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the young amputee

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"The Young Amputee"

The time is 9:32 p.m. here at St. Joe Medical Center where I am a nurse assistant on the orthopedic floor. I have just been asked to assist a nurse with a dressing change. This isn’t just changing a band-aid to a scratch on a knee type of dressing change. I am assisting in a dressing change to a thirty-year old female named Kathy that was hit by a car as a pedestrian. Kathy was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and later revived in the emergency room. Doctors were able to save Kathy, but not her left leg. She is now a below the knee amputee.

To prepare my self for this task, I have to wear protective clothes which consists of: a white hair net, an airtight orange facial mask that looks like a duck bill, a long sleeve bright yellow lab coat, rubber gloves and blue foot protectors. This gorgeous ensemble will protect Kathy and myself from infection. Did I mention that I look like an over-grown duck? As I open the door and enter Kathy’s room, what smells to be the odor of a dead and rotting animal carcass consumes my lungs. Tears are beginning to well up in my eyes and my stomach is feeling like it is going to erupt. Kathy has a severe infection in the remainder of her leg.

What I see before me is a beautiful young girl laying flat on her back, fast asleep in her bed. I pull the sheet back from across her body and to my surprise what is left of Kathy’s leg has no bandages covering it. Broken bones, red muscles, blue veins, white tendons and yellowish fat cells are visible. Her leg is left open because there isn’t enough skin to close wound. There is also a gaping hole the width of a soda can and about eight inches deep running down next to the tibia and fibia bones in the middle of her leg. It looks as if someone slapped a few pounds of raw ground beef in the middle of her bed where the rest of her leg should be.

The nurse tells me that my only job is to hold up in the air what is left of Kathy’s leg so she can debreed the inside of her leg. This isn’t going to be easy because Kathy’s leg weighs at least seventy-five pounds. Debreeding is when the nurse uses tweezers to pull out the blackened dead tissue from inside the hole in Kathy’s leg. A few seconds after I have begun to hold Kathy’s leg, cool beads of sweat are evolving on my forehead and my arms are beginning to shake trying to hold this large mass. I am also finding it difficult to breathe because of this airtight mask. As the nurse begins to debreed the leg, Kathy wakes up screaming. The nurse decides to draw up a surringe with morphine, a heavy painkiller and administers it into Kathy’s I.V. Kathy’s eyes roll back into her head like she just received her fix of heroin. The nurse resumes the process for a few moments more. Kathy isn’t feeling anymore pain and I begin to smile under my facemask happy for her peace. Holding Kathy’s leg is becoming unbearable. I figure out a way to hold her leg without actually holding with my hands. If I stand facing her bed with my left leg flush against it, I can act as if I’m stepping up onto her bed and rest her leg on my right knee. Thank you God! I was scared that I’d drop this poor girl’s leg and cause her more pain.

The nurse now begins to moisten kurlex, which is several yards of rolled up woven cotton, with a salt water solution that will be stuffed deep into the hole of Kathy’s leg. This will help soak up the infection. The nurse uses an extra long Q-tip about ten inches long which will help push the kurlex in as far as it can go. She begins stuffing the leg like she is stuffing a doll a rag doll. The nurse is careful not to touch the kurlex with anything but the Q-tip. Touching it with even her gloved hands can spread germs to Kathy’s wound. She stuffs three yards of the kurlex into the massive hole. The kurlex cannot touch the outside of Kathy leg either because it will eat away at the living skin. I just now realized that I am still in the room with the stench of death and have not vomited yet.

The nurse now begins to wrap a black mesh bandage that looks like a pair of ladies fish net stockings around the meaty stump. The mesh will help to shrink the stump to prepare it for a later fitting of a prosthesis leg. She now begins to wrap the stump several times with dry kurlex. When she is finished with the kurlex, she wraps the whole leg with the largest ace bandage that I have ever seen. I am now able to put Kathy’s leg down. I slowly place my right leg back down on the floor and begin to cradle her leg like a newborn baby to gently lay it down. I remember to cover Kathy back up with her sheet and push her hair back from her face like mom did when I was young.

I closed the door behind me and began pulling off my duck costume and place it in a biohazard bag that will be kept from all other trash. This bag will be burned in an incinerator so it cannot contaminate anything that it comes into contact with.

I go to the restroom to wash the sweat from my face and realize that most people would have just witnessed something terribly gruesome. Or was it? I didn’t vomit like I thought I would and I actually feel good about helping this your girl Kathy. I’ve decided that I want be a nurse.

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