Saturday, 5 May 2012


Today I was writing notes on practical procedures, for practical exam revision. Specifically, I was writing about male catheterisation, which is a complicated process, so I made a nice step-by-step flow-chart.

One of my flow-chart boxes said simply "expose patient, maintain dignity". That's all it needed to say for th purposes of my notes, but it struck me how unrealistic that is; if it were as easy as just writing it in a flow-chart box and it were magically done, all hospital patients would be wonderfully dignified. Even whilst being catheterised (I've been catheterised; it is an unpleasant and rather undignified procedure, and I know that even without full recollection if it - I was still woozy from the general anaesthetic).

I love the idea that one could just mentally note "maintain dignity" and that would be all it took. It's so far from the truth. In all honesty, I don't even know how to maintain someone's dignity, particularly when they're being catheterised. I find it especially difficult with old people, more so when dementia is a feature (that's another post for another time). Being professional I'm sure helps, but there's more to it than that.

And I certainly don't know how to maintain it since when going over my notes I discovered I had forgotten that vital step "cover patient with sterile drape" - sheet with small hole for penis to protrude onto sterile field is going to provide somewhat more dignity than general genital exposure. Woops. The sheet is in the catheter pack, so it's unlikely I'd forget when I'm actually trying to do it.

I also forgot to mention the essential step of "reposition foreskin" - if the foreskin is retracted for a long period of time, scarring and serious damage can result. I should be able to do this in practice; the first time I observed a male catheterisation, the doctor had forgotten to do this and I reminded them, so I should be ok (as should the patient's penis).

For now, all my brief notes can really include is the simple "maintain dignity", but at least it will serve as a reminder that in practice, this is always something to consider. It will remind me to think about the patient's dignity, even if achieving it is a task that seems mysterious, difficult, and at times, impossible.

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