Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Lost Her Boob

This morning I was cleaning out my refrigerator.  Off topic in the first sentence? Stay with me---one thing leads to another.  As I was putting everything back into the 'fridge, I picked up two cans of ginger ale that were now very slippery with condensation and, when combined with my wet hands, promptly fell. One hit my toe just right and the other can slipped into oblivion and I gave up looking for it to concentrate on my bleeding toe. Until I put the cheese drawer back into the 'fridge.  Yes......  We have a cheese drawer.  That's a whole other topic, so don't go there.

The cheese drawer is the very bottom of my french door refrigerator and, thus, the last to be inserted.  But it would not close all the way, even after some "encouraging" shoving.  With a throbbing toe, I yanked out said deviant drawer to see what the cause was.  You guessed correctly: the second can of pink ginger ale.

Immediately I was transported back to one of my most educational life experiences. As a 19 year old, my first "real" job was working as an aid in a nursing home.  Back in the stone age of my youth, one did not have to jump through hoops to be certified for this or that.  We didn't do anything that needed special training for the most part.  It just required hard work, a strong back and .... stupidity or lack of fear---I'm not sure which one but I was special..... I possessed BOTH.  The youngest of five, I had never seen a dirty diaper, let alone changed one.  I had never babysat....and never wanted to!  To say that this job helped me grow up is a huge understatement.

I had a patient named Cleduth (not her real name, which has been changed to protect her privacy).  The dear woman was large: probably 5'10" and weighed approximately 170-180lbs.  She occupied space....I don't think she blinked and never responded to any verbal interaction or physical touch.  Her body was going strong but there was no way to communicate.  On this infamous day, I had just started my 3-11 shift and was checking patients for immediate needs.  Cleduth's room was about the half-way point on my hall and so far, everyone was good.  So far.

Because she was not ambulatory, Cleduth was normally dressed in a night gown.  Her guardian must have had a broken thermostat because Cleduth never felt cold but always had on a long-sleeved FLANNEL nightgown. The longest kind that covers your ankles.  Because she didn't move on her own, Cleduth would normally be put to bed after supper and then turned and propped with a blanket. Have you got a picture of this woman in mind? Even when moving from her vinyl chair to the bed, it was up to her caregiver to pivot and set her on the bed and then lay her down.  I say all this to lay the foundation for my faux pas.

On this particular, and so far very good and uneventful day, I came to Cleduth's room and smelled urine from the doorway.  Not good.  Unblinking and unphased, she sat on a thick cotton pad that had soaked up what appeared to be about 2 gallons of "output".  This was before the advent of disposable undergarments. Her flannel gown was also dripping wet.  I set about the task of attemping remove the wet accoutrements, clean the patient and replace with a clean, dry pad and gown.  It was a formidable job, as I look back; I was young. Stupid. As a bonus, I had no fear, both of which were previously stated.  Until I was about to pull her clean gown down over Cleduth's head.  That's when everything changed; fear choked me and stupidity made me panic.

Let me state the obvious.  If you don't know already, as you age, body parts do NOT stay in the same place. They shift. They sag.  Some parts just, well....they fall or drop.  Yes, especially boobs.  As I did a quick once over while re-dressing Cleduth in the gown, I noted that sag was not an adequate word at all.  Then I realized something was VERY wrong.  There was only one boob.  OH, LORD JESUS, HAVE MERCY---I LOST HER BOOB.

To say the least, I  was fraught with panic. "How on earth will I explain this to my supervisor? OR to Cleduth's family?" I stepped back and looked....yep, only one boob as I began rehearsing the phone call I would have to make.  "Good afternoon, Mr. Smith.  I hope you're doing well.  I'm your mother's care-giver today and I called to tell you she remains in good condition except for for one small thing.  I seem to have misplaced her breast."  I pulled her forward as she sat in the chair to make sure it had not somehow gotten caught behind her back or under the arm of the chair.  No such luck.

As I began to think how on earth I would address this issue with the shift nurse, it caught my eye.  No, it was not the lost boob.  It was a meticulous and surgically straight line exactly where her left breast would have -- or should have-- been. It was very faded but definitely there. If she could have responded, I don't whether Cleduth would have laughed or cried.  I only shook my head in disbelief.

I blew out the breath I had been holding for what seemed like hours and pulled the clean gown back down to her ankles, thankful neither of us had lost anything that day---her boob or my job.