My mom taught me a lot of things. A lot. One of them was that I should keep my fingers out of my nose. Which was hard as a little kid with inquisitive tendencies. Actually, as an adult with seasonal allergies it’s still a little hard. But usually there’s a tissue involved nowadays.
Sometimes at work I run across patients that I have to assume have been raised by wolves. It’s really the only logical explanation for some of their behavior. Take, for example, my most recent foray into the world of pediatrics in the form of an 18 year old boy with a spontaneous lung collapse. Now, I don’t really care for teenagers. I do realize that I, in fact, was one in the not too distant past. But I still don’t like them. They’re loud, obnoxious, try to attract attention to themselves, rude and I’m afraid one of them is going to accidentally bump into or touch me when I have to walk past them at the mall.
This particular teenager wasn’t too bad though. Maybe he spent only about 50% of his time with wolves. Despite his low pain tolerance, poor grammar and propensity to mouth breathe, he was okay. Now, I see a lot of grody things in my line of work. None of which particularly bother me. At all. I can be up to my wrists in someone’s flesh eating bacterial laden abdominal cavity, pulling out yards of smelly gauze packing all the while chatting about the chicken fricassee I made last night to my nurse aide who’s holding the wound open for me. Its called compartmentalization, and its my second most used psychological defense mechanism. Try it sometime.
On this day, however, the teenager ruined my groove. He did something that almost made me puke my coffee all over the floor. I happened to be standing in the hallway outside his room, doing some computer charting and I glance in to make sure he’s still breathing with the morphine I just gave him for…wait for it….10/10 pain!! He looks okay, is watching Judge Judy on TV (he must be an old soul…) Then I see him reach with his middle finger of his right hand into his right nostril and start searching. I’m standing in the middle of the hall, hands still on the keyboard frozen mid keystroke, watching him and thinking to myself, “Middle finger? Who uses their middle finger?” Then, almost in slow motion, he removes his middle finger and it slowly descends down his face and makes a pit stop at his lips. As I’m screaming “Nooooooooooooo!!!” inside my head he proceeds to use his bottom teeth to scrape whatever it is he’s found up there out from under his fingernail. Once, twice…and then a lip smack and a swallow. Frozen, I can’t avert my eyes. They’re stuck. And I can feel my coffee rising up in my throat. He does it again. My eyes start to water.
Finally, as if sent by God Himself, my pager goes off telling me I have a phone call. Blessed phone call. I want to gouge my retinas and rinse my eyes in peroxide, but for now I have to take verbal on a patient coming back from Interventional Radiology.
And I’ll never be the same again. Judge me if you will. We all have our idiosyncrasies and nose picking and eating just happen to be mine. Good day to you.