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Funny stories from the front lines: My code brown moments

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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.

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Lynda Lampert

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.
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10 Responses to Funny stories from the front lines: My code brown moments

  1. shortperson210 RN

    When I was still a fairly new nurse I had a pt who was on a airmattress, He had an NGT and needed to get a GO-Lytely prep. So, I put the whole gallon down his NG, clamped it off, and went into change of shift report. When we came out (he was directly across from the report room) we smelled something foul. He was literally, hanging almost off the bed – he thought he had passed gas for the first time in a week – nope code brown; walls, ceiling, floor, the mattress overlay had to be thrown out – it was destroyed. On a good note, his bowel obstruction resolved. We were all in hysterics. The pt was apologizing profusely, and then realized we were all ok w/it, more concerned w/getting him cleaned up and comfortable, he joined in w/the laughter. He said he got a cramp and said to himself, finally, I can fart! So when he did, he literally exploded w/stool. He did say after he was cleaned he felt 100% better. Note to self, never dump an entire gallon of Go-Lytely down an NG – lesson learned.

    • blurst84 RN

      This happened on my first clinical, first patient interaction ever, about 7 years ago. It was the day our instructor would assess us to make sure we had proper bath technique down, and we were told to go get 2 faceclothes, 2 towels, the incontinence product for our patient, any creams and then to proceed to get our resident up and start the baths in the bathrooms, our instructor would be along shortly.

      I go to my patients room, who had a motion sensor on at night as she was slightly confused and a fall risk, therefore you would assume she would be fine until her bath. Nope! She had gotten up in the night and gone to the bathroom by herself…almost. There was stool everywhere…and I mean everywhere! It was on her walker, on the bed rails, on the commode and toilet, on her pjs, in her hair, in the linens..EVERYWHERE!

      I just stood in the doorway with my mouth open, not sure what to do…my instructor comes along, wondering why I haven`t started yet…she looks in and can`t stiffle her laughter. She proceeds to get the linens cart, we get the patient up and do our best to clean her up. Thank goodness it was her full tub bath day, including a hair cut.

      Needless to say, I was not penalized for the unothodox bathing situation, and I`ve never had a hard time dealing with a big honkin code brown since. Welcome to nursing, trial by fire…or something like that!

  2. laura00seven LPN

    I work psych and we had a pt in seclusion one night. The door was unlocked to offer the pt medication, which she took. The door stayed unlocked and the pt was still sipping their ginger ale so we told her we would be back in a minute to talk with her. When we came back, she handed the ginger ale cup to my co worker and we started to talk about the incident. After about 2 minutes I noticed something and tried to get my co workers attention although I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation. I got hushed a few times, then stood quietly until they finished talking, when I quickly told my co worker to look in the ginger ale cup she had been holding for the last 5 mins. The pt had pooped very neatly into the cup and allowed her to hold it without saying anything. I still don’t know how she didn’t notice it.

  3. cnyrn RN

    I work on a med/surg floor and we had one patient who was 98 years old but very spry who came in frequently for bowel issues. He rang the bell and I went in to see what he wanted. “I have to poop, NOW!” he said. Well, he had tube feed and iv’s tangled up all over so as quick as I could I got him untangled and on his feet. As soon as he had his back to me to walk into the bathroom…yup…out it came, all over my legs and feet. He was mortified but once I got him on the toilet I had someone else come help him and then had to get myself cleaned up. I threw those shoes away! Every time there after when he would come back I would always tell him “I will never forget you, you pooped on me” He would laugh and so would I.

  4. LadyAer1979 RN

    I worked in a long term care facility. I had a patient that had a colostomy and we had to give him kayexelate because his potassium level was high. His room was at the very end of the hall but when the kayexalate kicked in it sounded like someone popped a balloon. His colostomy bag was on the floor beside his bed. There was BM all over the bed, the floor and the walls.

