What’s Your Thing?

Back in nursing school I had a teacher who, during a lecture on respiratory care revealed to us that she couldn’t stand phlegm.   “Phlegm is my thing”, she said.  She took a little tangential off-shoot, spontaneously (I think) to tell us that the thing that grosses her out is phlegm.  That is the one thing in the realm of the nurses job that makes her cringe, makes her skin crawl, makes her want to gag and leave the room.  She went on that, in her view every nurse has a “Thing” and hers was phlegm.  I could tell she was telling the truth, because she became jittery and and her body language said at least as much as her words about the way it physically affected her, even just thinking and talking about it.  These side tracks Margaret took and the physicality of her delivery made her lectures more memorable.  Interesting that it was not the material itself , but the personal divergence from the straight lecture that made it stick in my head, even to this day.

Every nurse has a Thing?  Probably true.  Could there be that one tank of an individual though that can keep on rolling through the worst of it unfazed?  Could be, but not likely when considering the broad spectrum of grossness we encounter.   So what’s my “Thing”?  It’s gotta be eyes.  If you could see me right now as I’m writing this, you would see it’s true too, because my posture has just changed and my face has gone sour.  I’m as transparent as glass.  More transparent.

Think about the eye for a moment.  What is it?  It’s kind of like a jellyfish… in the shape of a marble.  It’s just a bunch of flimsy, wet, filmy layers of material in a gelatinous glob all contained within some kind of membrane.  It’s not very strong but we lead our way through the world with our eyes right out front.  They’re pretty vulnerable when you think about it.  And what protects them?  Just a little row of hairs above and below?  Come on!  That and a bit of skin that closes over them?  Please!   It doesn’t seem like enough!  Not when you consider how heavily dependent we are on our eyes.

From time to time we get someone with an eye injury in the ER.  Most of the time it’s not too bad.  Something in the eye, or the sensation of something in the eye, that kind of thing.  But rarely we will get something more serious: Penetrating foreign body, ruptured globe, chemical or thermal burn, detached retina.  Most of my co-workers seem quite easily able to deal with these ocular emergencies.  Not me.

Before I was a nurse I was a bicycle mechanic for many years.  During that time there were several instances when I got fragments of metal in my eyes.  Two or three times I had to go to an eye doctor to get them taken out.  I still have a sharp memory of the pain.  There was no relief from it.  It was only bad and worse.  The unstoppable watering.  Blinking was torture.  Sleep was impossible.  Rubbing the eye, lifting the eyelid to try to get a fraction of improvement… there was no escape!  The eye doctor took out the metal that had gotten in my eye while I was cutting threads on a fork.  He showed me the offending material, the cause of my agony.  What a disappointment!  That tiny thing!  It was just the tiniest speck, almost imperceptible!  It was impressive the amount of suffering that could be produced by something so small.  My eyes are watering now.

Besides the foreign body I also had a corneal abrasion.  That eye doctor told me that that was why it hurt so much.  The surface of my eye had been scratched up by blinking and rubbing and had become swollen.  The good news was that although the cornea is exquisitely sensitive and painful, it is also one of the fastest healing parts of the body.  So after the crapola was dug out of my eye with a needle (He used a needle for chrissakes!) it did heal quickly.  In the range of possibilities, not a very significant injury, but enough to give me a heightened respect and strong aversion to eye injuries.

So when we get eye injuries I try to get someone better equipped to deal with them to take those patients.  I admit it.  But phlegm?  I’ll take phlegm all day long.  Blood, Barf, Melena, angulated long bone fractures… bring ’em on.  But please, no eyes.  That’s all I ask.  I’d have to say eyes are definitely my thing.

So, What’s your thing?

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