The five senses of the human body – vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, are marvels of nature that hardly need an introduction. We live and enjoy the world around us with our senses. If not for them, we would have to suffer a dull world, devoid of emotion, vibrancy and lustre. However, the primordial days of my medical practice were laden with experiences that have led me to realize that I needed to desensitize at least some of my senses, and of particular note, the sense of smell to excel in my practice as a good physician. Stinky shoes in the OPD, the eerie smell of burning flesh in the OT, the awkward fart at the bedside clinics, or the stench of bedsores in the ICU. We have had it all as medical professionals, and we need your sympathy.
I think my suggestion to numb our sense of smell comes as no surprise to most professionals, except for those in the culinary business, whose job depends on a highly sensitive sense of smell and taste.
One particular incident during my early years of medical practice comes to mind when it comes to realizing the importance of desensitizing our marvelous sense of smell.
The Out Patient Department (OPD) at Holy Redeemer Health Centre was busy. I was one of two medical officers posted at that far flung rural area. My colleague was a septuagenarian, and it was only justified that I attended to all emergencies during the day. It was just after a hasty luncheon that I got myself busy attending to another of those emergencies near the entrance of the health centre. The afternoon air was hot and humid and the atmosphere stifling, and I could barely keep my sanity having had a busy morning OPD. A lingering whiff of stench wafted across the hallway as a hefty, middle-aged lady removed her tattered shoes and lay down on the examination table. My luncheon struggled hard to stay within the confines of my belly. I had to keep my calm.
I hesitantly made my way towards the examination table, while a staff nurse comforted the lady who was in utter pain and sprawled on the examination table. She was holding her belly with both hands and letting out a muffled groan, as her daughter tried hard to convince the nurse to give her an injection to relieve the pain.
“Kya hua?” I asked through pursed lips, holding my breath to avoid the abominable smell.
She mumbled, “Doctor Saab, bahut pet dard ho raha he. Ek hafta ho gaya hai …… aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh ……….. latrine nahi hua he ………… ooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww.”
“Kuch karo, nai to me mar jaungi ………… eeeeeeeeewwwwooooooooowwwwwww!”
After taking a brief medical history and examining her, I ordered the nurse to shift her to the ward and prepare her for an enema. Well, for you non-medicos, it is a procedure wherein some medication is inserted into the rectum of the patient to help evacuate the faeces. The ward was located hardly about 15 metres away from the OPD, separated by a beautiful rose garden. It was always a pleasure to inhale the sweet scent of the flowers in the garden as I meandered through the hallway to see my admitted patients.
The afternoon OPD got busier than most other days and I was totally lost in attending to patients at the OPD, I totally forgot about the hefty lady and her painful dilemma. I could hardly enjoy the sweet fragrance of the roses in full bloom on that hot summer day. It was after a hectic hour or so of bearing with numerous stinky shoes from examining patients in the OPD that I was suddenly struck by an obnoxiously strong stench, like that from a septic tank. The entire OPD stunk and there was not an iota of air that was spared from the insufferable stench. I involuntarily stopped whatever I was busy with and headed for the nurses’ station.
I was fuming and impatiently rang the call bell, and a flustered nurse poked her nose into the OPD with an apologetic look on her face. I inquired impertinently, “Is it that same old septic tank that I had complained numerous times about. Why can’t those nuns get it repaired?”
She started, gave a wry smile, giggled and muttered, “Sir, it is the lady you saw an hour back. We had started an enema and her bowels gave way. All the indoor patients have taken shelter in the hospital chapel which is some distance away from the wards.”
I was stunned and escaped out of the OPD, followed by all the patients, as far away from that ghastly smell as possible. Of course, I had to attend to the OPD under the cool shade of the Gul Mohur trees in the campus.
I had the courage to attend to the indoor patients only after emptying numerous cans of room fresheners and a thorough cleaning routine in the hospital campus. Of course, none of us could do without a shower, especially the nurse who bore the brunt of ensuring the enema.
That was the “What’s the smell, Boss?” moment and one that is etched as a formidable memory.
On a closing note, I remember a funny quip by one of my colleagues regarding the sense of smell.
An old man went to a doctor and complained.
“Doctor, doctor, I develop so much belly gas, but I cannot pass any gas.”
The doctor pinched his nose, gave him some tablets and told him to come back after a week.
The patient returned a week afterwards with a sad face.
He said, “Thank you, Doctor. Now I can pass gas, but it stinks a lot. Can you please take care of that.”
The Doctor replied with a sickened look on his face, “Well, now that I have treated your nose, I can get started with treating your stomach.”
And before you go away, do watch this cool video from Racold:
This article is written as an entry for the contest “Close Encounters of the Smelly Kind” organized by Indiblogger and Racold. Do check out Racold's facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/racoldthermoltd