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vol 5 - issue 11 (jul 2003) :: everyday people
interview by smokin' joe blow




Smokin': I'm hanging out with my friend Josh, who's a Marine, and he's going to share some of his fucked up stories about his work. Now, let me get this right. You did five years as a Navy corpsman?

Josh: Just under three in the wards.

S: This whole conversation got started in class, yesterday, with the discussion of "fistula", which is an unnatural opening in the abdomen.

J: Fistula. Right. Basically, this woman had high acid levels in her large intestine, in her tracts, and they were forming tracks toward the opening of her stomach that would ooze this mucous. Basically, it was shit that the body hadn't had the chance to extract the water from. Yeah, it's, uh,.. really nasty shit, no pun intended. It would excoriate, or burn her skin, and form a callous. She had at least three. We used to sing songs about them. They Might Be Giants sings "Particle Man", and, well, we had "Fistula Man". I used to put this whole cunnilingus twist on it--

S: (laughing) Oh, man! That's so fucked up!

J: Well, you know. People like to be disgusted; pushed beyond their boundaries and limits. I love scat jokes, frankly. Hey, you want some coffee?

S: (laughs) Yeah. Thanks, man. You don't really hear that phrase too often, do you? It'd make a good bumper sticker. I'm thinking billboards and pop-up ads.

J: I mean, it's people eating shit! How much funnier can it be? I've only ever seen scat on the Internet, you know. And it's a bit much. But talking about it is all fun and games.

S: Yeah. I've seen a few German scat flicks. There was a Nordic blonde giving another woman a champagne enema. She was talking in German, which was hot, obviously. But then, suddenly, you know, what goes in must come out. Then,.. deluge.

J: Exactly. Funny shit. It's like watching the worst kind of car wreck; you just can't get it out of your mind. Body parts,.. steam,.. metal. The website I saw had a header on it that read "Nice Lesbians". It was okay to start out. They start to kiss and get into it, and then one goes down on the other. Great. Good. Then one pisses on the other, and you find yourself recoiling. Eewww. Well, okay,.. I'm not really into it but-- Then you think, "Well, at least they're not shitting on each other." And that's when one puts a glass plate underneath the other one as she pinches one off. Next, out comes the butter knife. They start cutting up these little sausage links, and start chewing it. It just crosses so many lines. And yet, it's so foul, you just can't turn away. "Can't someone put a gun to my head? Can't someone stop this? Help me! I'm watching scat!" Anyway, we were talking about colons, polyps,.. becoming a calloused corpsman, and getting burned out. I was on the ward for 34 months; 13 months in med surgical. It was a training environment called Bethesda. Less than a mile away was the U.S.U.C.S.H.-- the Uniformed Services University Center of Science and Health. It's a joint service school, a Navy school, and the Navy is known for having the best medicine, so that's where they make doctors. And they have several master degrees for nurses. So, Bethesda is a teaching hospital. Anyway, this one patient we had was opened up in med surgery. It wasn't like she was accidentally left open; she was intentionally left open, exposed to air, to help her body take care of itself. She was doped up, but she was with it.

S: She was wide-awake, and she was opened up? Jesus.

