Saturday, August 31, 2013

Psychonatomy of a Hospital Gown

I’ve been sick.

Being sick gives you opportunity to ponder things you might not otherwise ponder properly.  It gives you valuable perspective concerning the things that matter and the things that don’t.

Things like the incredible value of family and friends, the fragility of life, how entirely optional you are to the world, the abundant mercy of God.  And hospital gowns.

Yes, hospital gowns.

The hospital gown was created primarily as a psychological weapon. 

There are multiple clues that would indicate this.

Half the population would be loath to be clad in a gown of any kind, even alone inside a room with no windows and no doors.  But they make everybody wear one in a room where a rotation of complete strangers of every gender pops in at irregular, unannounced points of time,  all day and all night. That is one valuable clue.

In the second place, the hospital gown in no way resembles any other sort of gown you may ever encounter.

It is a colorless, shapeless,  thinnish piece of cotton with strings attached at strategic intervals. You would never mistake it for a garment under normal circumstances.  A tent fly, maybe, but not a garment. This is another valuable clue.

 In spite of this, they are very cheerful when they talk to you about getting into it, and they want you in it as soon as possible.

I had no more been wheeled into a little room, when a little lady came in with a stack of stuff and a hospital gown.

“It opens in the back.” She said, helpfully.  “I’ll get you a bag to put your clothes in.” and disappeared.

The Chief settled into a chair, and I sat down on the edge of the bed.

The lady reappeared, “Oh!“ she said, “you haven’t changed yet!”
“ I thought you were getting me a bag for my clothes” I said.
“Oh yes!  I forgot” she disappeared again, and returned directly with a bag.

They want you in the hospital gown.

She disappeared again.
This hospital gown had three strings, two at the top and one roughly halfway down.  The two at the top tied to each other and I did so.
 This left the mysterious third string. “What am I supposed to do with this one?” I asked the Chief.
“I think you’re supposed to hold it.” he said.

 He packed my precious clothes carefully into the bag and packed them neatly away with my dignity onto the shelf of the microscopic closet.

I got into bed and pulled the covers up. They had me where they wanted me.

The Chief had to go. He had already devoted the lion’s share of his day to chauffeuring me hither and thither and sitting with me through tests and examinations. He had put his work on hold to make it happen, and I was set for the duration.  The door closed behind him and I was alone.

But only for a minute.  In his wake there appeared a perky blonde nurse with a handful of vials and a needle.  I lay there meekly.  

You see, this is the strategy.  A person walks into the hospital. They are somebody. They may be the manager at the local Ford dealership, a stubborn old farmer with a well-run farm, an adored wife with alert, clean children who never pick their noses, the baddest  Crypt on the street….but in a hospital gown  that opens in the back, and a string you’re not sure what to do with and your back against the bed, you are a harmless nobody.

It’s genius on their part, really.

She pulled out my arm and started looking at it. She tapped it. She stroked it.  She snapped it with her forefinger here and there. “You have no veins.” She said.

Everyone to this point in my life had always told me I had great veins. “Oh! You have great veins!” they would say, and poke a needle in and blood would gush in enthusiastically. Whatever else I might not have had, I had good veins.

 Now I had no veins.  I had to admit, I couldn’t see much in the way of veins myself. She took a long, long time looking for a vein, first on one arm and then the other.  She finally decided where she was going to put her needle.  She pushed it tentatively in. Nothing happened. No blood appeared.  She pushed it in a little further. Nothing.  She moved it to the left, and wormed it around

She talked the whole time, cheerfully, but she was nervous.  “Your vein just wants to roll.” She said. She called for back-up. Now I had a team. The new nurse seemed quite experienced. She had that air about her. But she couldn’t find a vein either. They abandoned their first attempt. I forget how many times they poked me but they finally got blood in the back of my left hand.

They drew blood and got the IV thingie started, and then they went out.

And I lay there happy as a lamb.  Actually, I just wanted to sleep.  So I pulled up my covers and drifted off.  In they came again with an IV pole;  they picked up my hand. The IV thingie had come out of my hand.
They had to start over. I didn’t even care.  I hate IV thingies in the back of my hand.  Anywhere but there.

This is how you are in a hospital gown.

A nurse came in, and started hanging bags from the IV pole. “Do you want pain medicine?”, she asked. She mentioned some heavy-duty pain killer I could have dripping in my veins if I wished.

“No.” I said. I’m alright.

She laughed. “I knew you wouldn’t take any.” She said.  It doesn’t take long at all to figure out who’ll have to have pain medicine and who won’t.  I knew when we were trying to put in your IV which kind you were.”

She said it fondly. They might have had me where they wanted me, but I was getting them where I wanted them too. On my side.

So I lay there for a couple days, biding my time.  As near as I could see there was no reason at all for me to be in that hospital gown.  None.  My own clothes and dignity were still deposited neatly on that closet shelf.  I wanted them back.

One morning, I pushed the button to call the nurse.  “May I help you?” her voice crackled from the nurse’s station.

“May I get into my own clothes when I get out of the shower?” I asked. 

“Sure!” she answered brightly.

I was inordinately happy. I was my own person again.

I stayed in my own clothes for the duration.  The Chief brought more clothes from home, and bought me clothes when they pumped me so full of fluid that my own no longer fit.
But at least it wasn’t a hospital gown!

Once again, being sick provides you with valuable perspective concerning the things that matter and the things that don’t. If you have your clothes, you have what matters.