1. Brown, Theresa RN

Article Content

Another nurse, Penny and I were moving a patient, Jim, from his bed to a chair. He was a big guy, in his seventies, on oxygen, and weak. We helped him stand, pivot, shuffle, then lower himself down, and as he sat down we heard a loud ripping noise.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

"What was that?" Penny asked. "What was that noise?"


I was up close to Jim and looking behind him I saw that the sheet we had put on the chair was stained a pale brown. Where could that have come from? I wondered.


I peered around Jim's shoulder to look at his back. There I saw a huge opening, like a gash, extending down in a clean line probably about eight inches and extending into his back about three or four. I could see the different layers of tissue I had learned in anatomy class, all perfectly aligned.


"His back split open," I said.


"What?" Penny asked.


"His back split open. His back split open." This was all I could say. In my experience, backs do not split open. Jim did not have sutures or a healing incision; his back had been intact skin just moments before. There had been a scar, sure, from a surgery a few months before, but a healed scar.


Later that day I called my husband and said, "My patient's back split open at work today." And he asked, "Just like in Alien?" To which I answered, "Yeah, just like in Alien, except without the alien hopping out at the end."


What happened to Jim would be unsurprising on a surgical floor, but for most of us, even people in health care, it violates our sense of the normal and takes us into the realm of horror movies. The bizarre ripping noise, the sudden splash of fluid dark enough to possibly be blood, and the gaping opening itself makes one look to see Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street flexing his deadly fingernails, when in reality Jim's body did this to itself.