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Jane Bates: Preserving dignity in the face of illness

Keeping up personal grooming can help patients to maintain their dignity and avoid being overwhelmed by a medical condition, says Jane Bates

Keeping up personal grooming can help patients to maintain their dignity and avoid being overwhelmed by a medical condition, says Jane Bates


Picture: iStock

‘You must tell your patients this,’ said a friend, a retired nurse, who had been undergoing a barrage of medical tests. ‘If you have an EEG, don’t plan anything afterwards. I met some of my former workmates for a coffee and seriously regretted it.’

‘Oh no! Did you feel light-headed or faint?’ I asked her. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘They totally ruined my hair. It was full of gloopy stuff. I had to sneak out of the hospital and get home without anyone seeing me.’

It’s the old chestnut of dignity, isn’t it? Your own personal standards, your feeling of ‘self’. As a natural scruff I was surprised that mussed-up hair could prevent someone from having a good chinwag with old colleagues, but then I wouldn’t leave the house without mascara.

What really matters

It’s the eye make-up that gets to about half of my ophthalmic patients. ‘Two weeks without my eyeliner?’ they shriek, as though you have just suggested they hop naked to Brussels and glue themselves to Michel Barnier.

An aunt of mine, beautiful and well-groomed to the end and to whom sadly I bear no resemblance, understood this need to keep the standards up, even in the last days of life.

Manicures were her thing, her way of volunteering, buffing and polishing the nails of patients in her local hospice. They felt cossetted, of course, and could chat with someone who had time for them, but it was the maintenance of self-respect that seemed to count the most.

Maintaining dignity is more than having your bed curtains pulled properly, it’s preserving the person you are. Not being lost to a medical condition and keeping your unique stamp on the world. That’s what really matters.


Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

 

 

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