Nursing Voices

Thursday, November 02, 2006


This RN's definition of "gross".

We each have our own niche, our own interests... our own comfort zone. For registered nurses, the sight of blood and body fluids, parts and procedures is typically less gruesome than it may be for the lay population (I hope). However, even within the nursing universe, that which turns our stomachs and leaves us feeling green can vary widely.

For instance, I'm comfortable with vaginas. (I'll spare you the visual aid here... I said I was comfortable with them. Doesn't mean I think they're worth looking at.) I have no qualms about saying that. And it's a good thing, for obvious reasons. In obstetric nursing, and particularly in labor & delivery, the vagina is simply a means to an end. A few of my friends from nursing school have said, "How can you handle that, down there?" Even patients are occasionally embarassed about nursing care they receive, such as the intimate care that we may have to assist with in the bathroom after delivery. I've had more than one patient comment, "You must really hate this part of your job." It's difficult for me to explain and probably even harder for them to understand, but those things just don't bother me.

However, there are some things that do.

I think eyes are YUCK. Not to look at from across the room. Not to gaze into on the countenance of your loved one. To examine, to touch and to fix. I'm fortunate enough to have good vision and have therefore never needed glasses or contacts. Thank goodness, because I'm pretty sure regular eye exams would kill me. As luck would have it, one night at work, we were discussing the benefits of laser eye surgery and I mentioned my eye phobia (it went something like, "Argh! Stop talking about that! Eyes are so gross!"). No joke, a few hours later I somehow managed to flick a piece of plastic into my eye. After trying desperately for half an hour to stop blinking and tearing like a faucet, my coworkers convinced me to go downstairs and have it checked out. An hour later, you would think I'd been purposely sent to the ED for a course of torture... first the numbing drops, shine a bright light in my eye, wait for the numbing drops to work, put orange liquid in my eye, shine an ultraviolet light in my eye while my head is being held still with a big metal contraption, wait for the attending, shine the ultraviolet thingy again and both come up with the brilliant conclusion that "That's a BIG corneal abrasion. It must hurt!" Thanks. And YUCK. Just gimme my Vicodin and erythromycin, and I'll blink my way back up to OB.

Not much further to the south is the mouth. I give dental hygeniests all the credit here... just as I'm often the one who gets to push for three hours with a patient so that the physician can come in with a catcher's mitt and look like the hero, the hygeniest is the one who gets to do all the picking and plucking, rinsing and buffing so that the dentist can take a peek in there at the end of the appointment and declare the state of tooth health or decay. Blech! I can't imagine what it's like when they get a really nasty mouth. And I've seen them... fortunately from a safe distance!

Somewhere around the middle is the belly button. Now, I realize that this one is totally irrational. Be that as it may, I have a total phobia about belly buttons... my own in particular, and those of others as well. I have good reason for appreciating it's functionality for babies in utero and once born. However, the fact that there's still a hole there... ugh. Anyone who's had to prep an abdomen for surgery and used the big ol' Q-tips specifically made for "cleaning out" that particular little breeding ground can perhaps appreciate that it really makes me want to gag just thinking about it! What else have you got hiding in there?

And finally, at the bottom, feet. Double-YUCK! One of the residents felt the need to elaborate on his athlete's foot problem the other night, and I just about started gagging right there at the desk. Thanks for sharing! Check out the Foot Blog for more gory details. I give foot docs a lot of credit for "going there". Ew! I prefer to ensconce my feet safely in their Dansko clogs and not think about what might be going on in that warm, little night club between my toes.

There you have it. My definition of gross. Totally irrelevant to nursing practice or theory. I guess we can file this one under "amusement." (See my first post.)

It's important to know yourself and what you can (and can't) handle. Anyone care to add to or elaborate on the topic? What is your definition of gross?


Anonymous said...

Hmm, I find hairy nipples to be gross. I think that every lactation nurse should carry tweezers in her tool kit.

I find nose rings to be gross too.

Oh yeah, and condylomata. They give me the heebies too.

frectis said...

Mucous. Easy. As a midwife I am perfectly content with never knowing what your mucous plug looks like so please, no need to save it in a tissue for me. Really. All things snot give me fits. I have never helped my kids with a runny nose. Ever. I'm cool if you barf on me, SROM on me, whatever. Cool. No snot, pretty please :)

Susan Palwick said...


Also people in restraints spitting on me while they scream.

So far, as an ED volunteer, other things haven't bothered me much, although I'm sure a lot of that's due to the fact that we aren't a trauma center.

Thanks for linking to my blog; I'll put you on my blogroll now, too!

DisappearingJohn said...

I gotta admit, I can handle almost any fluid, injury or substance... except sputum...

I can't handle lung butter... Even hearing someone coughing up a loogey, and I'm running for cover...

motherjones-rn said...

I'm not a "code brown" kind of girl. As a psych nurse, I deal with the brain, not with poo. Lung-junk also grosses me out.


justcallmejo said...

Nice to meet you.

I'm gonna have to go with sputum and spit, too. I can deal with sputum to suction a trach, but I cannot deal with spraying while someone's talking to me.

Brown fluids, green fluids, red fluids, even CDiffy fluids. No spit. Completely irrational.

Oh, and I'm with you on eyeballs. Did a day in the OR during my nursing school clinicals and could handle an hour of brain surgery, and exactly 45 seconds of cataract surgery.

I'll do some further blogreading, if that's okay.

Iris/Rissy said...

Gnarled old people feet really gross me out.....but so does sputum, vomit, poo and anything collected in a bag on the outside of the body that I have to empty at 5:30am. Why the hell am I a nurse??????

Mama Mia said...

We are frighteningly alike - I was a L&D nurse for 18 years, and we find the same things gross. The only thing you left off the list was a trach!

Enjoying your archives!

Charles said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, thanks for the post.