Steve Carr - "An Olfactory Life"

My nose has been trained to sniff out every objectionable smell within sniffing range. It is a marvel of radar technology. Why the military hasn't used my nose for national defense, or offense, I have no idea. Being in the hospital, in this bed, my nose has been working overtime. Cleaning fluids. Pure alcohol. The perfumes the nurses wear. My urine soaking through the top sheet. My nose is unable to block out the smell of any of it. My nose is the ultimate magnet for things that are aromatically sweet as well as disgusting. Nothing is more disgusting than lying in this bed having my nose assaulted by the noxious odor of my pee. It is the middle of the night and no matter how many times I push the nurses' call button to come rescue my nose, as well as my body, from the stench and wetness of my own bodily fluid, I and my nose are left untended. I have a sneaking suspicion that the nurses believe I soak my sheets with my foul smelling urine on purpose. The simple physiology that most of the liquid that goes in our mouth comes out in an altered and bewilderingly yellow state through our urinary devices seems to have escaped them. I am unable to control when I pee or how much. In fact I can't even tell when I am going to wet myself. It is called having a neurogenic bladder which means little to me right at the moment other than that the condition has my nose working overtime. They put an internal catheter in me but every germ in my body collected around it and caused such an infection they had to take it out, and until morning at the latest I was told, I would have nothing to control me flooding my bed with my piss.  

Having a plastic urinal, which resembles a weird milk bottle with a handle, between my legs was tried, but containers that are meant to have liquid go into them have a limit as to how much liquid they can hold before they overrun. They left it up to me to monitor when my urinal needed to be emptied, forgetting that I am flat on my back and can't see what is happening between my legs. I guess they could put me on the toilet all night but being paralyzed from the waist down I have no balance and they have rules, or ethics, or something, about not letting patients fall on the floor. It's not that I am the first patient they have ever had who is paralyzed and peeing on himself, but I also suspect I am part of some medical experiment being carried out by the nursing staff to see just how disgusted a person can get from purposely, as they believe, soiling himself. Being alone in this room I can only be thankful I am not waging war on another patient's nose. I am trying to keep my spirits up, but frankly I wish I had died when I fell off the edge of that cliff and on my spine on a boulder placed there by a vengeful mother nature. I peed on myself immediately as it happened, as if it was a forewarning of what was to come. I was awake the entire time, from the time of landing on the rock, to the ambulance trip on the way to the hospital emergency room. The entire time it wasn't just my pee soaked khaki shorts I smelled; it was the smell of fear.

Day shift has come on and Clara, the nurse who wears a perfume that smells like rose petals has awakened me. I think I must have passed out during the night from overworking my olfactory senses. To my surprise I am dry and the sheets on and under me have been laundered to the point of needing retirement. Each time they put clean sheets on me or my bed I can't help but wonder how many other patients have laid on them or under them, and how many of them stunk them up with piss or poop.

“So you're awake,” Clara says as she sees me opening my eyes, drowsily seeing her tearing open a package with the word Hollister in large blue printing on it.

“Yes, I'm awake.”

“I'm going to be putting a condom catheter on you,” she says.

I know what a condom is and I know what a catheter is but I can't connect in my head the two words. My mouth is dry, like I have been chewing on a sponge all night, but in fear of activating the water delivery system in my body I don't want to ask for water until Clara puts on this condom catheter thing. She has opened the plastic bag, and a paper envelope and a smaller plastic bag, and a clear plastic larger square envelope; it's quite a production. She holds up each piece of the apparatus for me to see. A long clear tube. A plastic folded pouch with a blue nozzle at one end. A small piece of rubber that looks like the end of a toilet plunger. She connects the three and voila, it is a condom catheter. As she raises my clean pajama top put on me at the same time that the clean sheets were she looks dispassionately at my flaccid penis. It is not the first time that I reel at the thought that my penis will be flaccid and most likely be greeted with lack of passion for the remainder of my life. I can't exactly explain which spinal part was injured and in what ways the network of nerves that operate my functions below my waist were permanently damaged, but I do know the end result. I am impotent, I can't walk and my bladder doesn't function properly. She sprays some stuff on my penis.

“Benzoin tincture,” she says holding the bottle up for me to see like a television infomercial salesperson. 

The odor of this tincture stuff goes straight to my nose and it smells like a combination of rubbing alcohol and glue. She holds the head of my penis and rolls the toilet-brush looking thing down over it and then wraps thin strips of surgical tape around it to hold the condom part on, and now I am sealed to and connected to a condom catheter. It is something I can look forward to doing for the rest of my life. I wiggle my finger at her, beckoning her ear to my mouth so that I can whisper. “Kill me.”

“You're such a kidder,” she says.

I'm not kidding.

 

Having the plastic bed pan put under me by the male attendant is my invitation to crap at my leisure while lying in bed. The last time it was okay for me to crap while in bed I was an infant and was wearing a diaper. My internal crapping system is screwed up also, but not as bad as my urinary system. He leaves the room allowing me the privacy to do nothing but lay there and hope I can't drop a log into the pan, and hope that afterward I don't have to lie there for an hour inhaling the fumes from my own turd. Looking at me you would never know I am going to the toilet in my bed. The chaplain comes in and casually sits on the edge of my bed. He's very chatty this morning until he realizes that the air and the room is being polluted by me. He wants to make sure I go to heaven, but not while I'm taking a shit.

“Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize,” he says getting up from my bed and hurrying out into the hallway to get an attendant, or a nurse, or anyone willing to confront the reality of a paraplegic pooping in a pan.

 

No one will tell me that I will walk again. No matter how much physical therapy I get or how much courage or will power I have or any of the other bullshit stories are out there about overcoming paraplegia to run marathons, the truth is they, the doctors and neurologists and the bedpan full of specialists can't tell me my life will get back to normal, that I will walk again, or piss normally, or have sex. The whole thing stinks.

 

Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Culture Cult Magazine, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, The James White Review and The Northland Review: An International Journal, among others. His novel "Final Bell" is in serialization on channillo.com. His plays have been produced in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio. He writes full time.