I’m taking you on a little diversion today, dear reader. I wanted to tell you about an odd experience I had, or rather, an odd person I experienced whilst in hospital having my plasma exchange treatment. I shall try to do justice to the story without giving too much away about this individual, because the last thing I want to do is shame her, so identifying details are off limits! I tried to put a humorous spin on it, as I tend to when I find something challenging.
When I arrived at the neuro critical care unit, I found myself bedside to an unusual woman. She’d been in hospital well over a month and had a variety of health issues. She was extremely chatty and vocal about sharing her story. Not at all reticent about even the most personal details. One of the very first things she told me was that she was partially deaf, which quickly became apparent when soon into our introductory conversation, she began to talk nonstop over anything I uttered, almost as though she couldn’t see my lips moving.
I can’t continue to call her ‘she’, that’s just bad manners, and I was brought up better than that. But I won’t identify her, so shall conjure up a totally random name. She shall henceforth be referred to as ‘Deidre’.
The next day Deidre began what she referred to as her ‘Big Clear Out’. When I said she referred to it, what I really meant was, she informed each and every person who approached her space loudly and enthusiastically!
At first her behaviour seemed innocuous. Involuntary, even. It was completely understandable that someone who had experienced so much trouble eating that they’d been fed by an IV line, would consequently have issues with their bowel movements. Lots of healthy people get a bit bunged up if they’re away from home, or their diet changes. Hospital patients are usually asked if they’ve ‘opened their bowels today’, and offered laxatives if they haven’t. Apparently Deidre had some catching up to do. She commenced by asking for a conmode. Nothing unusual there, you might think.
Deidre was a long-term, non medical employee of the hospital, so knew some of the staff personally. Those that she didn’t know were soon waylaid and appraised of her status, by way of ‘don’t you know who I am, haven’t you seen me around?’ (it was a vast teaching hospital), and ‘I feature on hospital posters, you do you recognise me, don’t you!’ type statements. Each time a nurse or HCA (Health Care Assistant) came into our bay to do drugs administration rounds, obs, or absolutely anything at all, Deidre would get chatting, or call them over if they weren’t actually there to tend to her.
Every. Single. Time.
Without fail. Unless I slept through an occasion when this didn’t happen 🤔
And these were not just casual chats. Deidre needed to explain to each and every one of them what was wrong with her. What treatment she was having. But most of all, she favoured sharing information about her ‘Big Clear Out’.
On that day, my first full 24 hours there, when a professor of neurology came to examine me and decide on the next phase of treatment, Deidre pounced (figuratively speaking), and before he could wait for the HCA to finish doing my obs, she had summoned him to step over to her side of the curtain he was just about to close. She knew him, and reached out her hand to hold his. I sat in horrified wonder as she proudly concluded her health update by informing him that she had so far in the previous few hours managed to fill a bedpan three times. I could not even imagine a scenario where I would volunteer this sort of news to a workmate.
Oh well, he was a doctor, I supposed. Perhaps medical colleagues had a different view on each other’s health experiences than other more delicate humans.
Later that day some of Deidre’s family visited. Her husband, followed later by a daughter and boyfriend. Deidre brought her husband up to date on bedpan and bowel movement status. I didn’t consider that remarkable. Spouses typically confide all manner of deeply personal things to one another. Then Deidre went on to repeat her breaking news to her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend.
OK, people are different, families are different, maybe this was commonplace for them. No big deal.
As the day aged, Deidre proceeded to call for a ‘pan’ a further six times. That’s right folks, I counted. A grand total of nine movements achieved in 24 hours. I noticed the number of bedpan visits to the patient next to me because;
a) This bay was very cramped and we were close to each other, so Deidre was basically defecating barely two feet away from me.
b) Deidre mostly needed to use a bedpan when either there were lots of visitors in the bay or when food was delivered to patients. Or both.
c) And primarily because there was hardly any air flow in the room even with a window open. So the odour really lingered.
The next day I thought things with the ‘Big Clear Out’ would have eased off.
How wrong I was. Deidre had only been rehearsing. In training. Warming up to a crescendo.
This was the day my plasma treatment began and I was feeling quite fragile. Deidre soldiered on, really getting into the swing of it. In the afternoon, she raised her game. After waking up from my funny post-plasma exchange episode, my husband and I listened incredulously as she called for a pan mid visit with her family, and invited them to stay and spectate!
