Carolyn StevensContributing Columnist

There is nothing that requires a sense of humor when caring for patients — but I’m here to say that when working with the geriatric generation, humor helps a whole heck of a lot. There are three patients who come to mind in regard to stories related to the bathroom. It’s just a suggestion, but you may not want to read the last story.

Ernie was a withered old gentleman who knew who he was and where he was. Aside from a chronic heart condition, Ernie was able to get about in his room and maintained his interest in food. A physical disability that troubled him was a large hernia which allowed a loop of his colon to slide down into his scrotum. That resulted in a change of position and direction of his genitals. Can you visualize that? Ernie needed to hold a urinal when he sat on the toilet. A nurse assistant heard him whimpering in the bathroom and asked him if he was alright. He said he wasn’t. She opened the door to check him and asked if he was having pain. He put a hand on his chest and indicated he was suffering. “Your heart, Ernie?” she asked. He shook his head and pointed to the wall beside the toilet where a wide stream of urine had run down to the floor. Someone had forgotten to give him his urinal. Obviously broken-hearted, he sobbed, “Look at that! Sideways! Boy, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Miriam was a quiet elderly patient who didn’t seem to remember much except her name. One might have thought she was an albino because her skin was as white a her hair; she actually looked powdered. When her son visited, I saw that he had inherited his mother’s very fair skin; it was just a family trait and nothing to cause concern. Miriam was always pleasant and cooperative, walked about with assistance and was able to maintain bowel and bladder control when accompanied to the bathroom on a timed schedule. It was customary to pull a length of toilet tissue, fold it and give it to Miriam to hold while she sat on the toilet. Moving very quickly one evening, Miriam pulled off a lengthy strip of the tissue herself. Unconcerned with neatness, she crushed it into a wad. After using the tissue, for some unknown reason she brought it up for closer examination. With a look of horror, she exclaimed, “A chicken! It’s a chicken!” She never questioned how a chicken got there. She continued to stare at it in shock, repeating, “A chicken!” It could have resembled a fat chicken; the drop of yellow urine represented the beak and the trailing ends of the torn tissue waved like feathers. We instructed Miriam to drop it in the toilet. She continued to stare as we repeatedly told her it was toilet paper and it should be thrown into the toilet. Refusing to give up the tissue, Miriam shouted, “Not the chicken!” We took the tissue, told her we’d put the chicken outside and left the room carrying “the chicken.”

One of our bedfast patients apparently was in the mood for Christmas. This is the story you may want to skip. I thought I’d seen it all but the sight was the first of a kind and fortunately it was the last. I hope you can visualize the episode as I describe it. When we were through laughing, it probably took longer to clean it all up than it did to design and create it. On her bedrail was, at first glance, a triangular shaped object, like a Christmas tree, made from small round balls. Brown balls, Stacked in graduated rows. She created a tree formed from the small round balls without the convenience of disposable gloves … as she removed her fecal impaction.

The next problem: What should we do with her original piece of art, which could have been preserved and shared with others. Like the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” My co-workers had no appreciation for a hand-crafted piece of … could it be considered folk art? No, the objet d’art was sent to the same route as Miriam’s chicken.

Merry Christmas!