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By Victor Pisano
OK, I have a “major” pet peeve - hospital gowns.
Fortunately, I have not had to make many trips to any local hospital for most of my life. I still have my own tonsils, for instance. But a few years ago, primarily because of reoccurring kidney stones, I’ve had one or 12 visits to the hospital. Ug.
Forget the pain of actually passing a 7mm kidney stone, the bigger pain was being forced to put on the hospital gown! You know the little number with the open back and the ties that -- well, don’t tie?
I thought it was an isolated thing. But I ended up experiencing a “string” of embarrassing hospital gowns. The first gown was one of the worse. It reminded me of my grandmother’s “housecoat.” Remember housecoats? “Here, sir. Put on this hospital housecoat.”
About 3 in the morning, the pain from a kidney stone was so bad, I had to bring myself down to the ER at a hospital which name and location shall remain nameless. It really doesn’t make any difference if I name it or not, because all ER’s in America are virtually the same.
Anyway, the experience of going to the ER at any hospital in the middle of the night is problematic enough, because no one at any emergency room of any hospital wants to look up at anyone not wearing a bullet hole or sporting an ice pick sticking out of their body somewhere.
My affliction was indiscernible -- nothing on the surface. No victim of an accident -- no appendages missing -- no blood -- just excruciating internal pain. And being polite was no help. A polite person in pain doesn’t look like they’re in pain, so they obviously can wait -- right?
Here I was standing - actually, more crunched over like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, waiting to get “service” from someone -- anyone. Finally, when the attendant caught a glimpse of my hand sliding down the front of her admitting window, did I get some attention.
On the floor, I filled out the obligatory 37-page questionnaire. Are you allergic to any medication? Have you had any of the following 637 diseases? Check “yes” or “no.” What is your mother’s maiden name? What is your father’s maiden name? The ink ran out of the pen before I could finish.
By this time, I was sweating bullets, but not kidney stones. Finally, finally, sweet mercy, another attendant peeped out from behind the locked medical room sanctuary and assisted me to a hard metal chair. He then proceeded to type on his computer, asking me in a slow, methodic voice if I had any insurance? Now I was thinking, “Why am I being punished with extra delay simply because I have medical insurance?” I was half tempted to say, “No,” but I didn’t. I’m looking at this sleepy person and saying, “Look. Here’s my insurance card, Buddy. Let me see a doctor! Please! I’m about to deliver a baby here!”
He just looked at me and replied, “What is your billing address and is it the same as your mailing address?”
At this point, I was about to do something to this guy that would have landed me in jail overnight for sure - with a stone en route to boot. “Naw,” I thought. “It ain’t worth it. But close though.” Then I heard myself say out loud, “Cloyce. My father’s maiden name is Cloyce.” He proceeded to enter that information into the computer.
“Okay, wait here. I’ll see if there’s a room available.” Then he left as the stone happily explored places of my internal body that I never knew existed.
Somewhere on the planet, paint was drying faster than his return.
Finally, a really nice nurse arrived. (Why are virtually all nurses I meet nice?) She said to me, “We’re going to give you an I.V., some fluids, some anti-inflammatory medication, Flo-Max and a painkiller.”
“You’ve got the order backwards,” I said, trying to smile.
She didn’t smile back but instead handed me a blue patterned hospital gown and said, “Take your clothe’s off except for your shorts and socks and put this on.” She then left the room.
That was my first experience with the dreaded hospital gown. What demented person would ever design such an ugly and tortuous thing, especially when folks are at their most vulnerable and in the presence of so many strangers?
The material was a bluish pattern of random dots and stripes -- why? They ALL are at every hospital that I’ve visited since. It was a flimsy cottony drape with no weight to it. I followed her painful instructions of removing my slacks, shirt and shoes. Then I actually tried to put that ridiculous hospital garment on.
The darn thing wouldn’t tie! Here I am trying to reach around for a phantom string somewhere that was supposed to be on the back of the “gown” which essentially was the front. Where the heck was it?  I couldn’t think at a moment like that. “Whoops. Hey, my backside was hanging out!" Then another dagger of pain, like electric shards of glass, shot up my back with no possible way of getting out. And I’m still trying to find the stupid string in the back!
“Okay, okay, I found it,” only when I tied the two flimsy strings together, one side of the gown was covering my right ankle while the other side of the gown was laying fashionably above my left knee. Hmmm. “Is this right?,” I thought. “Ow, ow.”
Here I was, doubled over in pain and embarrassment, when the nice nurse returned. “Having trouble with the gown?” she asked.
“I bet you say that a lot,” I winced.
I somehow managed to slide onto the gurney while trying not to expose myself to this young nurse - not an easy task in stabbing pain. But no matter how hard I tried, the darn gown kept separating because I could only hold it together with one arm while she punctured the other. Embarrassment? About an hour later, once the painkiller finally took effect, I didn’t really worry about it.
I did pass that stone - three weeks later - with some helpful medication and lots of water. The urologist called me a “horse” when I placed the miniature boulder on his desk. True. I was so proud of myself.
But since then, this housecoat/gown experience has been replicated on a number of occasions at different hospitals in different parts of the country. Why? Why do all hospital gowns look like this, ill fit like this and perform like this? Why isn’t there a “designer” gown somewhere that can double in form and function? Where are the hospital gown fashion designers? Why don’t we see a long line of statuesque models in various chic hospital attire sliding down fashion runways - male, female, and “uni?” What harm would it be to any hospital? Wouldn’t it bring in new business?
These are all rhetorical questions I know. The fact is that there’s a “one size fits all” mentality in hospital care. Always has been -- always will be.
Trust me, folks. With this new mantra of socialized medicine -- it ain’t going to get any easier trying to reach behind and to find a phantom string that will hold the whole stupid thing together.
Victor Pisano is columnist at large for the Bryan County News. He lives in Ford Plantation.

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