Why do I have to wear a hospital gown?

| June 23, 2012 | 3 Comments

Most people, myself included, do not like to walk around naked. And underneath a hospital gown, you usually have nothing else on. Why do they make you do this?

One reason is safety. Underwear and other clothes can have metal in them which may heat up and cause a burn during surgery. Jewelry in any location can do this as well (including piercings that have metallic parts). Sometimes, your hands or feet may swell and rings can become too tight on fingers or toes.

Another reason for the gown is for the placement of vital signs monitors to keep you safe while you are asleep. You may have EKG stickers on your chest and other stickers or grounding pads on your hips or legs. We might use compression devices on your legs to help with your circulation and decrease the chance of forming dangerous blood clots.

In the rare case your surgery encounters some complications, your anesthesiologist may need quick access to your arms, chest, or neck for the placement of more invasive monitors or “lines” to keep you safe.

Some gowns come with a built in ability to keep you warm. They have a special liner inside of them and an interface that allows them to connect to a device that circulates warm air. This system is then utilized to keep you warm before, during, and after surgery. Hypothermia can adversely affect your perioperative experience and subsequent recovery. This is another tool to combat this problem.

Also, things can get messy in the hospital. While you might not like to think about it, fluids like blood or medicines may get on the gown.

Of course, there are other fluids that could land on the hospital gown as well (feel free to use your imagination here).

Patients often go through several gowns during their stay in the hospital because they get dirty. We don’t want you to ruin your clothes. It’s much easier to switch out and dispose of a hospital gown.

Sometimes patients ask if they can buy and bring their own hospital gown to wear. I have heard several moms talk about this with each other, so I asked one of our labor and delivery nurses what she thought.

She said that this particular hospital would allow it, but that it would be tough because the gown would get dirty so fast. And the mom would have to change it for a new one frequently. So if you want to bring your own hospital gown, just ask someone at the hospital what they think. If it is safe, you might be okay.

If you desire more modesty at any point, don’t hestitate to ask for a blanket to cover yourself up. And if you need to the walk to the bathroom before surgery, someone will go with you and help keep everything covered.

After all, each of us will likely be a patient at some point. I always try to remember this, but sometimes it’s not at the forefront of my mind. Please remind us promptly if we fail to do our best job of keeping your modesty intact!

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Category: Day of surgery

Comments (3)

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  1. As the founder of Medical Patient Modesty(http://www.patientmodesty.org), a non-profit organization that works to educate patients about how to stand up for their wishes for modesty in medical settings and to reduce unnecessary exposure, I have many concerns about this article. I’ll list them below.

    1.) “Most people, myself included, do not like to walk around naked. And underneath a hospital gown, you usually have nothing else on. Why do they make you do this? One reason is safety. Underwear and other clothes can have metal in them which may heat up and cause a burn during surgery.”

    My response:
    Underwear removal is often unnecessary for many surgeries. Patients should be allowed to wear 100% cotton underwear and/or shorts with no metals in them for surgeries that do not involve their genitals. It is ridiculous about how some hospitals have a policy requiring patients to remove underwear for all surgeries.

    I encourage you to check out this important article: Behaviour and Rituals in The Operating Theatre at http://www.orthoteers.com/(S(a3ksum44ebgk0kzu1vwxcz02))/owls.aspx?section=1&article=172). Make sure you look at this section: 3.1.1. Patients personal clothing.

    It is also possible for a woman to wear a bra for surgeries. The bra cannot contain any metals of course. I encourage you to check out Digni Bras at http://www.digniproducts.com/Products.html. They were invented by two female nurses who were concerned that many patients had unnecessary exposure for surgeries. Think about how this bra is very helpful in keeping women’s breasts covered for many surgeries especially shoulder surgery.

    2.) “Things can get messy in the hospital. While you might not like to think about it, fluids like blood or medicines may get on the gown.
    Of course, there are other fluids that could land on the hospital gown as well (feel free to use your imagination here).
    Patients often go through several gowns during their stay in the hospital because they get dirty. We don’t want you to ruin your clothes. It’s much easier to switch out and dispose of a hospital gown.”

