A day in the life of an ER nurse (Part 3): A sight that cannot be unseen

This is part 3 of a three part series detailing a typical day for an ER department nurse. It’s not pretty, but it’s a reality of the job and part of being a Mighty Nurse Part 1 | Part 2

Nearing the end of my shift, my rooms were finally filled with low acuity crap, but there was an entubated patient in a co-worker’s room getting ready to be admitted to the ICU.  He had an NG tube already, but no Foley catheter, so I offered to “snake him” before he went down, just to keep the ICU nurses happy with us.

The man was on the large size, and still had his sweat pants on, so I pulled one side down a little, enough to see that he didn’t have any underwear on, and to realize the odor was less than pleasant.  Went over to the other side and pulled the pants down to mid-thigh, and saw something that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The man’s entire groin was covered in a thick crop of genital warts, and the odor was coming from a red, moist, nasty yeast infection under his penis and between his legs.  Normally it is only a nice, thick lung butter that can trigger my gag reflex, but this crop of warts was doing me in.  I gathered my Foley catheter equipment, set it up between his legs and got ready.

Have you ever noticed that sterile kits designed for physicians have nice, elastic, sterile gloves in them, while nursing kits have crappy little stiff vinyl gloves?

I ripped the palm out of one of them while putting them on, and there was no way I was touching that crop with any chance of having it touch my skin, so I figured this was a sign that I needed to go show the doctor this mound of warts.  I went to the doctor’s station and said, “Hey doc, I promise I won’t say this to you very often, but you really need to come check out this guy’s penis.”

“The smile quickly vanished, followed by a brief look of confusion, then his skin turned pale, his face dropped, his hands went up into a defensive posture, and he quickly left the room, mumbling something about, ‘I hate you, I really didn’t need to see that, you’ll pay with enema duty for years to come as a punishment.'”

There was a look of curiosity and excitement, mixed with a little bit of fear on his face.  We went into the room and the doctor had a slight smile as I pulled up the sheet that was covering the man’s junk.  The smile quickly vanished, followed by a brief look of confusion, then his skin turned pale, his face dropped, his hands went up into a defensive posture, and he quickly left the room, mumbling something about, “I hate you, I really didn’t need to see that, you’ll pay with enema duty for years to come as a punishment.”

I laughed for a short time, but then I realized I still needed to stick a catheter into that mess.

Got a new pair of sterile gloves, extra long, and went in.  Crabbed the wart-covered penis with disgust, as the other nurse was preparing the monitor to go with the patient to the ICU.  I could tell he was trying not to watch, but just like a bus crash, he couldn’t pull his eyes off as I lifted the penis up, revealing what used to be a scrotum, but now was nothing more than a collection of warts on top of warts.  I held the penis up as I prepared to clean the tip with iodine swabs, and I couldn’t help but say, “textured for her pleasure.”

This was all the other nurse could take and I was left alone to finish the Foley.  I cleaned the tip three times, and attempted to put the Foley between two warts on the tip.  It wouldn’t go in.  I started to look around a little to see what the problem was when I realized that the distal part of his penis was not the tip of his penis, but just a mass of warts that had grown up and over the shaft.  The tip of his penis was underneath my thumb, as if he had hypospadia.  I hadn’t cleaned that area, so I got more iodine and fresh gloves, cleaned the warty ventral side of his penis, and stuck the Foley catheter in.

Thankfully it went in without problems and I got good urine return.

Reported off to the primary nurse that the Foley was in, did my charting, and lapsed into a catatonic state because of the horrors I had just seen.

Blood, vomit, stool, brains, intestines, and even lung butter have never caused me to shut down like this.  I felt I had to share my pain with others, but nobody wanted to hear the details of what I had just done.  Once I said, “you wouldn’t believe what I just seen” they all responded with, “Stop, I don’t want to know.  If YOU are disgusted by it, then I really don’t want to know.”

Of course I told people anyway as they would cover their ears, walking away, saying “la la la la” to block the images from staining their souls.

I believe I saw several other patients that night before going home, but to be honest, I can’t really remember anything after touching that warty penis.  I remember the charge nurse telling me to stop talking about it, the mid-shift doctor leaving a little early to drink the image out of his brain, or at least leaving so there would be fewer reminders of what he had just seen, and washing my hands much more frequently than I normally would, trying to make myself clean enough to go to the restroom.

Don’t make me touch it.
It’s textured for her pleasure.
Crop of penis warts.

That pretty much sums up a day in the life of an ER nurse.

Most days are a bit busier than this day was, usually a little more trauma and not quite so many ICU admits, but that is the beautiful thing about working the ER:  every day is different.  It’s been a few weeks since I kept this log of patients and the genital warts are still with me.

Some things just can’t be unseen, which is also why ER folks tend to tell stories over dinner that most people don’t want to hear.  It is also why I started writing haiku.  If you can limit the disgusting stories to 17 syllables at a time, it is more palatable to your friends and family.

,

Skip to toolbar