the math in my head.  Kids eat dirt around the age of 2, I was 35-year-old at the time, so I just shit a 33-year-old worm.  Holy crap, no wonder that worm had a beard and a cane.  It didn’t come out on its own, if fell out, a victim of worm cardiac arrest.  Was this doctor sniffing too much methane gas?  It’s no wonder this doctor chose to be in a profession surrounded by assholes.

My mouth opened, then closed, then opened, then closed again.  My husband let out a chuckle, (like there was actually something funny going on) until I gave him that look that said, “Laugh again and I’m gonna shove my worm up your ass!”

I left there humiliated with my antiworm prescription and told to leave my specimen with his nurse.

Horrified, humiliated, and embarrassed, I handed over my worm to yet another set of eyes, and it was then that I felt a gentle hand touch my shoulder and a kind voice saying, “Don’t worry about it.  It happened to me once too.  Now every time my ass itches I think it’s a worm trying to get out.”  For the first time all day I laughed so hard, and felt so relieved to know I wasn’t the only one.  Thank God for that nurse,  I could’ve kissed her!

I’m happy to say I’ve been worm free ever since.  I’ ve learned a valuable lesson and am now very careful not to travel to third world countries…and have eliminated all dirt from my diet.

Wednesday’s Weakest Link

Weak Link by Jean James

Weak Link by Jean James

Forgive me trail for I have sinned. it has been one week since my last running session.  It’s 30 days to race time, and I’m so behind schedule.  Trying to find time for a run this past week has been next to impossible, and I fear I will pay for my slacker behavior.  Damn those three kids, weekly camps, job, and P.M.S.; a perfect storm of tired and I got sucked right into the eye.  I’m not sure how a week slipped past and I only made it to the trail once.  On the bright side, I did manage to get that chocolate bar I was complaining about last week.

Along with some advice I got on my last article, I’ve also been watching all the olympic prep this week, and twice in one week Quinoa (pronounced Kin-wa)was mentioned, so I’ve decided to throw it into my diet.  It’s a grain containing amino acids, lysine, calcium, phosphorus and iron, and is closely related to the tumbleweed.  And since I’ve been feeling a bit like a tumbleweed myself lately, this might just be the perfect food for me.

This week I’ve decided to kick it up a notch and make a running schedule and more importantly, stick to it.  Maybe this way I’ll manage to run more than once a week.  And since I’ve booked my flight to Oregon, there’s really no turning back.

So wish me luck in achieving my goals this week.  Any motivational advice would always be appreciated.

Happy Running!

Friday Funnies: Calling All Nurses!

U.S. Nurses playing cards, reading, and relaxing circa 1918.  U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command Photo.

U.S. Nurses playing cards, reading, and relaxing circa 1918. U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command Photo.



Something magical happens when nurses get together to share stories so funny they make us pee in our pants, double over in stitches, and send tears streaming down our face, as we release the tension of caring for some pretty f’d-up patients.  I have experienced this kind of laughter over the years and it’s like a great orgasm: deep, rich, and leaving you wanting more.

With that said, I would like to invite my fellow nurse readers (if I have any) to submit your funniest story, or one you’ve heard and think is worthy of retelling.  Each and every Friday I would like to post these stories to the ‘Friday Funnies’.  You can publish your story under your own name, your nom de plume, or remain anonymous. I’ll fill in my own stories if I don’t have any friday guest authors.

The only thing I ask is that you abide by the HIPPA laws, and use your artistic license to change any part of your story that might identify someone.

You can send your submissions to jeanjames@nightingalechronicles.com

Happy story telling!

Wednesday’s Weakest Link

Weak Link by Jean James

Weak Link by Jean James

Attention all runners, I need help!!  I was invited to join a relay race team to run in the 31st annual Hood to Coast relay race in Oregon at the end of August.  The Hood to Coast relay race is the largest relay race in the world.  The course is 199 miles long with 1050 teams of 12 runners.  The first race started in 1982, and its popularity has grown exponentially.  I guess that’s how I’m now somehow involved.