    My response:
    Many patients prefer to get their clothes dirty than being naked. Think about how someone who works outside or paints will have to change his/her clothes. Patients can simply wear old gowns or clothes they do not care about getting dirty. The truth is most patients would prefer for their own clothing to be ruined than sacrificing their modesty. Many hospital gowns do not work well to protect your modesty.

    It is very disturbing about how operating room personnel at some hospitals will remove patients’ gowns once they are under anesthesia and then put them back on before the patients wake up. This is very unethical and deceptive. Many patients have no idea how they are exposed when they are under anesthesia. We have gotten some very heartbreaking cases. One lady who had hand surgery woke up naked before they were able to put the gown back on. There was no reason for her to be naked. She could have easily worn underwear, shorts, and bra for this kind of surgery. It actually would have been best if she could have just opted for local or regional anesthesia and not be put under general anesthesia. I encourage you to check out some of the cases we have received at http://patientmodesty.org/modesty.aspx.

    Think about how a knee surgery patient’s genitals will often be exposed if he/she is not wearing underwear when the surgical team lifts her/his gown.

    3.) “If you desire more modesty at any point, don’t hestitate to ask for a blanket to cover yourself up. And if you need to the walk to the bathroom before surgery, someone will go with you and help keep everything covered.”

    My response:
    Blanket is often not the answer to cover your modesty. Patients should be allowed to wear underwear / shorts for surgeries that do not involve their genitals. Many patients really do not want someone to go to the bathroom with them. Patients should be allowed to use the bathroom privately.

    Misty

    • PJ says:

      Misty, in response to your points:

      Firstly, as a general thing, just as people don’t expect people to walk down the road in a bikini in ordinary circumstances but do expect that level of exposure in the swimming pool environment, people do expect some level of exposure in a hospital environment so it’s really not seen as a big deal by people who witness it.

      Additionally, doctors and nurses have seen genitals of various types, time and time again, so it’s something they’re used to and therefore it really doesn’t matter if they see a patient’s genitals. I was once in bed, totally naked, and my covers had slipped to the side. A nurse entered and took bloods as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I knew she’d seen it all before, so it didn’t bother me.

      As for your specific points:

      1. A surgeon doesn’t know what an underwear might contain, and even a patient may not remember some little bit of metal. Therefore it makes sense to have a single policy that is easy to follow.

      2. For a number of people, it is difficult to get a change of clothes (e.g. if they live alone, or have had to go to a hospital miles away from home and friends, etc.) and it’s unhygienic to remain in dirty clothes – especially if splattered with blood. Therefore it makes sense to have a single cheap item of clothing (a gown) that can easily be changed frequently.

      As for stripping the patient entirely naked, this simply makes the surgery easier. There’s no clothing to be shifted around whilst a delicate operation is being performed. There is a chance of the example that you mentioned happening (waking up naked), but that’s a small risk and in any case, the surgeaons have already seen everything anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

      And so what if the genitals are exposed during knee surgery when the gown is lifted? It’s in a hospital environment where this is normal. Gymnasts often unintentionally expose their butts in competition, but it’s not seen as a big deal as it’s just accepted as part of the gymnastics environment.

      3. We all have butts (which is the only thing really exposed in the public corridors of a hospital environment) and it’s expected as part of the environment that this will happen. Of course, there is the possibility of slight genital exposure if the person has to bend over for any reason, but again it’s expected in that environment, so it’s really not something to worry about.

      In short, exposure of butts and genitals are part and parcel of being in hospital. It’s accepted as part of the hospital environment (just as exposing butts is accepted in water polo competitions) and really isn’t something to worry about.

      • S. K says:

        We patients could care less how many genitalia you have seen. We want a say and it is our genitalia not yours. You seem to think we have to permit you to do whatever you want. I will trust a doctor I personally choose but, the scrub techs with 9 months of training I don’t give permission to touch me if of opposite sex. The female nurses and scrub techs who have made comments to my husband about getting to know him real for TURP and winking at me is wrong. And when we neither one knew what position or that he would have a catheter after is wrong. Give men and women choices. Two nurses have invented digni bras for women for surgery and underwear for both. Unless the patient is having surgery on the genitalia area we should be allowed to wear these products. My husband should be given choice for all male staff for prostrate procedures. I should not be told to strip in front of male x-ray tech. Things need to change and now not later.

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