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It’s All Greek To Me

The word “melena” can be spelled and pronounced in two ways with profoundly different meanings. With the accent on the second syllable and an “i” instead of an “e.” It then becomes Melina, as in Mercouri, the famous and glamorous Greek movie actress who starred in “Never on Sunday.” If the accent stays on the first syllable, the word is pronounced MELena which is Greek for bloody diarrhea. This story is about bloody diarrhea, but first, a little background.

I've spent the last 44 years collecting, measuring, describing and smelling every human biological waste product known to man. You might say that secretions, exudates and phlegm have been my bread and butter. My professional title is registered nurse, but I also consider myself a fecalist, having been witness to the many types of excrement produced by humans.

Melena is the worst smelling substance I've ever encountered, and to make matters worse, it is quite sticky like tar and difficult to scrape off the skin. It is the result of an upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage caused by a cancerous growth, radiation, an ulcer gone wild, or erosion of the tissues from excessive alcohol consumption.

Awhile back, I was summoned into a patient's room. She was an elderly woman who lived alone. Alcohol was her best friend. Melena was the unannounced and unwelcomed as visitor. What I saw was simply shocking and disgusting with an odor to match.

There in the bed lay the patient in a sea of melena. She was covered with it from her neck to her knees, front and back. I notified the nursing desk of my whereabouts knowing that this clean-up job would take much longer than the usual bed bath. I grabbed armloads of cleaning supplies and linens and proceeded to her room to mop up the mess.

I was nearing the end of this chore when the patient looked up at me and said with a smile, “Are you doing this for the money or the glory?”

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