J: Yeah. It was pretty bizarre. I mean, she wasn't literally, completely aired; she was covered in dressings. It was considered a clean environment. There's sterile, and then there's clean. So, I come in the next day, and,.. fucking,.. (chuckles) out of her side, you know, there's shit. It's oozing out. "Shit. That's a bad sign." So, keeping my bearing and remaining real calm, I make a note of it to go tell the doctor. But this fucking student walks in, and she's like, "Oh my God!" You know, right in front of the patient. Aw, Jesus. So the patient's like, "What? What's the matter?" And so, calmly, I'm telling her, "Well, it looks like we're experiencing some extra drainage. We hadn't anticipated that. And it looks like you might have an extra fistula that might be infecting the,.. uh,.. area." I wasn't gonna lie about it, but it would have been better if a doctor had come in and informed as needed, as opposed to a student who just flipped out. I mean, what the fuck's that gonna do for a patient? She did everything but point. So, that wasn't good. Doctors,.. some of them have the worst bedside manner. There was this real crusty nice patient, old Italian guy, while I was working in the nursing ward one night. The doctor comes in, and that's the cue to shut up for the corpsman. "Sorry to break this to you. I'm not very good at this. You've got about six, maybe eight months to live." Whoa! I mean, he was so bland, so deadpan. You'd think it was a bad joke. So, I'm watching him to see if it was setting in. The doctor is also looking at the patient, and he's like, "If you want to go anywhere in the world, you know, have a cruise, go ahead. See the world. Soak up some culture." Then he talks for about 15 more minutes, actually apologizes for the condition, and then leaves. And then, you know, it's up to me to put the guy back together. This steel-jawed guy just burst into tears. It was just like the movies, but you can't pause it, come back, and get a sandwich. So, the family comes in, and they burst into Italian. The saddest part is, he's got maybe six months to live, and he wants to go back home to Italy. "Oh, no. You have to stay here and get treatment." So there he was in the hospital doing chemotherapy and various other shit, just rotting away. The Navy is known for making lazy, incompetent nurses. That's one thing where the Army kicks ass. The Navy's view is to have really, really strong corpsmen. Basically, if we have five corpsmen doing a nurse's job, that one nurse can sign off on five corpsmen's notes, making five nurses. And they kind of abuse that. A lot of nurses of abuse that. A lot of fat, nasty nurses, too. But, on the other hand, there'd be a lot of nurses straight from college. They went through, I forget what it's called, an OIC doctor indoctrination course; it's like boot camp. One of the first things they have to do is buy an alarm clock for their dorm room. Sometimes, they'd have to run. It was a real kick in the teeth, too. You know, you have all this knowledge and whatnot; but you have people your age telling you what to do. Fucking college. That is where it's at. Education. I don't buy into it anymore; the pride of being enlisted. Fuck that. The officers make money. That makes life a little bit easier. Money is definitely power. When you have buying power, you have a lot more decisions available. (laughs) But that's not ward work! We had this really fat guy once. He was a little bit nuts. He would be out of it on drugs, and he'd start to shift around and making noises. There was this fucking huge (laughing) face he'd drawn on his stomach, on this ocean of fat. I mean, it had its own tide; these kind of waves that just,.. settled. It was amazing. Anyway, so I'm like, "What are you doing? Sir, you can't--" And I throw back the sheets, and he's putting pudding on himself, and drawing with magic markers. He was a clown, and that's what he used to do for the kids; draw big faces on his fat. I thought it was kind of fucked up; but, you know, kids loved it. He ate so much. I'd be cleaning him in a bed bath, and I swear to God, I heft up one of these man-tits, and I'd find an unopened packet of crackers. Or a spoon caught in a thigh fold. What the hell? We put so much baby powder in all the folds. It was incredible, you know? Because these sores would develop. And his penis was a long distant memory. So catheterizing him was fucking Houdini work. And, often times, you'd get a urinary tract infection. You know, piss cleans the urinary tract, being that it's so acidic. But that was nowhere near enough; having a little channel like that folded over in fat and whatnot. We'd have to catheterize him and,.. fuck,.. vanilla pudding would come out--

S: Goddamn, man! Shit.

J: It was all infected. Sometimes it looked like vanilla, sometimes it looked like butterscotch. I was like, "You're not healthy, mister."

S: (laughing)

J: He'd have so many sores from casually pissing himself. And he didn't have a dick; he had a hole. It would just kind of,.. disseminate out. He turned into a real mean bastard. Oh my God! My favorite mean bastard! I have to tell you this. Oh! I wanna say his name, too, but I can't think of it. He was just a mean, commanding person. He was an O-6 (captain), I believe, when he left the service. He wanted shit done his way: when, how, everything. Half the time he was out of it. When a person goes through surgery, when they actually go under and then come out of it, they can't be put on a regular diet. They have to be put on clear liquids, because the last thing that wakes up is your stomach. So, if you eat real food, you're just gonna throw up. But not this guy. He took a real meal and ate it. He was fine with it; tough as nails. And that just doesn't happen. He was just so gritty. It started out as a little problem, but he had a leg amputated. And then he had another one. (laughs) Yeah,.. like he's got four! But he had his other leg amputated. Sometimes he'd get in this fighting fit, and you'd just see his little flipper leg stumps! They'd go a million miles an hour, these little half-legs, throwing up sheets--

