Sometimes just rounding had its surprises. The beds the hospital used back then had side rails that ran the entire length of the frame. They could be partially or completely lowered depending on the patient’s condition. If the patient was confused the rails were up to keep them from falling out of bed and completely down for alert and ambulatory patients. It was legal then and considered proper treatment at the time.
There was one hazard that came from having those long side rails up and that hazard was for the staff. We called them “racing stripes”. There were times when the patient was incontinent and played in their bowel movements. They would finger the side rails and leave a layer of feces on the rail. Often a staff member would lean over the side rail to check a patient for incontinence or investigating an odor. The unsuspecting staff member would accidentally brush against the feces that coated side rail and come away with brown stripes across the front of their uniform. There were many nights that some staff member finished their shift in green scrub clothes from the operating room.
One night on early rounds, we could smell the odor of bowel movement in one of our four bed rooms. We checked and all the patients were clean. We thought it might just be flatulence. As we rounded later, the smell persisted. Again all the patients were clean. We checked the garbage cans, thinking that someone had disposed of a soiled bed pad or diaper in one, nothing. We started a search, patient hands, under beds, night stands. Yes, we’ve had patients who would use a bed pan and then put it back into their bedside stand. Again we found nothing. We redoubled our efforts.
One of the aides pulled back the curtain on the window. There on the windowsill were several rolled balls of feces. There were marks on the window glass where the man had tossed the bowel movement, it hit the window, and had fallen to the windowsill.
The shift before us had not seen the feces on the ledge and had closed the curtain. Thus the mystery of the stinking room was solved. It was just another day in the life of a nurse, or should I say night?