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Mammograms, Childbirth, Check-ups… Where’s The Care For Dignity Of Patients In A Vulnerable Position?

Things were good until I was pregnant with my first child. When the check-up started, I was horrified to note that there was no place for the word dignity when you enter a hospital.

Our elders were always very alert about how we managed our dresses in our childhood. Every time our frocks/skirts or blouses would expose a bit of a body part that it was supposed to hide, someone would yell, “Being a girl, learn to manage your dresses properly”. It would be followed by the instructions to pull that skirt down, button up the blouse up to the neck, etc.

I was a bit of a rough girl who did not carry myself with the grace mixed shyness that was common in those days. I usually would get those instructions to sit properly, stand properly, pull the skirt down, and a lot of scolding was thrown at me as well.

In time, those words got into me, and I started being very conscious of my clothes. Protecting my ‘modesty’ (was that it?) became my utmost concern.

Pregnancy and childbirth first introduced me to loss of dignity

Things were good until I was pregnant with my first child. When the check-up started, I was horrified to note that there was no place for the word dignity when you enter a hospital.

Not that I blame the hospital staff for carrying out their duties, which they have to do. But, it was the insensitivity of the nursing staff and sometimes the doctors who would not understand how a young woman felt undressing in front of people, especially if that young woman had been indoctrinated to act that way.

One of the most horrific experiences I had during my childbirth was a strange-man peeking into the labor room. I was put in the bed with legs straddled, fully exposed. The nurse went out to talk to the doctor, and then I could see someone peeking in. Imagine my horror. I screamed, “get out” and then he went. My mom came running in and asked me what had happened, I told her someone was peeking in. I was very upset, but no one could understand how I felt. All they tried to do was ask me to calm down and concentrate on birthing the baby.

To think I am writing about this after 30 years, I am very sure it has left a scar on my dignity.

Then came cancer

The experience was again very traumatizing.

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Every employee deserves a happy workplace and some good times. Unfortunately for many of the cancer fighters, those tiny jokes and giggles can become a bit personal. I have been through some annoying experiences, especially when a male and a female are handling the patient where they tell some jokes and laugh. It may not have anything to do with the patient, but that doesn’t stop patients from feeling they are joking about them.

Laying there with the breasts exposed for doctors and nurses to check them for lumps is not easy. Then comes the part where I have to use the gowns for scanning. As a girl, if I were in front of my elders in that gown, I would have been rained with instructions to manage it properly. Unfortunately, no one was sensitive to these issues when I had to compromise on my dignity.

I never shared these experiences with anyone after some time, since it was hurtful to know no one could empathize with them. Other cancer survivors have shared similar experiences, especially during mammogram tests. So I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Things have improved on the follow-up checkups for cancer now, or maybe I am going to better professionals for my test.

Sensitivity seems to be lacking in hospitals

A few years ago, I had to undergo minor surgery. I was changed into a surgical gown in my ward and wheeled into the operation theatre in a wheelchair. I was protesting because the hall had a huge crowd of people waiting to consult different doctors. The gown had a black slit that exposed my whole back up to the butt. I protested saying I was feeling uncomfortable going through the crowd in such a condition, but they did not care.

Recently I had to go for a scan for the problem I faced with kidney stones in the urethra, which caused a lot of pain. When I had to go for a CT scan, for which I did not go prepared, I was given a gown that did not sit on me very well. I had to walk through the visitors area to the CT scan room in a gown which made me very uncomfortable and exposed.

I don’t even have to point out that in such a situation, even the men who are there for treatment of self or loved ones, do not stop from giving the looks and stares that makes us uncomfortable.

There are some good health care professionals too

Not all of my experiences have been bad. There have been angels in the form of nurses and doctors who have understood my concern and made me feel absolutely comfortable with little changes in the way they took it ahead.

During my initial checkup for breast cancer, one of the oncologists noticed how I was squirming to sit with an exposed breast and he asked the nurse to put a bedsheet on me and did the checking through the cloth. My onco-surgeon was very understanding and helpful throughout my treatment.

I have a lot to talk about the improvements we can see among some of the medical professionals and institutions, but this is something I am talking about because it is considered very trivial and pushed aside by everyone. Let us be sensitive to people who have become patients due to some illness, because they do not change the way they feel about their bodies. Let us allow them to go through the medical procedures with some dignity.

Image source: shutterstock

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About the Author

Farida Rizwan

I am Farida Rizwan, 55, Counselor and Psychotherapist working as Senior Curriculum Developer with Chimple Learning. I am ardent blogger @www.chaptersfrommylife.com and share my life experiences of surviving breast cancer 3rd stage for read more...

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