When people come in to have surgery, they are not at their best. They are stripped down, vulnerable, hungry, usually a bit worried, often sleep deprived. In unflattering gowns designed for easy access for medical intervention. And we strive to both safeguard their health and safety, and then their dignity and humanity. A necessary prioritization, but nonetheless distressing.
A young student visited, at the invitation of a surgeon, to observe. Not uncommon. I helped her find her way around, get scrubs, and she disappeared into a bathroom stall to change. I had to stop myself saying something, but I left her to her privacy. We nurses all just strip at our lockers, to do otherwise would be untenable, and silly.
I remember when I first had to change into a swimsuit at the public pool, how heartstoppingly naked I felt, no matter how quickly I managed to re-dress. How appalled at the bodies of women and other girls around me, so different, so raw. My own skin so exposed. But I loved to swim so much, I came to accept, to ignore. Good training, between the army and the OR, I've had to undress and dress in public almost more often than not.
And I remember when I was small, and my dear Aunt Alma marveled at my excessive modesty when changing. She set the seed, that maybe my mother's horror about nudity may, possibly, be a bit overdone.
I am, I think naturally modest. I haven't any exhibitionist tendencies. But neither does it bother me to disrobe when it's appropriate. At the Field House at the university, in the women's locker room, was a shower room, sauna and hot tub. I would go in between two early morning classes during an hour gap, to warm up and have time to relax. No one ever bothered to wear more than a towel, and it was very comfortable.
Save once, when a group of, I'm guessing related, women trooped through, all wearing bathing suits and talking the whole time. Another woman and I who had been politely, and quietly, sharing the space, caught each other's eye, bewildered. The group did quiet down a bit, but their state of dress felt intrusive, as though blaming the two of us conforming to the usual norm of being immodest. Both of us left fairly quickly, uncomfortable.
Once in a while I read a whine about how nurses used to look so professional in those crisp white dresses and caps. And I am always exasperated. I work for my living, I get all kinds of ... stains on my work clothes. I'm on the floor, crawling around, I've ripped them on equipment.
The very thought of doing this in a dress is beyond my comprehension. To be in my own, white, clothing would be insane. However clean looking, they would not be. Scrubs are cleanable, nearly disposable. Maybe the romantics want to think of us delicately wiping a brow with a cool cloth, rather than debriding a crusted wound, cleaning up fecal matter, suctioning out mucous. I put on laundered, often wrinkled, thin cotton blend scrubs of venerable vintage, every morning of work. I take them off after every shift, and they get disinfected and recycled. Every day.
I wear an ill-fitting, functional uniform, rather like my patients. We're all in this together.