Funny stories from the front lines: My code brown moments
You don’t have to be in nursing for long to realize that the profession is ripe with situations for high comedy. For some reason, the icky side of nursing makes us laugh even harder—especially when it doesn’t happen to us. Nurses love a good tale of code brown—epic explosions of poo that have legendary status in our minds. Whether we needed two masks, a change of clothes or more towels than we’d care to mention, code brown stories are just plain funny to hear.
I haven’t been a nurse that long in the grand scheme of things. I’ve only been a registered nurse for four years, but I worked as a certified nursing assistant for a few years to put myself through nursing school. It is from this hard, thankless work that I have my best code brown stories. I don’t have too many from my days as an RN, but I always enjoy hearing a story of how some poor nurse got browned out.
It Just Keeps Coming
I worked with this female patient at a nursing home who was completely contracted and debilitated. She did not like getting out of her bed, so she would often become constipated. Of course, anyone who has worked in a nursing home knows that if you don’t go in three days, well, we have ways of making you go. (Insert evil laugh here.)
The patient was on the bowel program as I came in to do her HS care for the night. She liked me because I would joke around with her, and we listened to Frank Sinatra together and sang along. She didn’t speak very well due to a prior stroke, but we could understand each other well enough.
I got her turned on her side, and I was wiping down her back. Since she hadn’t pooped in days, I didn’t have any pad under her or anything. Bad choice. She said, “Uh, oh!” Suddenly, she started to have the biggest, thickest BM that I have ever seen. Hurriedly, I grabbed for whatever was nearby and literally held it under the emerging mess to save myself from having to redo the entire bed.
I said, “Oh, my God!” and she started to roar with laughter. The more she laughed—yup, you guessed it—the more BM I had to catch coming out of her. So much was coming out that I was quickly running out of room on the bed pad I did manage to pull under her, and all the while she’s laughing at me because she is literally pooing into my hands.
Finally, she finished, and I said, “Thanks a lot.” She could not stop laughing. Every time I came into the room for the rest of the night, she would look at me and laugh. In fact, when I changed her again, she started laughing so hard that I thought we would have a repeat performance. Luckily, this time I had a diaper under her. Lesson learned.
From Here to Eternity
One of my favorite patients at the nursing home had cerebral palsy from birth, and he had always been confined to a wheelchair. His condition was spastic; he could not move his arms or legs with any degree of control. He could only grunt at you for speech, but he truly was a beautiful person. He used to flirt with all the girls and had a great sense of humor despite his lack of speech. He always had a smile on his face, and I felt privileged to care for him.
He was another patient who had trouble moving his bowels, so they pumped him full of softeners, laxatives and the like. The trouble with him was that he never wanted to get out of his chair. He always wanted to stay in his wheelchair by the door to see the comings and goings. He was my patient, so one day I asked him if he needed to be changed. He smiled and howled with laughter, his back arching as his body spasmed from his hilarity. I should have known it would be bad.
I took him down the hall and didn’t bother to ask anyone for help. I could move him to the bed with the lift on my own, and I promised him that I would bring him right back out. I put him into the lift and then lowered him onto the bed.
As soon as I took down his pants, I saw why he had laughed so hard when I asked him if he needed to be changed. He had BM down to his ankles. When I saw it, I must have gasped, because he laughed and seized up, spreading the poo around and making a bigger mess of the bed. I tried to wrangle him still, but it was no use. This was just too funny for him and he couldn’t stop laughing.
I finally got his pants off and turned him over. I noticed some BM on his lower back. As I lifted his shift, I saw that the mess went all the way up his back to the very top of his neck. He was literally covered in poo! Once I saw that I would have to take his shirt off, too, he found this even more hysterical, and he started rolling around. I quickly stabilized him and got his shirt off.
I cleaned him up: pants, shirt, socks and new bed. When I turned him back over and looked at him, I said, “You knew what you had waiting for me, didn’t you?” He nodded vigorously and barked a laugh, arching off the bed. I just laughed with him. The great thing about Code Brown is that it always washes off.
Lynda Lampert is a registered nurse and a certified third shift worker. She has worked with many different patient populations, including post-op open heart, post-op gastric bypass, active chest pain, congestive heart failure, poorly controlled diabetics and telemetry 'wonders'. She now focuses all of her effort on educating the populace -- both the nursing world and the normal folk -- through her web writing. She hopes one day to publish another romance novel, travel to England and become a web rock star. She feels she is on her way . . . mostly. You can learn more about Lynda and her work at lyndalampert.com.
By Lynda Lampert