The Irish Medical Times - What a patient is thinking but won't say


Let's go-bag!

In reality, if you are badly injured your clothes may be cut from your body, nobody will be taking fashion or hygiene notes, although perhaps this act birthed that old Irish phrase “Would you look at the cut of your man?”, usually followed by “Who does he think he is?”. Once the man is within ear shot the speaker rounds it out with “Well, if it isn’t yourself! Aren’t you looking great altogether!”. 


If you are injured/ill and mobile, you will likely be given privacy to change into a gorgeous hospital gĂșna, and if you’re really lucky and need some surgery you’ll get your very own hospital issued disposable undies. I’ve worn various kinds, they are usually some form of latticed fishnet fiascos. Personally, I kind of like them. 


  1. What do I pack?


A friend recently told me she has a ‘go bag’ ready in case anything happened and she ended up in hospital in a hurry. As a seasoned patient who has attended A&E many, many times, I have no ‘go bag’, I rely on my husband to bring me in, what can only be described as, detritus. Once he brought me in a woolly jumper, shorts, and a single hiking sock. After I gave him some ‘feedback’, he brought in a suitcase so substantial the colourful porter commented “Jaysus, you have me burnin’ with jealousy, you look like you’re goin’ on your holibops to Ibiza!”.  

When I worked in a high-rise office building in downtown San Francisco one of the essential items every employee had under their desk was their emergency earthquake ‘go bag’. One day a Packing Party was announced, a euphemism for a table of bagels and cookies surrounded by baskets of survival paraphernalia. The idea was to lure workers to chew on bagels whilst making sure their bags were stocked up with the essentials, for me that was a mixture of asiago, plain and multigrain, definitely no onion bagels. Of course the bagels were the bait, I’m sure the real essentials were the packets of dehydrated food, hand crank radios, flashlights, etc. It was a splendid idea, an appropriate reminder that The Big One was only a couple of richters away. 

Perhaps the most shocking reveal at that Packing Party was the behavioural residue that seeped from our bags. Many years ago one lady had carefully packed into her bag a change of clothes which she assured us was the most important thing when emerging from rubble. I assumed she would pull out a pair of sneakers and a tracksuit, oh no, a pair of white stilettos and a denim mini skirt emerged. Another chap had been using his bag frequently as a gym bag until he abruptly stopped working out more than a year ago, his stagnant socks were their own emergency. Perhaps I was worst of all with a bag as light and empty as the cloud I assumed I would casually float away on if disaster struck. 

Everybody should have a go bag ready to go. Top tip, pack it yourself, trust no one. 

  1. How do you tie a hospital gown?

I know how to tie a hospital gown, I just think they are badly designed. In my experience they have the same God awful get-up in hospitals everywhere. I actually prefer when they give you the paper ones with the little belt, you can at least pretend the whole thing isn’t going to slip off your body as you walk from the bed to the bathroom (I’ve seen it happen, it’s not pleasant to witness). I know it's all about fast frequent access and quick release but have you seen the knots some people tie in them, you need to get a boy scout and a locksmith to get them out.  

I never understood why you have to tie them at the back, I can tell you from personal visual assault that 80% of people are not doing that - at all. Why can’t we tie them at the front with velcro or make it into a wrap dress. I suppose for emergencies that require the gown to be ripped from the body unhindered it would be awkward to then try and coax a patient's arms through the sleeves. The dance we’ve all done putting a coat on our granny, trying to shimmy their osteoporotic bones around without dislocating their shoulders. 

Doctors seem fine with the gowns, but they don’t have to wear the contraptions, shouldn’t patients have a say?  

I also want to testify, due to the drafty conditions those gowns permit, I have been known to double-gown-it, tie one at the back, tie one in the front, nobody’s getting me out of this burrito. I remember waking up in the hospital once with a paper gown as my base layer, then two to three cloth gowns on top. I thought I went to sleep in my pajamas! Did I go on a gown rampage? Like a demented Rose of Tralee contestant, ripping off people’s attire as they slept, “I must have ALL the gowns!”. Grabbing a porter as we swayed and sang “She was lovely and fair”. 

I haven’t even touched on other troubling questions that strike a patient such as: Is there wifi? What’s the story with a shower? Who do I have to bribe to get discharged early? Are you open to a few suggestions on how to improve the place? 

And the thought that crosses patients minds every few minutes - any update on what's happening to me?  

As patients we know doctors and nurses are frantically busy, but similar to our medical minders - we are not mind readers. 

In between the cracks and crevices of confusion and miscommunication is the humour. I remember overhearing two conversations whilst in my bed in St James’s Hospital between the man across from me, who described himself as ‘the country fella’ and the older lady beside him, who self deprecatingly introduced herself as ‘the auld wan on the ward’. 

The country fella was on the phone to his mate. At the same time the auld wan was on the phone to her sister. The cross conversation went as follows:

*Country fella* : Well g'wan, were you playing cards last night?

*Auld wan* : Sure I haven't got out of bed

*Country fella* : Did you make much money?

*Auld wan* : Absolutely! Don't ya know!

*Country fella* : Ah, you can relax now, so. Put the feet up. Cheerio

*Auld wan*: Okie, D’okie

I had to leave the ward, I was suppressing so much laughter I nearly went into cardiac arrest, no lie.


Sometimes we don't need to articulate every thought or read people’s minds, the unspoken word just says it all. 

For the original article read here - What a patient is thinking but won't say