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Dealing with a “Code Brown”


Image: Polka Dot | Getty Images | Thinkstock + Scrubs

As much as we may like nursing and the fun parts of our jobs, like talking to patients and getting to do procedures (yes, this is fun for us students!), there are the parts that make us feel sort of like the “Dirty Jobs” guy. Cleaning up after our patient’s is definitely low on my list of “why I love nursing,” but it’s something we’ve got to do. And while we ALL have our funny stories that go along with each “Code Brown” we experience (helping my 92-year-old patient race to the toilet while she was forgetting she was hooked up to an IV pole and Foley cath hooked to her bed), it’s actually a very basic, and almost vital part of our jobs.

While I am not saying that I enjoy cleaning up poop, it’s just another part of my job. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty, and it sure smells pretty gross, but SOMEONE’S gotta do it, right?  When I first started nursing school, that was the one question my family always asked me, “doesn’t that bother you?” “don’t you get grossed out?” Yes, I get grossed out. But does it bother me? No. It’s just another part of the job. My response to them was this, “If it was ME lying in that bed, unable to take care of myself, and probably humiliated for not being able to do it, I would hope that the person cleaning me up wasn’t ‘bothered’ by it.” I would hope that they wouldn’t think twice about it, or think it belittles or degrades them because they have to do it. I try to take that approach, “what if that was me lying there?” and just do my job. I feel like if you look at it that way, it puts things into perspective. Nursing isn’t a fancy job, it’s a humbling job.

However, even when you are putting yourself in their shoes and doing your best to get your patient cleaned up, there is still that smell issue that can get in the way of your ability to focus and get in and out of there quickly! While it’s not guaranteed, you can try these tricks to protector your olfactory senses:

  1. Breathe through your mouth – If it’s a quick job, you can usually just avoid inhaling through the nose until its over. Hopefully you’re not like me and can breathe through your mouth without feelings of impending doom and suffocation.
  2. Vick’s vap-o-rub -  a little dab under the nose has been said to clear the nasal passages and have a strong enough scent to mask anything else with competing odor.
  3. Wear a mask – They aren’t smell proof, but if it’s a small job, it can do the trick. Try a mask and breathing through the mouth. Or double mask.
  4. Double mask with toothpaste – I have yet to try this but heard it from a friend and then had it confirmed by a nurse. Apply one mask, then squirt toothpaste on the inside of another mask and apply that one over the first. Then you are doubly protected with minty freshness to keep your nose happy.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? What is the general feeling about cleaning up after patients out there?

Ani Burr, RN
I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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