10 reasons to get out of your hospital gown ASAP! (and tips on how!)

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Ulcerative colitis sufferer, survivor of a pulmonary embolism and mother of four, Nikla has been hospitalised for good and bad reasons. She has also supported her mother and close girlfriend through their cancer treatments. Now this co-founder of patient clothing solutions company INGA Wellbeing wants to use her experiences together with the advice of medical experts, to help others to get through periods of ill health as ‘more than a patient; a person’.

The hospital gown plays a necessary and practical role in your medical treatment. Sometimes you just have to wear it. No arguments.

But it does nothing for your wellbeing. These days, medical professionals encourage patients to ditch the gown as soon as possible and wear their own clothes, believing that this is in their best interests.

Here’s why you should make an effort to get dressed and place the emphasis on your wellBEing!

  1. Be dignified – The hospital gown has a bad reputation when it comes to keeping all parts of you covered at all times! Efforts are being made by some hospitals to re-design and improve their standard issue gown, but the only real way to avoid over exposure and to dress according to your sex, religion and sensibilities is to choose what you want to wear.
  2. Be comfortable – Feel better instantly by swapping the scratchy, stiff gown for clothing in soft fabrics that are cool to the touch or warm and cosy, as needed. Gowns are often made from a mix of fibres, so opting for clothing made entirely of natural fibres will help your body better regulate its temperature and therefore reduce body odour. That has to be a good thing!
  3. Be individual – Distinguish yourself from other patients by ditching the institutional print and the shapeless android shape of the gown and dress instead in colours and cuts that make you distinctive. You may be currently part of the vast health machine, but there is no need for you to be ground down by it.
  4. Be recognised – An unexpected side-effect of ill-health can be the way in which your relationship with your family and friends suddenly shifts. Wearing the hospital gown tends to underscore your fragility. By wearing ‘normal’ clothes, you are more likely to get their empathy, rather than their pity.
  5. Be seen – Hospitals are huge institutions staffed by busy nurses, doctors and orderlies. You are just one patient, in a ward full of patients, on a floor full of patients, in a wing full of patients. It is human nature to remember and go the extra mile for those we know and remember, so make yourself more identifiable and memorable by being dressed in your own unique style.
  6. Be confident – Research shows that what you wear affects your self-esteem. Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire details in her book “Mind What You Wear” that clothing affects a person’s mental processes and perceptions.  Testimonies from patients and medical staff attest that the hospital gown makes people feel more vulnerable and less in control of their own lives. Like putting on war paint, body armour or red lipstick, getting dressed in ‘normal’ clothes can give patients the confidence needed to ask more questions, be more demanding and stay in charge of their own treatment plans.
  7. Be heard – Being dressed in your own clothes can help to ensure that you feel equal to the ‘great doctor’ and his team of underlings when they crowd around your bed on their ward tour, and thus help ensure your wishes are truly heard by these busy and knowledgeable people. They stand fully dressed in front of you, white coats, stethoscopes and charts to the ready, so why should you be half-naked in a tea towel/hospital gown?
  8. Be well – Doctors and nurses increasingly believe in the importance of getting patients up and about, walking the corridors, having visitors and taking care of themselves as soon as possible as a way to speed up the healing process. Getting dressed in clothes that help you look and feel like you is an important part of that.
  9. Be optimistic – It is far easier to imagine a future if you are dressed for one. A positive mental attitude plays an important role in health, and let’s face it wearing a hospital gown is hardly dressing for success!  Putting on the clothes that you hope to go home in is a clear signal to yourself and others that you are planning your escape!
  10. Be YOU – Loss of identity is a debilitating part of ill health. Fight back! Recognise the person in the mirror! By getting out of the hospital gown and putting on clothes you have selected yourself, the focus shifts from your treatment to …well, you.

So, case made? You are ready to turn your back on the hospital gown? Yes! But how? Hooked up to medical devices, it’s not easy to dress ‘normally’. Not easy, but not impossible! Here are some tips.

First of all, planning is key.

  • Look at your clothes and select garments with the realities of medical treatment in mind. Look for those that have wide sleeves and legs, open up entirely at the front, have a comfortable and adjustable waistband, are soft, made of natural fibres, don’t show up stains too much and are easy to wash. Underwired bras, skinny jeans and tight tops are not going to be your friends for the next few weeks, neither are fussy fabrics that need careful washing or dry cleaning! That said, you don’t need to limit yourself to just wearing bedclothes during your hospital stay as distinguishing between day and nightwear helps to give structure to a 24 hour period. But, if you can’t quite face all the changing, loungewear trousers and tops are effective at blurring that day/night distinction.
  • Consider going online and looking for specific patient clothing solutions. There are quite a few companies offering garments with discreet openings to allow access to the body without the need to completely undress or to accommodate IV lines and drains. This is the part where I reveal my own partiality and suggest you check out the, even-if-I-do-say-so-myself gorgeous clothes by INGA Wellbeing. You will be amazed by how normal you can look even when hooked up to medical devices and, thanks to the input of many nurses and patients, we are confident that these clothes will ensure you are comfortable, and can keep your independence and dignity.
  • Ask someone – a family member or friend – to be your master/mistress of the wardrobe, responsible for collecting, washing and returning your own clothes to you in hospital. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help with such a personal matter. Your loved one will almost certainly be relieved to have something practical they can do!  [NOTE: Some hospitals even offer their patients a personal clothing laundry service.]

Then once in hospital:

  • tell your caregivers that you would like to get ‘dressed’ every day if at all possible and would appreciate their help in making that possible. Knowing that wearing your own clothes is particularly important to you, the nurses can build this into their schedule from the get-go.
  • Accept that you may need to help dressing/undressing and be prepared to wait for a nurse to have time to help you.
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