An all-time classic horror (from a patient’s perspective) of hospital stays has been the dreaded ‘bed bath’. For decades, the concept of such a thing has made me smirk, smile and grimly laugh. No longer. I’ve been there. In a scene not dissimilar to a 1960s British farce comedy, I was asked if I wanted to have, then advised/told in no uncertain terms by a pair of experienced nurses that I was having a ‘sponge bath’. Drugged (and thankfully de-catheterized) as I was, it seemed but a few seconds before my blanket was lifted, my hospital gown pulled out of the way, and a surprisingly soggy sponge was enthusiastically applied to my quivering white flesh with a disturbing “SCHLAP!” sound. Thankfully, it was at least warm.
It’s been forty-something years since another hand washed me, and to put it mildly, the sensation no longer appeals. It appeals even less (as I found out) when the washing continues despite my silent wishes for it to stop, and reaches a crescendo as the unfamiliar, gloved hands explore regions exclusively reserved for mine and my wife’s knowledge only. It would be overstating matters to say that I felt violated, but I think I now know what it is like to be beaten up with a sponge. It may not hurt, but it makes me squirm.
Worse humiliations awaited me in a subsequent stay in the same hospital, however. Less than eight hours after leaving the operating room and feeling really rather sorry for myself as the sun peeped over the horizon to illuminate my room in ICU, my nurse approached me with a ‘request’. “Since this is your second stay here in a short period, we need to take a swab from your mouth to test for MRSA. Is that OK?” I nodded feebly “Yes, no problem.” I meant it too – simple common sense. After the swabbing and the careful preservation of the sample, the nurse spoke again. “Now I just need you to roll onto your side.” he said quietly. While I was still wondering why, he continued: “I have to swab your bottom.” Indignation rose within me like a Las Vegas fountain, but in my weakened state (he had chosen his moment carefully, the swine), all I could manage in response was an incredulous “Really?” “Oh yes.” He said firmly “It is part of the protocol.”
It probably offers up a wealth of information for any bored psychologist, but my overriding worry was this: “Is my bum clean enough to be swabbed without causing any nose-wrinkling?”. I had been unconscious for the best part of seven hours, and I had no idea what my backside had been up to in my absence. My fear was very real. The nurse, however, was not in the mood to allow me any time to consider my options. “We must do this at once. I am off duty in ten minutes.” Oh don’t mind me! I thought indignantly as I rolled clumsily onto my right side. Just stick your swab up my bum and go home, why don’t you? He must have read my mind.
Twenty seconds later it was over. Twenty seconds later I was no longer a bottom-swabbing virgin.
As a result of my recent encounters with the hospital, I now carry various scars. My nose will never be the same again after having been chosen as the route for brain surgery (yes, really), one of my shoulders barely works after what I presume was some over-enthusiastic manipulation on the operating table aggravated old injuries, and my head now bears a truly impressive curving scar after the second attempt to remove tumour tissue from my grey matter.
But, the mental scars run deep too, and one of them will be the memory of having no choice but to allow a strange man to run a large cotton bud along the full length of the area between my peach-like bottom cheeks.