Heather O. continues her guest series with us.
I own a pair of light blue scrub pants. They have the words “University of Utah Medical School” stamped across the left back pocket. Or is it the right? (My husband could probably tell you.)
The story of how I acquired these pants is not exactly pretty.
I was pregnant, and one day, while driving in my car, I started bleeding profusely. I was, thankfully, within minutes of my medical clinic, which happened to be at the University of Utah. I took my bloodsoaked self in there, explained to a shockingly slow nurse that I was bleeding and needed immediate assistance. She told me to take a seat and wait. It was only after I asked her if she had a towel I could sit on so I wouldn’t ruin the chairs in the waiting room (WHY do we think about things like that at times like those?) that she bothered to peek over her counter and see that my blood was staining her rug.
In the ensuing aftermath, when it was noticed that my pants were thoroughly covered in blood, I was offered a clean pair of scrubs to go home in. I washed them, and in the ensuing grief over my miscarriage, never bothered to give them back. Sue me.
But this isn’t a post about miscarriage. It’s a post about scrubs. Well, you know, sort of. Stay with me, here.
I am (or was) a Speech Language Pathologist, and have spent my career (such as it is) working with adult patients in acute or subacute settings. A large part of my caseload involves evaluating patient’s swallowing skills. As such, I often use a stethoscope while I do a bedside swallow evaluation. I place the stethoscope next to the patient’s Adam’s apple, and listen to the swallow. You’d be amazed what kind of information I can get, just by listening. (And I promise the stethoscope part is important to my overall point, so again, stay with me here.)
I worked for about a year at a hospital where the entire staff was required to wear scrubs. White jackets were optional, but I’ve found that wearing a white jacket that has lots of pockets comes in pretty handy when you have to wear scrubs that have no pockets at all (except for the back pocket that may or may not have stuff stamped across it). At the time of my employment, I had 2 white jackets, long ones that came almost to my knees, but no real proper scrubs. So, my first day of work, I showed up wearing my white coat, my stethoscope, a longsleeve white sweater, and my pale blue University of Utah scrubs.
I learned two lessons that day:
1)When you wear pale blue scrubs and a long white coat and have a stethoscope slung over your neck and a little medical ID badge clipped to your lapel, people think you’re a doctor.
2) People treat doctors WAY differently than they treat Speech Language Pathologists.
One of my first swallow evaluation orders was for a patient who was still in the ICU, and, being a newbie, I didn’t know the code to get into the locked ICU floor. I walked over to the receptionist to have her give me the code. She was on the phone. I waited patiently for her to finish. She took one look at me, however, and said to whomever, “I’ve gotta go. I have a young doctor here who looks like she needs some help.” She hung up immediately, and gave me a deferential smile and said, “How can I help you?”
I got the same smile as I walked through the ICU. Nurses would look up, glance at me, and give me a big grin. Everybody took notice of me, like they were trying to size me up. People were helpful, friendly, and, again, that deference.
Sheesh, no wonder doctors get god complexes. It was enough to make me want to wear blue scrubs every day.
The icing on the cake came when I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work. I had taken off my white coat, and ditched the stethoscope, but there wasn’t much I could do about my scrubs. As I was standing, staring at the cereal, another scrub-clad fellow walked past me. He was dressed in pale green, and had a beeper strapped to the elastic band of his pant. He took in my appearance, looked me up and down, and gave me a knowing smile. Like we were part of the same club. He picked out his cereal, gave me a little salute, and said, “See ya around.” Like there was a possibility that he and I would bump into each other at rounds, or some medical conference. Or in the doctor’s only lounge, drinking coffee and discussing our latest bowel resection.
The next week, I bought myself a pair of proper navy blue scrubs, and some red ones. I thought they were at least as fetching as my pale blue ones, especially as my husband tells me I look good in red.
Yeah, well, I learned something else. Doctors don’t wear red scrubs. And receptionists who know the new code for the ICU will make SLPs wait until they finish their phone calls.
All in all, my day was actually a quite interesting little social experiment. People do actually treat you differently according to what you wear. I’ve been sporting the same T-shirt and jeans look for so long, I suppose it hasn’t occurred to me that wearing something different would get me a different reaction. Has anything similar happened to any of you? Because it was a new experience for me.
(Although I will say that there was this one time in college where I was dressed up for a formal, and some guy who lived on my floor walked past me and stopped to hit on me, clearly not recognizing me. When I clued him in to who I was, he got this crazy look of horror on his face, but that’s a story for another time.)
And, may I suggest, if you are having a down day, to get yourself a pair of pale blue scrubs and go to the grocery store. You’d be amazed at how fast it can boost your self-esteem.