  5. jetalynne RN

    When I worked in a long term care facility I had 1 resident that had a lot of problems with his bowels due to cancer. He also had a very large pressure wound on his sacrum due to incontinence and immobility, and I had to dress that once on my shift. One evening while I was in the room with 1 of my CNAs changing his dressing he had soiled his brief right before we got in there. We got him all cleaned up and I began dressing his wound. While my face was down near the wound he let out a really loud fart (for lack of better wording haha) and it was right in my face! For fear of what may come after that my CNA grabbed me some towels to be safe, all while trying to hold back laughter. Luckily, not much stool came from that, but what happened next was hilarious. About 5 seconds after the gas was passed my patient got the most confused look on his face, and very seriously said “WOAH! Was that me??!!” My CNA and I just looked at each other trying not to laugh, and we said to him “well it wasn’t us!” and he then said “that sounded like a damn alligator!” We could no longer hold in the laughter and all 3 of us laughed there for a good 10 minutes. We narrowly missed a big code brown, but it was the funniest BM/passing gas story I have ever experienced. He told us he would never forget that for as long as he lived, and he passed a few weeks later, but a few days before he did pass, in all of his confusion, he remembered that night and we got to have a great memory since he was unresponsive the next day.

  6. AndiRN12

    While doing clinicals, one of my patients was an elderly gentleman that was very irritating to most of the nurses there. He didn’t bother me, because I had cared for my grandfather, and was accustomed to the “older” sense of humor! He was a little confused, so he did not always make sense, but I joked right along with him. The PCA that was assigned to his room was about 2 mths preg., so she asked me if I could help her with morning care. He was bedridden, and incontinent, so we were prepared. We went in to do his bath and linen change, and as we rolled him over, he said ” UT OH”. He said he needed to “fart”. I had him turned towards the PCA, so she moved! He passed gas, and I looked down and saw a small amount of stool- okay, no prob. but then he said,”there’s more” -ok. we are ready. When we looked down in the pad, there was a hard “object”. I was not sure what it was-I was rather nervous!! I asked him if he had eaten any small sausages- no, but he did have carrots for dinner. He had passed a whole baby carrot!! His family had taken his teeth home, so he swallowed it whole!! We laughed so hard that any time I saw the PCA, we would roll!! He was such a wonderful man, and he became known as Carrot!!

  7. Gabrielle_faith

    Just he other night I had a male resident who needed a suppository, we get him up for day shift so it wasn’t a big deal. Well I was in a patient’s room across the hall and I hear “help “Johnny” “help Johnny” repeated so I run you know why! His bed sensor is going at this point bring him into his bathroom and luckily he didn’t do it incontinently lol. So he’s sitting and telling me how does he get it out? So I coach you know the breathe in and out and push and it comes. I continue to switch his Cath to a leg bag and put his clothe on etc. And he said something bout the help and I said yeah you have a lot of helpers. And he goes bit you’re the best you helped me with that problem and that’s why I married you! I said no Jon I’m your friend not your wife (onset dementia only I’d guess, he can hold and make sense in conversation) I bring him out to sit in his chair for coffee time and he goes I had a bowel movement thanks to my wife. I corrected him again and brought him his books from the dementia entertainment cart which had two cards from a deck and I said you gonna do a magic trick and he goes I did some magic alright ….with my bowels! Hahaba them kept talking bout how much lighter he was

  8. smilingalltheway

    There was a lady I would care for at the nursing home that everytime her “bowel care program” would requie MOM we were on brown alert. No matter haw many times she would be taken to the bathroom there was always some surprise during the night. And, of course, not formed……from upper back to ankles, liquid pooled between her legs. But she was always so easy going and a wonderful lady to care for!

  9. 3825Linda

    A very long time ago as a CNA i had a S/P CVA pt who was obese. Had e.xpressive aphasia, and needed thickened liquids. During supper this lady grabbed her tea bag that was steeping prior to thickening and swallowed it whole. I promptly alerted the nurse who after assessing realized it was not obstructing her throat. The Dr was called but no immediate return call. About 2 hrs later, i had this lady in the shower. One drop of water got on her, she yelled out and and explosive diarrhea mess hit the floor. I jumped back enough to keep out of the way but keep her safe. I looked down at the damage and behold…there sat in the mess the tea bag….bag,string,tag,and staple completely intact. Well when the Dr finally called back what a story he heard. I know from that day on dietary never sent another meal tray with anycondiments or teabags for dysphagia pts. I dont remember getting in trouble but this was talked about for years.

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