One of those weird phenomena of my work came up today. I suspect I've been seeing more male patients, older female patients, or those having merely hand surgery where this does not become an issue.
Which is to say, women of an age to have periods, will be having a period on the day of surgery. This should be about one of four, or one of five, but tends to run more like three of four. Women having gyn or colo-rectal surgery always tell their nurse, or we find out anyway. No big deal, either way, of course. Not for the OR staff. But I can well imagine having to deal with that inconvenience as a patient, as well as having surgery, and I try to convey both that I sympathize, and that it makes no real difference to us. Just one of those things. To the point that I expect it.
"Yeah, I think it's a *rule*, if you're having surgery, your period is going to start that day," is my go-to joke. It gets a resigned huffed smile, usually. Ah, well, what can you do? In general surgery, we had mesh undergarments that would hold a pad. In ortho, we generally don't need to remove underwear, so whatever they have from home will work fine.
I suspect it has to do with stress, which holds the hormones off, then, when the day for the procedure comes, things, well, relax, and stuff starts happening.
When I think of the shame surrounding this process, in my own early life in particular, I want to make this something normal for my female patients to tell me. To make light of it, to reassure. To convey the attitude of "Oh, pshaw, we're nurses, this is what we do, you're safe here."
When I was in nursing school, my mother once told me the story of her first experience of childbirth, before being given the drugs so she wouldn't remember. That she'd lost control of her bladder, and the nurse berated her for wetting herself and making a mess. Well, this is a completely normal occurrence, and any nurse worthy of the name should have told her that, and made her feel nurtured and comforted, not shamed. Then cleaned it up matter-of-factly. It's my job
to clean up whatever comes out, and return to each patient their dignity and humanity, washed and dried and covered in a clean sheet or tidy dressings. Made whole, not left gaping and raw. Not left to fester for decades.
When people are most vulnerable and runny, someone has to. Just like parents clean up their children's shit and vomit and spit. But for adults there is a matter of showing that that substance
may be disgusting, but you, you
are fine and human and touchable. Not judging a job, only doing the job in front of me without weighing it down with emotions and baggage, means that I honestly don't mind. Don't mind the smells or the risk, I just do what has to be done.
Makes the awkward and unpleasant work just, work. A task. A chore. No big deal, best done quickly and first.