S: (laughs)

J: He was mean. It was incredible. Slowly, he got worse. I tore him up once, so he started fighting me. I'm just holding him, and his skin was like paper thin. He was swinging at me, so I grabbed his wrist, but his hands kept moving. I looked at my hands, and thought, "Am I bleeding?" But his skin just tore so easily. Man, you had to come in there real calm, and work to keep the whole environment, the whole atmosphere higye; the littlest things would set him off. One day, he'd fallen out of bed so many times, and he's just black and blue all over. He was on Coumadin (blood thinner); it makes you bleed real easy because it takes out a lot of the platelets for people having trouble with clots. It doesn't actually get rid of the clots; it prevents more clots from forming. So if you get bruises, you'll keep bleeding and bleeding. So, that was also a concern. But he would be so loud, so fucking obnoxious. He and his daughter would get in these raging fights. He had a stoma, which is the outer opening for a colostomy bag. The intestines were pulled out of an artificial hole and bloused over. You put a bag over it, and you've got a colostomy bag. Anyway, so it started getting worse. I can't quite remember how, but somehow the skin started being eaten away within six months. He didn't have long to live, and he had these dressings in this hole across his stomach. Often times, there was this green liquid oozing out; that was like the movies. Fucking alien, or something. And it really smelled. Nasty, pure bile. It feels like it's gonna cut your nose if you breathe it. I once burned myself bathing an area around a stoma. I was rinsing this wound out on another patient. Suddenly, I got some on me. And I've got gloves on, right? I was like, "Hey! That shit burns!" And you can smell it. That's what makes a corpse sit up in the morgue, you know. The acid congeals, and it begins to draw on the stomach muscles and some of the leg muscles that run south. Slowly, not like in the movies, the body begins to fold up. I was working late bagging bodies once, because we used to have these drills to see who could bag a body the fastest--

S: Like bagging for beers?

J: Yeah, kind of. This one guy was so fast, man. When he finished one he would slap it on the stomach or the face as HARD as he could and shout, "Done!"

S: (laughs) That is so wrong!

J: I was working one night, and you could hear this slow hiss. I looked all over the place for it. But then I realized it was the body slowly rubbing against the fabric of the bag as it was sitting up. I knew what caused it, but it still took a little getting used to. Anyway, that guy with the abscess, he was one of my worse patients. But when he died, it actually kind of hurt. That surprised me. A lot of people were waiting for him to go. And if the lead nurse didn't like them? Boom. Guess who I get stuck taking care of?

S: Man.

J: There was also this (laughing) old lady. She was so fucking deaf,.. she used to call me "Scott". A lot of times, we're on a first name basis with the patients. Now, my name is Josh. But she'd be like "Scott?" I've got my lips to her ear, and I'm screaming into it, "It's Josh! Josh, goddamnit, Josh!"

S: (laughs)

J: Anyway, one of my favorite corpsman got her good. I'm standing down the ward, working on another patient, and this other corpsman is like, "Yo, man. Take a look at this!" And she's right there, right next to him, and she can't hear a thing. I look over, and he's got his ass alongside her ear, and he cracks one! I swear to God, I saw her hair move in the breeze! And she's just squinting at me, "What are you looking at, Scott?" Man, it was so fucked up! But, you know, she had it coming.

S: (laughs) That's fucked up. Okay. I have one last question. And this is important stuff here. Do chickens-- no, wait. Do dogs have lips?

J: Do chickens have lips? That's a weird fucking question.

S: No, man. Dogs. Do dogs have lips?

J: Probably. I never thought of it before.

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