December 29, 2005, 3:07 am

Olfactory Omniscience

Oh my god! It’s the Disembodied Head Nurse!

She can wither you with one glance.

She is the bane of every staff nurse, intern and doctor who has the audacity to cross the threshold of her ward.

Years of knowledge will flee your brain with the raise of her eyebrow.

She’s what you dream about when you’ve worked three double shifts and lived on coffee for two days.

It seems Pontiac thought she would be an appropriate commercial mascot.

What on earth does a big nurse head have to do with cars?


There is nothing quite like the ambiance of a dirty utility room.

Small. Claustrophobic. Windowless.

And now, thanks to JACHO, the door must be closed and you need a code to get in.

Enter at your own risk.

A nauseating bouquet of a myriad of body fluids in various stages of decomposition arises from the biohazard box in the corner whose lid lay slightly off-center. Three commodes line the opposite wall; one of them emits the subtle essence of the GI bleed who was its last customer. A sharp hint of ammonia breaks through the olfactory cacaphony; urine soaked test strips are lined up on paper towels in military formation to the left of the sink. Deflated foley bags and used suction canisters rest in the garbage. The linen bag adds the contributions of various excretorily challenged patients to the odiforous symphony.

And through it all is the pungent smell of dirty instruments soaking in Cidex.

I have an irrational fear of being in the dirty utility room when the big earthquake hits and not being able to get out.

I need a Xanax just to get through the two minute wait for the urine dipstick results.


Have you ever experiencedf GIBOHS?

That’s GI Bleed Olfactory Hallucination Syndrome?

You come home from a long shift. You empty your pockets and deposit your scrubs in the laundry room downstairs, along with your nursing shoes. You take the time to luxuriate in a hot bubble bath as the tension of the day lifts off your shoulders. You put on your thick, flannel pajamas, grab a hot cup of herbal tea and curl up on the couch with a good novel.
And then it hits.
The fleeting but unmistakable smell of a GI Bleed.

You haven’t been near a GI bleed since you admitted your patient at 1630.

The precise mechanism for GIBOHS is unknown. Sufferers have been known to say “Blech!” out loud in the middle of the night and compulsively bleach all their scrubs until the fabric frays. They believe that GI “odor” molecules have been fused with their hairshafts at the genetic-molecular level.

Should a fellow colleague experience GIBOHS, be supportive. Tell him you believe that he believes he smells what he smells. And then get as far away as possible.

It may be contagious.


  • Rita Schwab - MSSPNexus

    December 29, 2005 at 3:11 am

    Eeewww Kim! I was browsing the blogs this morning while eating breakfast… Blech!

    I’ll have to remember to save your blog until after I’ve had my cereal…

  • Kim

    December 29, 2005 at 3:15 am

    LOLOL – my goodness, that was fast! I was trying to be…well…delicate….LOLOL

  • Jodi

    December 29, 2005 at 9:34 am

    Is that anything like CDDOHS? Ya know, C.diff. Diarrhea Olfactory Hallucination Syndrome?
    It caught be off guard one night at home. I stuck my head in a potporri dish until it was over.

  • Moof

    December 29, 2005 at 9:42 am

    Oh my GOOD GRIEF you guys! *LOL* You’ve just made me very happy that I didn’t stay in nursing!

    *sniffs her computer and gives it a loving pat*

  • Susan

    December 29, 2005 at 11:35 am

    Too funny! I have experienced this syndrome myself. I have also been a victim of the IVPBAHS (IV Pump Beeping Auditory Hallucination Syndrome). Have you?

    And don’t forget the OWCROHS (Obese Woman Crotch-Rot Olfactory Hallucination Syndrome). That’s a doozy!

  • Anonymous

    December 29, 2005 at 11:50 am

    LOL…I think I’ve had all of the syndromes…

    Also the CMRAHS (cardiac monitor beeping auditory hallucination syndrome)…and the BBOHS(Bad burn olfactory hallucination)…

    Hmmm…think I need a referral…

    Jr-ER RN

  • kirbysnursingadventures

    December 29, 2005 at 11:56 am

    I’ve had the c. diff hallucination when I’ve gotten home as well.

  • Third Degree Nurse

    December 29, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Geez, I feel like such a newbie. But I have had the FOPOS (Fountain of Poop Olfactory Syndrome)during my first semester. After boiling my scrubs, undies, socks and shoes when I got home I had to wash my hair 3 times just to get that smell out.

  • jenny

    December 29, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    This post has been removed by the author.

  • MichelleL.

    December 30, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    Kim, I am a first time commentor…I so enjoy reading your blog. As a nusing student, ex EMT, I can relate to some of your stories. They are always an enjoyable read. I look foward to each new entry.

  • Moof

    January 1, 2006 at 9:02 am


  • Dr. Deborah Serani

    January 1, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Dear Kim,

    Wishing you and yours a wonderul 2006!!!


    PS: The body-less head *is* scary

  • PaedsRN

    January 1, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    I have a question. When you have a removed chest drain, suction tubing and drainage bottle in one hand, and a removed IDC with tubing and full urine bag in the other… HOW THE HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO ENTER THE CODE TO OPEN THE SLUICE ROOM DOOR???

    The time honoured nursing art of opening the door with an elbow or knee (or bum) simply won’t work. I’m good, but even I can’t enter a combination with either of my butt cheeks!

  • Jodi

    January 2, 2006 at 12:46 am

    Just don’t do it with your tongue. Not a good idea on the inf. disease unit.
    (the nose works pretty good though, just use that purell stuff on it afterward)

    lol, I’m just kidding

  • Julie

    January 3, 2006 at 1:31 am

    I haven’t been near a GI bleed for at least 10 years and even I was experiencing it there!

    Happy new year Kim, keep up the great work here – with you around I don’t need to work with actual patients to still feel like a nurse!

  • ICU 101

    January 5, 2006 at 1:14 am

    having encountered my first GI bleed during my last set of shifts, as soon as i read what you posted the dreaded GIBOHS hit me… thanks, Kim! :Þ

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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