My mama taught me that if a woman finds it necessary to visit the ladies’ room, she shouldn’t allude to the true purpose of the visit, but should quietly mention that she needs to powder her nose.

However, by necessity, medical professionals have a deep and abiding interest in personal bodily functions. I knew when I checked into the hospital for surgery many years ago that I would have to put my clothing, jewelry, and cash in a bag. No one warned me that I would have to store my dignity and modesty in the same plastic bag and send it home with a family member.

For the next few days, I was poked, prodded, and peered at by a succession of white-coated strangers at all hours of the day and night. It seemed that anyone with a white coat and a name badge was permitted a peek. For all I knew, it could have been the cosmetics salesperson from a nearby department store.

It wasn’t until the morphine pump and the catheter were disconnected that the embarrassing questions began. No topic was deemed too personal. All of a sudden, here at the hospital, my bladder became the favorite topic of conversation.

“Did you urinate in the hat yet?” asked the nurse.

“In the hat?” I responded quizzically. “What hat?”

“Didn’t anyone bring you a hat yet?”

“No. I don’t know anything about a hat.”

I couldn’t imagine why she’d want me to urinate in a hat. I had a cat that would urinate in a basket of clean laundry once in a while, but I’ve never had an urge to do so, in a hat or any other item of clothing.

Later I found out that “the hat” is the nurses’ nickname for a plastic container (shaped like a wide-brimmed hat) used to measure urinary output. Perhaps she should have told me that before she left her nurse’s cap in my room. Then she had the nerve to imply that I should offer to pay to have her hat cleaned. She should have been more specific in her instructions.

Once “the hat” had been properly installed in the bathroom, the pressure to perform ramped up. I was expected to deliver on-demand. There I sat, in pain and tethered to an i.v. pole, under the watchful and expectant eye of my nurse, who was still angry about her hat.

I couldn’t take the pressure. Performance anxiety set in. Now I knew how a toddler felt while undergoing potty training.

The nurse thought perhaps the power of suggestion would help. She turned on both faucets full blast, sang the chorus of “Up the Lazy River,” and showed slides of her recent trip to Niagara Falls. Nothing worked. I felt so inadequate, not to mention the guilt. My mama taught me that it was a sin to waste water and there were gallons of it pouring down the sink’s drain.

For the rest of the morning, I was asked every 20 minutes, “Did you fill the hat yet?”

Then, at last, success! I was elated. My nurse, who had a toddler at home, was ecstatic. She squealed with delight. “That’s wonderful!” she cried out, clapping her hands with delight at my achievement. “I’m so proud of you! Good job!”

Then she gave me an M & M candy because everyone knows that’s the standard reward for a successful episode in the ordeal of potty training. Someone should’ve told me earlier that “hat performance” entitled one to M & Ms. We could have wrapped this up a lot earlier.

The hospital released me early, either because of my superior recuperative powers or because the nurses ran out of M & Ms. I took “the hat” home. After I washed it thoroughly, I glued a few silk flowers to the brim and tied it under my chin with a pink ribbon. It was the talk of the congregation at church on Easter Sunday. The Ladies’ Auxiliary is thinking of selling them for a fundraiser at the Fall Festival.


2 thoughts on “Excuse Me While I Powder My Nose

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