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Monday, February 1, 2010

what the patient smelled

"Are you my nurse?"
I looked up from the medication order I was faxing to the pharmacy.
"No,"  I said, "your nurse is at lunch, but she'll be with you in five minutes."
"Can you come look at something?"

I hesitated. I was also at "lunch", but had just interrupted my meal at my desk to fax this high priority order. Going to her room meant forfeiting my last five minutes of lunch. A lunch break I started twenty minutes late. Which left me with ten precious minutes of lunch.

"Is it an emergency?" I asked, "can it wait five minutes for your nurse to come back?"

"I need you to look at it. I can't tell you what it is here in the hallway."

"But is it an emergency? Five minutes. Your nurse will be right back." The woman stared at me and raised her eyebrows meaningfully.

Worried that there was a blood spill or drug paraphernalia, an illegal animal or something similar, I consented, tossing one longing look over my shoulder at the chicken fajita rapidly cooling next to my medication book.

 Entering  her room, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. She stood by the door with her arms crossed.
"Yes?" I prompted.

"Over there," she said, "stand by that mattress."

I complied. Her roommate rolled over, woken from a nap by our talking. The woman would not come any closer to where I was standing. I surveyed the room again, suddenly  remembering a lecture from the very beginning of nursing school on how a nurse is like a detective - when you enter a patient room you have to notice everything. I noticed the cell phones plugged into the wall, the dirty clothes in a plastic bag on the floor and the photos of family on the bedside table.

"I'm sorry, miss," I said, "will you tell me what I'm looking at?"

"Sniff." She ordered.

"Excuse me?"

"Smell that?"

I took a deep breath in. I smelled oranges. Every bedside table in the room had a bowl of fruit from lunch that day. I tried again.  Oranges. Oranges. I got closer to the bed. Oranges.

"I smell... oranges," I reported.

"No. No." she said impatiently, "smell again."

I did as I was told. I smelled nothing besides the oranges, and told her as much.
"Miss, will you please tell me what you are smelling, perhaps I can help you anyway." Dozens of scenarios went through my head, not excluding the possibility that she  had recently had or was about to have a seizure.

"No. Nevermind. If you can't smell that I'll just wait for my nurse." She motioned me out of the room in one quick gesture.

I still have no idea what that was all about.

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