The hospital gown: an instrument of torture


I recently had the experience of being tortured, not by terrorists, but by that well-known fashion statement, the hospital gown. The hospital gown was originally an open nightshirt, designed for the convenience of nurses and doctors carrying for the bedridden patient. The gown was traditionally worn with the back open to allow for access to the patient;  yet modesty was maintained as the patient’s backside was safely covered by the bed.

Today, thanks to our ever-growing plus-sized population, the hospital gown is a now a circus tent with armholes.  My gown was made from a thick, sturdy, rough-hewn cotton, akin to the same fabric used for flour sacks in days of old. The size was roughly that which Magic Johnson would wear comfortably, in other words, typical one size fits all. The various closure ties along the back were gnarled into an almost unusable state, as if kittens had been allowed in to “help” fold the hospital laundry. The front sported a slit to allow for EKG leads to be pulled through, but on me this fell in the right spot to be considered a wardrobe-malfunction flap. To top this off, the bed on which I was designated to spend the night was not a bed at all, but a gurney, the kind meant for temporary transport of patients. Instead a nice smooth sheet, the gurney was covered with a rough knit-type material. Add to that the ubiquitous blue pad that is placed underneath all hospital patients, as if it’s expected that all patients will start leaking from every bodily orifice, and you have the bed from the seventh circle of hell.

Here is how I spent that night. Despite my ability to eat and drink normally, the IV was going full-blast, so I found myself getting up to the bathroom at least every two hours. Unfortunately I was unable to coordinate this with the staff who came in to wake me up every two hours, so add sleeplessness to the night from hell. On each occasion of getting up, I first had to scoot to the edge of the gurney while wearing a circus tent and trying to hold my painful side. The rough fabric of the gown combined with the rough texture of the sheet made schooching nearly impossible. Once I managed to get to the edge, I had to make a little jump to get to the ground, as you might imagine one would from a gurney designed for giants. Once upon my feet, I used one hand to hold the IV pole, one to hold the back of the gown shut, one to hold the wardrobe malfunction flap shut, and wait, nobody has that many hands. Once back in the room, I had to repeat this process. When I finally managed to scoot myself back onto the bed, I discovered that I had become mummified in the voluminous folds of the gown. Trying to free myself from the folds wrapped around me was a painful and fruitless endeavor. Near the end of the night I found myself just flopping the upper half of my body across the bed, pulling my legs up enough so they weren’t dragging on the floor, and calling it good enough.

In the morning, after the night of torture was completed, the nurse came in and removed the IV and the blue pad from the bed. I dragged myself into the chair and put on my own cozy, well-fitting jammies, and for the first time since being there, sat comfortably, eating bad food and wondering why hospitals are incapable of making toast. But that is a story for another day.

© Huffygirl 2015

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11 thoughts on “The hospital gown: an instrument of torture

  1. Hey, wait, HG, didn’t you used to be a nurse? How many people did you immobilize in said circus tent. I am one of those plus-sized people…well, just on the cusp…too big for small gowns and too small for big gowns. Try squeezing a generous body size into those handkerchiefs they call “normal” sized gowns for patients. The ties stretch across your body like tightrope wires in said circus tent. Any minute they might spring from their precarious spot like guy wires whipping free in the wind. There they expose your altogether in immodest abandon…I’ll take a circus tent every time.

    Hope you are feeling better. I wondered where you were and am ever so glad you’re back with at least your sense of humour, if not your dignity, intact. *HUG*

    • Thank you, thank you Sandra for the virtual hug. So good to see your words.

      I think your above account is hilarious and I was hoping that more people would respond with their horrible hospital gown stories. As far as when I worked in a hospital, we only had the old-fashioned “handkerchief size gowns”, which fit most people back then, but not everyone, which I guess is why they’ve gone to the circus tent size. I think some places stock both sizes, but most places discovered it was more cost-effective to just stock one size of gown.

      Anyway, am hoping my outpatient surgery days are over at least for awhile, because it will be awhile before I can face that awful experience again.

    • Yes. Just some outpatient surgery. I’m almost wishing I hadn’t written this because I didn’t want people to think I was sick. But the gown/circus tent was such a hilarious ordeal that I couldn’t pass it up.

  2. I was given a circus tent once when at NIH as a study volunteer. Just there for the day, and even without an IV, I found it so hard to navigate just turning in bed, much less going to the bathroom. A fellow nurse had come with me and, as I was not ill, the gown provided us with much hilarity. We did, however, remember wishing we’d had those when we’d cared for larger patients. Remember the days when we’d have to give them two gowns to try to cover their front and back sides? As a young nurse, I’m not sure I was that sensitive to their dilemma. I, too, blogged about my “tent” experience, complete with photo. Gown designers, take heed!

    • Thanks Lois for your comments. I do remember wishing we had a few larger gowns back in 1974 when we had an occasional larger patient, or a tall, athletic male. Today, however, it seems it is more then norm than the exception, and hospitals have responded by stocking only large gowns, which is great for plus-sized folks, and bad for everyone else. I think being in a too-small gown is just as annoying as being in a too-large one. Although the large gown did add a lot of hilarity to my visit.

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