"I'm not hungry today," he growled, the corners of his mouth turned down, as I entered his room.
He lay in bed in his wrinkled white hospital gown, surrounded by rumpled sheets. He was assigned an isolation room for a post-CABG sternum infection. But this was no ordinary infection. Mr. Smith was allergic to a gamut of antibiotics used to treat infections. The surgeons had thus placed two drains, one on each side of his sternum, trickling betadine solution in, then draining it out. Saturated dressings were frequently changed, and many betadine stains dotted the sheets. He should have been home with his family by now, but was held prisoner, alone in his room, by the infection and treatment. "No wonder he's grumpy," I thought as I moved toward the bedside table, dressed in full isolation regalia. I grasped his cardboard breakfast tray to my paper gown with gloved hands and peered at him over my mask, wondering what on earth to do for him or say to him at this point.
Sliding the tray onto his bedside table, I began taking his vital signs and doing the morning assessment.
"Perhaps you'd like to eat something your wife left for you," I suggested, glancing around the room at various small cereal boxes and treats cluttering the dresser and windowsill.
He grunted and pointed to the tray, "So, what did they send me today?"
I read from the menu, "Waffles and fruit."
His eyes took on the smallest gleam of interest. "What do the waffles look like?"
I pushed the tray close to him and removed the lid to reveal two thick waffles topped with a pat of butter, syrup in a cup on the side.
His frown returned. "Those are waffles??" He pushed them away. "No, no, I'll have some cereal."
While he ate I tidied the room, mentally taking notes of his condition. Later, shed of my isolation gown, gloves, mask, booties and bonnet, I could chart and see to my other patients.
"Are you done with the tray?" I pointed to the now sagging, cold waffles.
He waved a hand in dismissal and I carried the plate to the bathroom, to flush the offending food down the toilet.
They fell in with a 'plop!' and I pressed the handle. Flushing sounds filled the little bathroom as I disposed of the tray and plastic utensils in the trash.
Turning back, I was startled to see the two waffles slowly drifting around in the full toilet bowl.
"Hmmmmm," I thought to myself. "They're probably soggy enough now to go down," and I pressed the handle again.
I couldn't help watching their circular descent, circling faster and faster to the exit hole as the waterfall pushed them lower and lower.
To my surprise they stopped at the bottom, without exiting the bowl, and as the water rose with the completed flush cycle, so did the waffles, turning lazily around the bowl. They had ridden the waves as easily as any whitewater raft.
I began to giggle, then stifled it, not wanting to disturb Mr. Smith, who was now shaving at the bedside table.
"I know what I'll do," I thought, and retrieved the plastic knife and fork from the trash. "They probably just need to be smaller and then they'll go right down."
I leaned over the bowl, fork and knife in hand, and stopped short as a thought struck me. "What if the doctor or the housekeeper were to come in? What would I tell them?"
Then I REALLY got the giggles, imagining the look on the doctor's face as he caught sight of me, gowned, gloved and masked, leaning over to cut up waffles in the toilet!
"What's going on in there?" Mr. Smith raised his voice over my giggles.
I poked my head around the doorway. "Remember those waffles you didn't want?? Well, the toilet doesn't want them either!!" And the giggles started all over again. I even got a smile out of Mr. Smith!
I finally got the waffles cut up small enough that they sailed briskly down the toilet with the next flush (and no one walked in on me performing that task).
I have never looked at waffles the same since.