Medical Patient Modesty - a non-profit organization to improve patient modesty in medical settings

 
 
   



Solving the Dignity Dilemma:

How You Can Now Have Privacy During Assisted Bathing?

By Robin Lenart

I love riddles and especially enjoy searching for the secret that’s hiding behind the obvious. Here’s one I first heard from a boy in my 6th grade class. As most riddles, it was presented as a question: If you were confronted with a bear behind you, a tiger beside you on your left, a lion on your right, and a church in front of you, which way would you run? Right on cue I picked the “correct answer” and said “I’d head for cover to the church”. My friend enjoyed asking again, this time with a giggle, “You’d go to church with a bare behind?” With 11-year-old vivid imagery, the thought of being exposed in the most respected setting would make meeting a tiger almost do-able.

In real life, dignity can be like a riddle, confounding our senses and reason. While the choices may not be so painful as fighting off wild animals, the pain vs. shame scenarios do exist.

You know that feeling you get when you find yourself recovering from a medical procedure and catch sight of your friendly nurse coming in your direction carrying a wash basin and towels. She had heard it all before I’m sure…”Thanks, I’ll wait till I get home…I can do it myself…Ugh, I don’t need a bath anyway, really.” Why couldn’t we just tell her the “naked” truth? Like a seasoned riddle solver, she would have to de-code the story and discover the hidden message: Fear of dignity loss.

My first encounter with this phantom emotion came during a hospital stay when I was only eight. It was there that I discovered the invisible boundaries of my personal comfort zone. I moaned about the dreadful gown. It did not resemble the “gowns” Cinderella or Barbie had. Where was the elastic, the zipper or buttons? Why would anyone want to wear a dress held together only at the neck? And to make matters worse, no underwear underneath!

Thankfully my Mom was the champion for whatever cause I had for the moment. This time it was survival of the self! The “whys” and “what -fors” were not for information, but rather the cry for help from the fear of vulnerability deep within. Mom understood. To my relief, she smuggled my under garments to me so I could be covered. Since there was no talk of me breaking the “rules”, my bet says she had a little talk with the attending staff.

Little did I know that one day, I’d be returning the favor, coming to Mom’s rescue from the same boogie-man of dread. Again, I came face to face with these sensitive issues when she came to live with me and my husband. As she struggled with Parkinson’s, I worried about her entering a stage where she may need more care. I secretly dreaded the day when I would have to help with bathing. My mother was a dignified lady. I wanted to help protect her dignity, not be a part of her losing it. . How could I honor her while invading those intimate boundaries of personal care?

As a caregiver I saw many in the home heath care industry. Therapists, social workers and aides came into our home. I asked questions, collected stories and took notes. I wanted to hear how others were dealing with this issue of being naked in the presence of a family caregiver. I heard from compassionate nurses and aides who suggested creative ways of staying covered. Showering in a slip or keeping the undergarments on during bathing were a few. But when these wet garments needed to come off, the problem of exposure returned again. Having a choice to say no to bathing was the popular solution, but if a shower was truly needed, then what? The Certified Nursing Assistants I questioned said about half of their new clients refused baths due to embarrassment.

Oddly enough, among the bath-dodgers, they said doctors were the worst offenders! Perhaps because the Medical community at least, attempts to acknowledge the embarrassment factor with a variety of cover-ups. However flimsy, these paper shawls and dresses may not be the most fashionable, but I’m grateful they are not taken away! Unfortunately the accepted way in personal care was simply biting the bullet. How would I feel if my son or son-in-law needed to help me into the shower? Or on the flip side, as a daughter, would I feel uneasy about helping my dad if he needed my care?

I believe my own discomfort as a family caregiver helped fuel my frustration. And so began my quest to get to know more about this peculiar emotion.

Should I out-smart it? ...Or just make peace with it?

The answer to my prayers came with one of those light-bulb moments as an idea flashed in my mind! Why not cover just the “bare” essentials? I envisioned a flap-type wrap, which resembled the garment Tarzan or Jane would wear while bathing under a tropical waterfall. Discovering a solution to the problem of embarrassment seemed so simple, yet had its challenges. This new loin cloth accessory needed to cover, but not get in the way of personal hygiene. And it needed to be water friendly, so it could be used in the shower where it’s most needed.

As I finished my sketches, the day came (none too soon) for me to assist my mom in a quick body clean up. A makeshift prototype was formed from a couple old hand towels quickly stitched and safety-pinned together. We both made it through the bathing crisis without the discomfort of embarrassment.

I discovered from this simple garment, there was a definite relationship between dignity and clothing. Mom’s honor found expression by covering what was private to her. I felt I was given a secret that solved this dignity riddle.

The dread of boundary crossing was replaced with a peace of mind regarding all of her personal care. Her new “birthday suit” was born and was aptly named “Honor Guard”. It had three flap-panels and a matching chest shield that got wet with her during her showering. When it was time to dry off, a companion dry set, lined with terry cloth was placed right over the wet garment, so it could be removed under the cover of the dry garment. It was so easy. Her fresh clothes were put on right under the dry garments. All through her stages of care, her Honor Guard was worn for whatever was needed. There was no need for body exposure. We both enjoyed the benefit of dignity for clothing changes, sponge baths and even help in the bathroom.

Through the next year, we both soldiered it out, as she needed more help. Many emotions were felt and shared. Embarrassment was not one of them.

My quest to share this simple solution with others led me to launch Dignity Resource Council, a nonprofit organization for other caregivers and moms like mine. Many have been covered and comforted by the garment she helped inspire. As my story is told, perhaps someday, personal care garments will be standard for all wanting the comfort of being covered.

If you would like to have an Honor Guard garment set for you or your loved one, visit Dignity Resource Council's web site. We offer Women’s and Men’s garments you can purchase right online. We also have a charitable program called “Love Covers” which helps with the purchase price on a sliding scale, as our funds allow.

Dignity is a beautiful state of being. It’s like a warm sunset that covers us with a beautiful glow of appreciation. And who wouldn’t like to be seen in a good light?

Robin Lenart is a conference speaker and Executive Director of Dignity Resource Council. For more information about personal care garments, visit www.dignityrc.org or call 844-678-4698.


 

 

     
   
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