Although the prerequisites of becoming an Occupational Therapist have changed in the 20-someodd years since I was in school, one of the things that I believe all OT students are required to do at some point or another is complete a series of internships – spending “X” amount of time working in places where you can do almost everything that a full-fledged OT does but (at least when I went to school) it’s unpaid (actually, each internship counted as a 3-credit course for me – so I got to pay for this) and, of course, you’re under the supervision of a “real” (non-student) Occupational Therapist. The goal is to give you “real life” experience of being an OT, while someone who is supposed to know what they’re doing is watching you like a hawk.

Again, back when I was in school, you were only required to do two internships – Rehab and Psych – but I was still an overachiever at the time (I’ve since grown comfortable in the ruts of middle age), so I actually did three internships – the two that everyone had to do plus, believe it or not, pediatrics (because long, long ago, a much younger and more naive Littlebit thought she wanted to work with children as her career). Each had its share of challenges and joys. And, of course, stories.

My physical rehab internship was completed in a general hospital in New York. It was under the supervision of a woman name “Ella,” who was in her 50’s and had been an OT for 30-something years. Knowing then what I know now, she was not the best of supervisors but that only plays a minor part in the story. However I was a very green and, in 20/20 hindsight, still very immature and inexperienced 23-year-old, so combine that with someone who perhaps didn’t supervise me as well as she could or should have, and you can see how some situations could have arisen that, again, in 20/20 hindsight, probably didn’t have to.

And then we had my patient, “Mr. Happy.” Of course, that wasn’t his real name but it was sort of similar (well, in a simile sort of way) and, under the circumstances that you’ll soon read, probably a very good pseudonym for this guy. He was cute and sweet – somewhere in his late 80’s, with a history of some mild-to-moderate Dementia but with a more major problem of blockages in both carotid arteries. The carotids are arteries that run up and down both sides of your neck and are the ones that bring oxygen-enriched blood to your brain – so with the blockages, his confusion was multiplied because he had less oxygen going to his head. I think he had originally been brought to the hospital for another reason (Heart attack? Hip fracture? Or maybe a mild stroke? I don’t remember but honestly, it doesn’t really matter), where they discovered these two important arteries were clogged so while he was in the hospital, they did something called a “bilateral carotid endarterectomy,” which is a fancy pants medical term for “they Roto Rootered out his arteries” – in other words, they did surgery and cleaned all of the gunk out of his carotids so he could have better blood flow to his noggin.

So Mr. Happy was my patient and we did a lot of arm strengthening stuff and I worked on teaching him ways to put his clothes on safely, without standing up too much and without getting too tired. Well, one day Mr. Happy and I were working together while Ella was on the phone on the other side of the room, talking to one of her kids about wedding plans, when all of a sudden he said he had to go to the bathroom. Now, I don’t remember if bringing him to the bathroom and helping him transfer to the toilet was something that he wasn’t allowed to do, but I know I told him to “hold on one second” (I know I said that because I remember his response was, “Well, I’ll try but I really have to go.”) while I went to ask Ella what to do. She looked very annoyed that I dared to interrupt her phone conversation but told me to go get a pair of gloves and a urinal. And with that, she went back to talking about florists and bouquets.

I knew where the gloves were (size M on my size XXS hands, by the way) but was still relatively new so it took me some time to find the clean urinals. Anyway, just as I got back to Mr. Happy, he couldn’t hold it anymore and he wet his pants, letting out a torrent of urine. There was pee everywhere and he, the wheelchair and the floor were all soaked.

Totally overwhelmed by this unexpected turn of events, I looked at Ella, who had progressed to boutineers, and mouthed to her, “Now what?” She stopped talking just long enough to give me an icy stare and told me to go clean it up.

I have to tell you that almost 25 years later, I still can’t believe she told me to do that. It certainly wasn’t the first time someone in the hospital had ever wet his pants (Or thrown up. Or had a blood spill.) and they had people who were paid to clean up stuff like that. How punitive could one woman be? But I was still very young and hadn’t yet developed the cajones that I have now. Plus I know the woman had the option to pass or fail me so, not wanting to take any chances, I did what I was told and cleaned up Mr. Happy, the wheelchair and the floor, all while wearing gloves that were 3 sizes too big for my hands.

My career hadn’t even started and already I had reached a new low.

The next time I was scheduled to see Mr. Happy, I was prepared for him. I had a urinal out. I had towels. I had two too-big gloves at the ready. And yep, as luck would have it, halfway through our session he had “to go” again. Ella was, no surprise, on the phone – something about what the DJ was going to play – so I knew she wasn’t going to be any help. Proud with my newfound sense of professionalism by planning ahead, I brought him into a corner for privacy, put the gloves on, gave him the urinal and almost joyously said, “OK, go ahead!” Well, he tried. He was wearing hospital pajama bottoms so the fly was just a hole. Except he was still kind of confused and he had an IV in one of his hands and arthritis in all of his fingers and he just couldn’t manage the urinal and the fly hole and try to get his penis out all at the same time. So after a few tries, he looked at me with this sad face and said, “I’m sorry honey. I can’t reach my tallywhacker. Can you help me?”

And yes, he really did say “tallywhacker.” But that is probably one step better than what was going through my 23-year-old mind while I was watching him struggle with the fly hole: “C’mon, Mr. Happy. Just whip it out!”

Now, when I’ve told this story before, some people have suggested that he asked for help as a ruse, to try to get me to touch him so he could get a thrill. I didn’t think so then and, 20-something years later, I still don’t believe that was his goal. Plus there was NO WAY I was going to allow myself to have to clean up a pool of urine again. And so I did the only thing I thought I could do – I reached in with two fingers, fished around, pulled out Mr. Happy’s penis and put it into the urinal for him.

As I said earlier, I was very immature and very inexperienced – and in more ways than one, if you catch my drift. So although the mission was accomplished, I still wanted to die of embarrassment. And all the while Ella was on the other side of the room, on the phone.

I hope the wedding turned out OK.