Recently, I had to disrobe completely for a scan. I was already wearing a hospital gown that I’d been given after I tried to stay in my own clothes for said scan. There were three people in the room, two women and a man, all radiology techs and all looking straight at me before, during and after that instruction. I hesitated a minute, made sure I’d heard correctly, and then I complied. The reasoning was that it was important to get clear pictures for the radiation planning and I get that reasoning intellectually; at the same time, it was overwhelming.
It is overwhelming to have to give up one’s modesty, the trappings that make us individuals, the cloth that covers up our physical flaws, an armor of sorts. A dear friend of mine, Silke (who has written a guest blog for me previously) and I recently discussed how wearing hospital gowns affects her during her cancer treatment and she shared with me the following …
Paul Kalanithi’s extraordinary memoir “When Breath becomes Air”, describing his life and journey towards death came out after I was diagnosed with early breast cancer. It chronicles his transition from neurosurgeon to cancer patient, at one point describing him sitting in a hospital gown talking to a physician in a white coat.
It is just a small snippet in a brilliant book, but it struck close to home for me. I don’t understand hospital gowns during physician appointments. Yes, I’m perfectly fine wearing them for a procedure. And no, I’m not fine when I go in to have a conversation talking about my treatment, my medication, and my side effects. It’s demeaning enough to describe in great detail the last episodes of utter weakness, pain, and diarrhea or constipation. Don’t objectify me more by making me wear a gown while sitting in a medical office.
Throughout my entire cancer journey I’ve sidestepped the gown, even when pushed by overly zealous assistants. Luckily, none of my many awesome physicians ever minded. I make sure that I am dressed in a way that allows me to get out of my clothes in a heartbeat when necessary, and 90% of the time I don’t need to.
Wearing clothes instead of a gown allows me to keep my head high, and to have my mind focused on the medical, scientific words I’m hearing and processing. It allows me to feel like a person, not a lump that is being talked to.
I couldn’t be more in love with the cancer center I’m at for a clinical trial – not only do they have a special “heroes room” for all their trial patients, nobody ever asked me to wear a gown.
Please, please, hospital administrators and physicians, follow this example and allow us to be humans first through the difficult journey we are in.
These words resonated with me so much. We are all humans first and deserve to be treated that way. I get the necessity for easy access to the body parts that need to be scanned and yet, otherwise, the insistence on wearing flimsy paper only amplifies the power that the medical system attempts to impose on the people who need said medical system to stay alive.
Allow us to keep the trappings of humanity just a little longer.