It’s been recommended that hospital patients be issued flesh-colored gowns so that it would be easier to tell if they (the patients) turned blue or yellow later, which would be medically significant. This idea would never have occurred to me, for the same reason I would never have thought to inject my head with botulism poison just to see what happens. I’m not creative.
Most people have problems with hospital gowns. My problem is not what they expose, but that they’re sly about it. Even in my dreams, I don’t feel embarrassed until the moment I recognize that no one else in the House of Pancakes is naked. I’m fine up till then. But in the setting of the doctor’s office, when he or she peels back portions of your get-up as needed and then pats everything back in place again, it feels more like a strip-tease. I’d be less embarrassed if we dispensed with the gown altogether. Especially at the gynecologist’s office, where there doesn’t seem to be much point in modesty at all.
One time my gynecologist rolled in the door and asked me if I minded if a few students came in to observe the proceedings. She was pretty familiar with my sense of humor and thought I might be fine with that, and I was. In fact, it sort of reminded me of my twenties. But then the students filed in and pressed themselves up against the far wall in obvious discomfort. My doctor invited them to come look at this or that, and to a man, they had the same look a four-year-old gets when he’s being boosted up to the casket to give Grandma one last kiss. I didn’t start out embarrassed; I caught it from the students.
Anyway, the issue with the standard hospital gowns is that they tend to be blue or green and a change in skin color is not as noticeable as it might be if the gowns matched the patient’s (original) skin color. It’s probably true. I know that never once have I been in for a check-up and had the doctor say, “didn’t you used to be pinkish?” So maybe the gown throws them off. If the colors weren’t problematic enough, lots of them come in some sort of pattern meant to be cheerful. And I have to admit: with the right plaid, I can’t tell a Norwegian from a Pakistani.
Of course, the hospital would have to stock up on a lot of flesh tones. Even Crayola abandoned its “flesh” crayon in 1962, admitting it didn’t cover all the bases. (It didn’t even cover one base. No healthy person in history has ever been the color of a “flesh” crayon. True to theme, Crayola renamed the crayon “peach,” because no peach has ever been that color either. They might as well have named it “avocado.”) There has also been talk of using flesh-colored sheets. If the patient is well matched to both gown and linens, he should disappear entirely. He might not get proper attention, but at least we’d know he was not cyanotic or jaundiced.
There are other possibilities. Dots wouldn’t work; they’d confuse the dermatology department. And we’d probably want to stay away from a hound’s-tooth. The patient could sit abandoned for hours, with all medical personnel assuming he’s already been checked.
A jungle print is another possibility. Except if the patient were to develop monkeys flying out his ass, the doctor might not catch it.
But how about a nice vertical stripe? As a diagnostic tool, vertical stripes would be invaluable. The next time the patient came in, if the stripes were going horizontal, the doctor would know to check for heart attack, pulmonary embolism or other forms of death.