Leave Your Dignity at Home

There is no way to be a hospital patient and experience a sense of dignity. As a nurse, I can talk about body parts and bodily functions much as a teacher would talk about homework and glue. It becomes part of your vocabulary.

But for the patient, especially an aging person, everything about your body and how it works becomes very personal. There seems to be a desire to keep things private. Modesty is protected as a kind of virtue.

That can work in some environments but an admission to a hospital shatters any hope of personal dignity. It all starts with the hospital gown that is designed to expose the parts of your body you most want to cover.

Then there are the “routine,” “repetitive” questions by the nursing assistant.

The story described below is true.

A man who led a youth group was admitted to a hospital for a diagnostic workup. He was in great discomfort and very eager to get some answers. A number of students from his youth group visited every evening to encourage him and pray.

This visitation group coincided with the routine visit by the nursing assistant to ask the daily questions. “What did you eat today?” Do you have any pain?” Did you have a bowel movement?”

One evening after the youth group had left, this male patient pulled the nursing assistant aside, and said it was embarrassing to talk about a bowel movement in front of his young visitors. The nursing assistant said she was sorry but she was required to ask. The patient negotiated. “Well, could we come up with some code word that would help me maintain some sense of dignity?”

Together they agreed that the next night, instead of asking about a bowel movement she would ask him if he had been lucky.

As expected, the nursing assistant arrived as the group was gathering to pray. The group waited as she attended to her checklist. One of the questions was “were you lucky today?” The youth leader said, “Yes.”

The nursing assistant replied, “It must have been the prune juice.”

I know this story is true because I was gathered around his bed with the youth group.

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