The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Autumn 2014 Results

The Saga of the Confiscated Knickers

Copyright © Olivia Mulligan 2014

The confiscation of ladies knickers during some surgeries requires some thought. Policy makers, surgeons and nursing staff in hospitals need to do some research on the patients’ (clients', consumers') feelings on this issue. The enforced removal of my knickers prior to surgery of the upper torso has to be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

I was feeling quite anxious about the planned surgery. As a practising nurse I wanted to be a compliant patient. However, those involved in preparing me for surgery did not make it easy. Once inside the hallowed area of the peri-operative area I quietly donned the proffered crumpled blue hospital gown with missing neck buttons and back ties. This had the potential for exposure of intimate body regions. I felt like a derelict. All aspects of my personality became defunct. I was now on the assembly line. I meekly suggested using tape to secure the top of the gown to preserve what was left of my dignity. None was forthcoming. This odious garment stripped all vestiges of my humanness away.

I am a very private person brought up in the Catholic ethos of maintaining modesty. These principles lie buried deep within the psyche of every lukewarm Catholic. I go as far as to declare it is genetic. No matter how liberal one becomes in life on the on the issues of Cannon Law and the Church’s teachings, body exposure and nudity is an anathema to us indoctrinated and damaged individuals. The naked body is deemed sacrosanct.

From the age of about five I learned to cover my body. ‘Modesty is a virtue,’ declared the Nuns. My departed and sainted Mother constantly re-affirmed this moral value. She was, throughout my young life constantly inculcating affirmations to ensure I presented myself as a good modest Catholic girl.

‘Keep your legs together’, ‘Pull your frock down’, ‘You can’t go out in public wearing that bandage of a skirt’, 'Take that lipstick of your face'.

One simply cannot unlearn the inherited societal norms of a very conservative upbringing. Then as one gets older there is the notion of body image, and dare I say it sheer vanity, and denial of the aging process as one reaches middle age. Who in their right mind wants a glimpse of a wrinkly bottom that has become victim to gravity, and then risk being declared legally blind from exposure to glaring and pulsating spider veins? Then there are the clinging fat pads which hang loosely alongside the upper torso blending in with well padded love handles that insist on bulging backwards. It’s not a good look for one who takes pride in their image. There is no dignity in the ageing process. Please allow me to indulge in the perception that I have the same conditioned svelte body of my youth. Let me lie to myself. I am not hurting anyone.

Initially, I felt a little reassured that at least my knickers were on, and were partially saving my dignity. They were brand spanking new, specially purchased for this occasion. As my Mother always advised, ‘Always wear clean knickers in case you get knocked down by a bus.’ I was taking her advice very seriously here. While the probability of me being knocked over by a bus was highly unlikely I mused that if the revealing gown rode up my body while in an induced coma my knickers would protect me from further indignity.

That was not to be. One ingratiating nurse while preparing me for surgery demonstrated very little insight or compassion for my feelings. She rattled on infinitum about her own issues and declared how tired she was. I was less than sympathetic and secretly wanted to stick pins in her. I was feeling quite venomous at this stage. Despite my logical line of reasoning that the surgeon has no plans to assess or traverse my nether regions, and that the planned surgery was on my neck, this nurse was adamant they come off. Her weak argument was that it is hospital policy. There has to be room for exceptions, I argued. I wondered at the sheer absurdity of that policy. I wanted to scream at her about such mindless slavish adherence to such a policy. I had a deep desire to remind her of all the research that was done on institutions and individuals who strictly adhered to policy. I realise it is a bit harsh here, but the desire to inform her about Adolf Eichmann, one of Hitler’s henchmen who mindlessly followed orders and policies to his detriment, was foremost on my mind. I proved to be a coward and acquiesced to her demands.

Is it a case of something might go wrong during surgery and that a pair of knickers will be my undoing? Having one’s knickers in place as far as I know does not compromise the airway. Stony faced, she ignored my logical pleas and continued to write furiously in my notes. Where is the evidence to demonstrate that removal of knickers or to subject fragile middle aged ladies to such indignity and terror of exposure is good practice? Did she not realise she was placing me in mortal danger of a stroke as my blood pressure was steadily on the rise, and I could feel an atrial fibrillation attack coming on. I felt naked, traumatised, miserable and disempowered. I missed my knickers. I pleaded with her to consider my predicament.

She looked at me over her glasses, pursed her thin lips and disappeared. She returned with a gargantuan pair of paper (see-through) knickers suitable only for small cattle or the morbidly obese. I examined them with disgust. I proceeded to move them around trying to figure out where the front was so that I could put them on. 'Oh!' she says with the nonchalance of a Nurse Rached type. ‘The front and back is all the same.’ I climbed into the reviled article. They were so big that I could fit two 90 Kilogram men into one leg, and they reached up to my bosom. Why could I not have my lovely modern boyleg knickers that cover the area they are designed to shield?

Then, to my delight I met a more compassionate nurse in the anaesthetic room who scoffed at the idea that I was not permitted to wear my knickers. She rolled her eyes to heaven about prehistoric hospital policies. ‘So much for evidence based practice,’ she stated. She was reading my mind. This lovely human being offered to go and get my knickers. It was too late. Sadly my prized possessions were locked away in a sarcophagus buried deep beneath the bowels of the locked area for patients' belongings. Nobody was going to steal my knickers, it was little consolation. My knickers had been given the same security privileges of a priceless Picasso. I went to surgery and all thoughts of being knickerless drifted into oblivion. I awoke to find my paper knickers were in shreds. I was mortified. Who messed with my knickers? I will never know.