I like to consider myself a social exerciser.  I don’t compete, and my only real challenge is getting out of bed to make it to the gym.  I’ve never run a race in my life, okay except for field day, but that really shouldn’t count.  I’m the last person to join the team, as they were down a man, and my friend interjected on my behalf.  From what I can gather, I’m sure I’m the weakest link.

I’ll be running with a lot of overachievers.  The team captain will be competing in the NYC Ironman just prior to this race, so you can imagine what I’m up against.  I only have 38 days left to race time and I have to be able to comfortably run up to seven miles.  However, I don’t find anything comfortable about the term seven miles.

So, it’s training time, and this is where I need your help.  I’m fortunate to live in a place with a great outdoor trail.  The problem is, it’s 100 degrees everyday, I have no clue what to eat before I run, and with three young kids I’m already bordering on exhaustion.

I feel like it’s me against the trail and the trail is winning.  I head out determined to run five miles without stopping, but that trail’s a siren calling me in from the shadeless pavement, with her benches and rest areas.  Just a quick break I tell myself, a few sips of water, then feet to the street.  I know there’s no stopping in the real race.  I know this, yet I’m lured in any way.

It doesn’t help that I’m both hungry and tired all the time.  I’m hoping it’s anemia, at least there’s a cure for that, but I’m still waiting on my blood results.   So I need a plan to boost my energy, improve my diet, and help me with tips on how to run farther without running out of steam.

I’m pleading to the runners, nutritionists, health nuts, and anyone else out there with advice to offer.  I don’t want to let my team down.  I don’t want to be the weakest link.

I plan on keeping this Wednesday journal from now until I finish the race, keeping you updated on my progress and hopefully having you update me on what it takes to run a successful race.

This week I cheated on my trail with the gym.  I ran three miles on the indoor track (without stopping) and did 1.6 miles on the Stairmaster (I’m sure this doesn’t count).  I’m PMS, cranky and tired this week.  It makes running extremely difficult when you can’t breathe, your boobs hurt and you really don’t give a shit about any upcoming race.  My only objective this week is to restock my fridge with extra dark Lindt chocolate bars or I might rip someone’s face off.

See, I told you I need help!

Letting Go

courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

Florence Nightingale. Courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

As a critical care nurse I have had the unfortunate experience of taking care of what I tend to call ‘living corpses’.  Simply put, this is a human being, who if not for a ventilator, an intra-aortic balloon pump, a dialysis machine, at least three IV drips to maintain a blood pressure, and no hope for recovery, would not be alive.  Time and again I’m amazed at the ability of family to keep their loved one alive despite the obvious fact that the person they love and care for is nothing more than a shell of who they were.

I’m sure this sounds cruel to people who don’t work in the medical field, and familiar to those that do.  When a patient is deemed terminal the family is often the last to accept it.  (The 5 stages of grief.)  Most families eventually come around and do what’s best for their loved one, but there are those families that will never let go, and I find this disturbing.

It’s these families that would rather keep their loved ones dependent on artificial life support until the very end whether it be out of ignorance or religious belief.  I’m fascinated by the idea of people who quote religion for not removing life support as if they’re going against Gods will; however, isn’t trying to cheat death doing just that?  The term ‘artificial life’ gives rise to its unnatural state of being.

I thought my father might be one of those people, who for religious reasons, had trouble with the idea of removing life support from the terminally ill.  He seemed steadfast in his position, but lacked any clinical observations to support his opinions.  When my father was faced with his own mortality three years ago, it was I who sat down with him as his stage IV lung cancer was rapidly ravaging his body and explained to him his options.  Sadly there were only two: 1.) End up on a ventilator and die anyway, or 2.) Make himself a D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) and die a more peaceful death.

My dad was a very intelligent man, and still had his faculties enough to know he did not want to die with a tube shoved down his throat, connected to a machine, devoid of dignity and privacy in his final moments.

He chose option 2.

My relief was palpable, and after twelve harrowing weeks, when it came time for my father to take his final breath he did so on his own terms, surrounded by his family, comforted by a morphine drip; and as he let go of this world and slipped into the next, I felt peace.