Posted by: Kate | April 16, 2010

Take off Your Pants

So, I’m lying in a hospital bed, in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.  It’s early morning, and over the course of the night one thing and another occurred, culminating in my need for assistance in… well, let’s just say there was a call for Clean-up on Aisle Twelve, shall we?  There’s no reason for further detail.

I’ve been out of the coma for several days by this point, and I’m feeling, if not well, at least approaching human.  Enough so that, while I cannot lie on either side without whimpering, I can cling to the bedrail and thus balance on my left side: the one without the hole all the way through my abdomen, because apparently people can live with a window, if not to the soul, then at least to the liver.

Thus, it’s 6:00ish in the morning, I’m panting and whimpering and generally abandoning all composure in the face of combined pain and indignity.  I like this nurse, Karen, a lot, but I don’t care who is on the other end of those Cleansing Wipes; when it’s not me, it means a lack of aplomb, and her soothing murmurs just add to the cacophony of misery in the room.  The various monitors measuring vital signs, with the backup monitors measuring the activity of the first monitors, keep a beat.

I’m wearing a hospital johnny, and frankly it doesn’t matter what color or style it was.  It was already open in the back, and with Karen’s assistance it has essentially been converted into the widest necktie ever.  I happen to be wearing a bra and socks, so I suppose that makes me significantly more concealed than I might otherwise have been.  What a relief.

In walks Dr. Steve.  He’s one of a trio of residents, who typically travel en masse; in fact, before this moment, I don’t think I’d ever seen him without his counterparts.  He walks up to my general head area and starts talking about a medical procedure I’m to have later that day.  He seems not to have noticed Karen’s activity or my déshabillé, and simply launches into an explanation of ultrasounds and veins and —

“No, no,” I cut in, abruptly.  “Stop talking.”

As I may have been the first patient to have ever said such a thing, he does, looking at me like I’m an exhibit in a museum.  What a curious thing, this vaguely personlike patient, having something to say.  He waits.

“You might not have noticed,” I explain, “but I’m kind of in the middle of something here.  I need you to give me a minute.”

He thinks, shakes his head ponderously, and starts talking a little louder and a little slower than usual, as people often do to the very old or the developmentally disabled.  “I’m sorry, I can’t.  I have to see other patients, too, and then I have rounds at 6:30.”

“OK, then,” I nod.  He’s a busy man, we have to respect his busyness.  “Then take off your pants.”

He blinks.

I nod.  “No, really.  If you have to talk to me now, right this second, when I am in this much pain and this much overexposure, then you need to at least make it fair.  Take off your pants, and I’ll listen to you.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait.”

He blinks again.

I raise my eyebrows.  “Seriously.  I’m already having a really bad day and it’s not quite 6:00.  Work with me here.”

He shakes a little, as if trying to wake himself up while waiting for his first cup of coffee.  “You know what?  You’re right.  I’ll go talk to the gentleman next door, and I’ll come back.”

I smile at him.  “Thanks.  That would be fine.”

He starts to leave, then stops, but doesn’t turn around.  Over his shoulder, he says, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to invade your privacy again, so I won’t look.  But can I bring you something when I come back?  Juice?  Something?”

I smile wider.  “Sure, an orange juice would be great.  Thanks.”

And my day slides, almost audibly, from inexpressibly hellacious to marginally acceptable.


  1. Love it!

    Love you!

  2. You rock my world, Kate.

  3. You take an occasional awesome bath yourself. Love you!!

  4. way to go, kate! that was awesome!

  5. I do adore you Kate.

  6. I. Love. This.

  7. You probably just gave him the first wake up call of his residency! Fantabulous!!

  8. Can I share this with my classmates? I think it would be an AWESOME eye-opener!

  9. I love this! Too Freaking Funny. Way to be.

  10. Oh, that is bloody wonderful, Kate!! I can always tell when I’m getting over an illness or something else by how sharp my brain is and what it churns out, kinda like bringing a system back on-line. And it sounds like your brain was definitely re-firing its connexions!!

    Wow. I would SO love to copy and paste this on every board I come across, but I won’t…it’s still personal…but man, this is funny!!

  11. Awesome!

    I’m sure they become “immune” to overexposure and sometimes need the reminder that just because THEY are OK with it, sometimes their patients are NOT.

  12. One more reason to love you. And I think Ashlie ^ hit it right on the head!

  13. Good for you Kate!

  14. You go, girl! I’m proud of you. And this needs to be published – somewhere – where doctors & other medical professionals can see it!

    Love the heck outta you!

  15. Sounds like you taught Dr. Steve an important lesson. Good for you!

  16. Thank you. This is amazing. You are amazing. I am sending this to my sister who starts her residency this summer.

  17. Thank you for doing that! You rock!

  18. Absolutely brilliant, Kate. I hope that doc remembers your lesson!

  19. you go girl! it’s amazing how often medical professionals become blind to the obvious and truly forget that you (we) are not just a case, but a person!

  20. You go, girl! One more win for The Patient As A Person!

  21. Great story!

  22. You’re my hero.

  23. Kick ass Kate!

  24. Kate, you are absolutely, positively priceless.

  25. That’s brilliant. Utterly, completely brilliant. I’m in awe.

  26. I so less than 3 you

  27. *stands and cheers*

  28. I’m doing a one-person wave over here to celebrate your awesomeness.

  29. Baaaahahahahahaha! It’s only fair…

  30. That story is awesome! You Rock!

  31. That was hilariously beautiful, despite the indignity you were in at the moment.

  32. That’s the Kate I know & love!!

  33. You found a teachable moment for a resident….Bravo!! He’s going to remember this encounter forever.

    My uncle, an old time doc, used to say that EVERY doctor needed to spend time as a patient in a hospital. It would shift their perspective immediately.

  34. Thanks for the Laugh. Although I am sure it wasn’t too funny for you. I have such a good picture of it happening All I can do is laugh. What a good job of putting him in his place. Too bad he didnt’ just drop his pants that might of made your day.

  35. Oh and sorry to hear you are back in the hospital. Hopefully you won’t have to stay long.

  36. ok the jokes on me. I just realized this is a flashback post. Sorry I didn’t catch that.

  37. I came across this post in a round about sort of way and have been rereading it for some time now.

    I’m an ICU nurse.

    I’ve been passing this around on my blackberry to most of the RN’s I work with and even a few residents.

    This is an exceptionally well written lesson for all of us in healthcare.

    In some medical and nursing schools, students are shown a movie called “Wit”, which your post brought to mind. It ilustrates something similar to your experience on a larger, and unfortunaltely sadder scale.

    I felt you did a better, more succcinct job. I will continue passing this around for as long as you keep it posted.

    Thanks again for the lesson.

    Jorge, RN

  38. I’m with Jorge!! If it’s all right with you, I’d like to pass it around as well.

    Lyanna, Surgical nurse

    • Please, feel free! To my knowledge, that particular doctor never actually dropped his trousers in the hospital (at least, not in a patient’s room!) but with a little luck it might have made him slow down and think once in a while…


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