Christmas spent in the bowels of the hospital

Jan 05, 2023
This blogger's stay in the hospital led to questions of what happens to the information of your bowel movements that the medical staff are regularly curious about. Source: Getty

Nothing better defines Christmas in the hospital than having a nurse cheerfully ask: “Have you opened your bowels today?”

Apparently, there’s a medical reason for this intimate interrogation but the routine will be familiar to all over 60s who faced the festive season from a hospital bed.

You quickly learn about these things called “Obs” which basically means your blood pressure, temperature, and other bodily functions data is recorded throughout the day and night, to be stored in a database of my medical insurer where Russian hackers can access it. I’m comforted that Moscow knows my bowels opened today.

Any hospital stay is difficult, but the Christmas/New Year period is doubly so. The hospital ward is beautifully decorated with festive lights and images of jolly Santas, but it’s hard to get into the mood when some doctor has his hands poking in places where you did not invite such intimate attention.

The old saying that you leave your modesty at the door when you are admitted to the hospital comes to mind as a nurse nonchalantly removes your underwear to dress you in a shapeless blue gown that makes you resemble a large blue blob.

Then it’s off to radiology where machines that go ping analyze your hips, spine, and brain, and it’s only then that you realise strangers are taking highly detailed imagery of you, and you are not wearing any underpants.

Wild thoughts cross your mind, If these scans and images are hacked, will photos of my bum appear on some Russian hacker’s Only Fans page? Is there a page for naked grandads, and if not is there a retirement income stream here?

Hospitals run on routines and strict protocols. One day they may even choose to explain them to the patients. I’m sure there’s a reason why blood pressure and temperature must be recorded at 2am and again at 5am.

I asked a nurse this question. “Obs” she replied, shoving a device that goes ping in my ear. Patients learn that “Obs” means observations.

These are recorded in ring binder files with a special column reserved for whether your bowels have opened today. What happens to this information is never explained.

I suspect somewhere there’s a warehouse filled with old hospital records chronicling the bowel movements of Australians. There’s probably a government department or a University research unit involved too.

The same folk is probably responsible for choosing hospital menus, the challenge is to design nutritious meals to a budget equivalent to the cost of one can of cat food per patient.

Privacy is impossible, especially if you are stuck in bed trying to navigate a urine bottle onto a part of the body that does not want to cooperate. Meanwhile, the bladder declares it’s not waiting any longer, and just as you achieve a connection the door bursts open and a horde of nurses enter the room. Certain body functions do not merit an audience but no such rules apply in hospitals.

A nurse cheerfully reassured me they see more men’s private parts than ladies who charge a fee for the same experience. It’s all about perspective I guess.

Our nurses are underappreciated heroes of our health system and deserve higher salaries and wider appreciation for what they do, they restore confidence in the patients and save lives every day.

I think nurses whose daily chores include looking at or, worse, having to tend to old men’s private parts should be paid a special bonus – I wonder if this is where the term “penal rates” originated?

Whatever 2023 has in store for us, I’m reassured to know there’ll be a nurse keen to know if I opened my bowels today.

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