Mention 'patient clothing' and the images that spring to mind are unisex, one-size-fits-all gowns with a reputation for revealing body parts we'd rather not have on display. Undignified. Uncomfortable. Unattractive. And, we assume, unavoidable.
But not anymore. There is a revolution underway on the wards and in outpatient clinics with hospitals upgrading their gowns to ensure full coverage - at last! - and increasingly empowered patients devising creative solutions to dress 'well' even when unwell.
At INGA Wellbeing, a social enterprise inspired by personal experiences of ill health, we have combined the skills of our talented designer and co-founder with the expert advice of nurses to create attractive and comfortable clothing for people receiving medical treatment. A true fusion of fashion and functionality.
Having watched our mothers Inga and Diana go through the de-humanising process of being treated for cancer, and having been hospitalised several times myself to calm colitis flares, my co-founders and I were convinced that what patients wear - either the hospital gown or awkward home clothes - contributes to a lack of confidence and a debilitating sense of vulnerability and dependence.
Being reliant upon others to dress and undress; sitting naked and cold as strangers perform routine examinations; and talking to your consultant while still in a nightie, are just some of the ways inappropriate clothing reinforce patients' feeling of helplessness; of a life on hold. Indeed, when we don't feel good about ourselves and are no longer in control of even basic decisions like when to get dressed or have a shower, we tend to reduce our activity, turn away visitors and become institutionalised. Passive rather than active. Disempowered rather than empowered.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
When our life changes in more positive ways, such as getting pregnant; getting a new job or taking up a new sport; we accept, and even readily embrace, the need for clothing that is appropriate to this new reality. We even show support by helping to 'kit' each other out with thoughtful additions to our new wardrobe. And now, we can apply the same approach to periods of ill health.
Solutions already exist that can help make medical treatment more bearable. More comfortable. More dignified. For example, INGA Wellbeing's men and women's range have discreet poppered openings providing easy access to the arms, stomach, groin and legs, and making it possible to get changed even when hooked up to medical devices. So, why suffer through what is already a difficult period? Instead, we can choose to give ourselves, or our loved ones, something truly useful and transformative at a time when we are largely at the mercy of 'the system'. After all, there are no extra points for having toughed it out!
In fact, research shows that post-surgery patients who stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues; get back on their feet quickly; stay in control of some aspects of their daily lives and feel confident, are likely to heal faster and to avoid having to be readmitted. Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to nurses who have long recognised the positive psychological impact being dressed 'normally' has on patients. It's just that, until recently, it really wasn't possible to find 'normal' looking clothes that worked with drains, IV lines, feeding tubes and monitors.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that hospital corridors should become fashion runways. Patients have more than enough to cope with without feeling that they are expected to be on the cutting edge of style while coping with ill health. But if clothes, such as INGA Wellbeing's dresses, tops and trousers, can enable patients to keep their dignity and feel 'normal' at a time when all their usual points of reference have shifted, then that is definitely a new trend worth embracing!
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