At this point, I feel the need to assure you that nothing here is exaggerated. This is actually what happened, no embelishment required.
Her daughter and husband remained. They chatted while she pooed right in front of them.
Now, we British are renowned for our stoical manners. And nobody in that ward, patients, their visitors or staff, made any comment. We all bravely turned the other cheek as though pooing in front of people who weren’t paid to witness it was perfectly normal.
That evening Deidre called for a pan whilst the rest of us were eating our dinner. It wasn’t the first time, and as I frantically tried to swallow my pureed food faster before she began, I fleetingly wondered if it was a coincidence this time. No, I told myself, she simply doesn’t register mealtimes because all she can eat is a soya yogurt. I managed half of my food before she got started.
My husband stared at me in disbelief as she added a soundtrack to this episode. She grunted, moaned and grizzled. This was new. Maybe because she had no audience to engage with!
The following day I couldn’t fail to overhear a doctor telling Deidre that she was not coeliac, nor was she lactose intolerant. She should avoid milk but cheese and yogurt were fine. Later on she continued insisting to ward staff that she must only eat soya yogurt, and she keptbon with telling the story of food allergies to her visitors.
As lunchtime approached, Deidre cornered an HCA and bombarded her with salacious details of her ongoing, mammoth ‘Big Clear Out’. When the HCA started edging away, Deidre trilled;
What time is it?
HCA: Nearly 12pm.
Deidre: Oh, I’d better have a pan then!
Not calling for a pan because you need to go, but because you smelled the lunch trolley approaching!
I was beginning to suspect this was some bizarre form of exhibitionism. Not a single mealtime had passed since commencement of the ‘Big Clear Out’ without an accompanying bowel movement from Deidre.
This time the HCA convinced her to try a commode instead. She agreed, and the staff got her up and settled behind her curtains before leaving her to it. Another HCA approached the curtain and peeked in, quickly drawing back when she realised what Deidre was doing. But Deidre told her;
Do come in, I don’t mind at all!
The HCA continued backing away, shaking her head, telling Deidre to buzz when she’d finished. She glanced at me and raised her brows incredulously.
By this time, I noticed the patient in the bed directly opposite never allowed her curtain to be left open. I mean the one facing Deidre’s bed, the curtain dividing her space and the patient beside her was drawn. She was discharged that evening, and told me before she left that she was looking forward to going home and eating her Easter Sunday lunch in a more fragrant setting.
Bank holiday Saturday arrived, with Deidre welcoming it in her own special way. She was awake most of the night, as was I, listening against my will to her continued ‘Big Clear Out’. I started to feel quite conflicted. She surely had no control over what was happening, yet sleep and food deprivation was making me fractious. Constantly being woken up to the ever louder sounds of Deidre expelling her contents was having a tortuous effect on me. I was losing sympathy fast.
That lunchtime my husband decided to bring himself something to eat with me. He too experienced the full ‘Big Clear Out’. Mid afternoon brought an interim motion so noxious that I had to leave the bay and hang out in the bathroom for a while. On my way back I met the visitors from the patient the opposite side of me, lingering in the corridor waiting until the worst had passed. We pleaded with the staff to open ALL the windows; we cared less about getting cold.
Deidre was moved to another ward that evening, leaving the bay in a sort of stunned aftermath. We were quiet. Sleeping mostly. Anticipating being able to eat our meals in odourless serenity.
I was left pondering her odd conduct. I don’t mean the fact of her needing to poo. When you have to go, you have to go, right? But her pride in her ability to poo amazed me. I’m talking sincere, authentic glorification of a simple bodily function. Incessantly boasting about it in fine detail to multiple people, in full technicolour. Enthusiastically and wilfully evacuating her bowels in front of an audience. I’ve met a lot of interesting people during my few weeks in hospitals, but I won’t forget Deidre any time soon.
Dear reader, I hope I haven’t put you off my blog with this distasteful digression. If you know of a psychiatric condition responsible for exhibitionistic pooing, boasting about one’s bowel movements, and fabricating related food allergies, I’d like to hear about it. Deidre’s behaviour seemed inexplicable, but there has to be some psychological reason for it. Otherwise I have no context to put it into, and will remain forever baffled 🤢