‘The only victories which leave no regret are those which are gained over ignorance.’
– Napoléon Bonaparte
This post is a thank you and a cry of amazement and a bit of a boast, but I’ve received a piece of news this weekend that has made me so happy that I had to share it with someone and you all seemed like the perfect people to celebrate with me!
My patient has been allowed to masturbate on the ward!
Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that the wanking habits of a stranger who happens to be a patient could make me so happy, but this really feels like a victory; for him and for me. Let me explain…
As sex positive as I try to be in my everyday life, I have been a lot slower at bringing this attitude through into my work life. There’s just more ground to make up in medicine. As I’ve written about before, outside of sexual health, doctors are really quite terrible at asking about or thinking about sex and sexuality for their patients. It’s particularly bad within hospital medicine as there’s a tendency to think that if our patients are well enough to be thinking about sex, they’re well enough to be managed at home so we doctors just don’t think about it. I also don’t think it would be unfair to say that the profession has a somewhat puerile sense of humour, which doesn’t exactly help.
So this is the environment in which my patient finds himself. I won’t go into the details but he’s been in hospital for over a year and has spent a lot of that time on the intensive care unit (ICU) while he waits for a community placement that can take care of his complex needs. He’s essentially well and he’s just waiting. But while he’s waiting, he’s still receiving the same level of care as the other patients, which means that he has not had a single moment alone for months…maybe even a year.
And he’s been masturbating. Not often and only at night, but he’s been caught touching himself often enough that it has become A Problem. It has become something that we have discussed in a bizarre mix of coy euphemisms and crude slang in handover and there have been numerous emails discussing what should be done about this Problem.
Before judging my unit as completely repressed, I do sympathise with the nurses who have brought this to more senior attention. This isn’t a normal situation – patients usually go home when they’re this well so this isn’t a routine consideration. Equally while he’s on ICU, he’s not allowed to be left alone. He’s in a side room so needs one-to-one nursing care. The nurses can’t just walk out and leave him to it; they have to stay in the room in case one of the machines disconnects or there are changes in any of the other factors that are keeping him in hospital. So do they just sit there and pretend he’s not wanking? And when does wanking in a private room that unfortunately happens to also contain a nurse cross a line and become a sexual display directed at someone who does not want to see it? It’s incredibly awkward, hence – A Problem.
So he was told to stop, repeatedly and by increasingly senior members of staff. But it never quite stuck. A few days or even a week would go by without an incident but then there would be another footnote to the handover about his care – ‘oh, and he was disturbing the nurses again’ or ‘he was acting inappropriately again.’
I’m afraid I couldn’t keep quiet about it. Historically, I’m not very good at speaking up on controversial subjects but it began to really bother me that everyone was acting as if this man was some sort of deviant. He just wants a wank! He’s not been alone for a year so he’s improvising, give him a break! I kept repeating that I felt a bit sorry for him, and that a year is a really long time, and it wasn’t that unusual, and that even prisoners get conjugal visits. I frequently asked why the nurses couldn’t just step outside for 20 minutes or so when necessary and why exactly this had become such a big deal. I essentially found myself acting as this man’s masturbation ambassador!
And it’s worked!! I heard this weekend that another email has been circulated updating everyone on the special circumstances surrounding this patient’s extended inpatient stay and how this means that consideration must be made for all of his holistic needs, including sexual needs. He can be left alone in his room every now and then…if needed *punches the air in triumph!*
Now, I don’t know if I can take credit for any of this progression but I feel hugely proud of myself for speaking up and trying to stop it all becoming a bit of a dirty joke. Dr Livvy isn’t supposed to be the open and sexual part of me, that’s what The Other Livvy is for, but it seems that sometimes it’s worth blurring the boundaries a little. And even if the change in policy has nothing to do with me, I know that the attitudes of my colleagues changed and that’s enough for me! Wrinkled up noses and discussions on the Masturbation Problem carried out with a tone that would better suit Lady Bracknell talking about babies found in handbags became more sympathetic shrugs and agreement that in fact a year really was a long time when you think about it like that… It might be a small change but I’m claiming it as a victory!
So thank you to everyone in this online world for giving The Other Livvy part of me enough confidence that I had the courage to be a masturbation ambassador in my real world. It’s a title I kind of like and I think I’m going keep it!