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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: In reply to the letter from "Offended in the South," regarding hospital gowns, I understand a person's need for modesty. However, I am a health-care provider, and I see the other side of the picture. As a paramedic, we are constantly disrobing patients (including cutting clothing off) to gain access to areas that need examination and treatment. Hospital gowns give us access to IV lines, EKG monitoring, and defibrillation and other medical equipment.

I am always conscious of my patients' need for privacy and re-cover them after I have examined them. Hospitals do provide robes for patients that will cover their backsides. I encourage all hospital patients to request a robe besides the hospital gown they receive upon admission. -- KHRYSTEN, PORT EDWARDS, WIS.

DEAR KHRYSTEN: I'm sure many readers will be interested to know that such garments are available upon request. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Some years back, I was in a hospital that offered a unique hospital gown. It was extremely large and had three sleeves. The patient put the left sleeve over the left arm, the right sleeve over the right arm, and then the gown was passed around the back, and the third sleeve placed over the left arm again. I remember my entire body was covered and I was very comfortable. I wish I could recall the name of that hospital. -- H.E. IN FLORIDA

DEAR H.E.: It's nice to know that such a garment exists, but how practical can it be for examinations or other emergency procedures?

DEAR ABBY: Five years ago, I had the same complaint as "Offended." I am 6 feet tall and weigh 225 pounds. For years I complained to the doctors about the fact that the gowns were so short. Finally, I went to the fabric store and bought two yards of fabric and a pattern for a wrap-around sundress. The total cost was $12.95. I made it long -- about 8 inches below my knee -- and carried it with me in a tote bag. -- MARCE IN HOUSTON

DEAR MARCE: That's a practical solution for a person who's handy with a needle -- the sewing kind, that is.

DEAR ABBY: Here's what I did the last time I went for my annual checkup. I took along a clean cotton housecoat (duster) and, instead of waiting around in the chilly exam room in a mini-paper outfit, I was warm and cozy in my own garment. My doctor thought it was a great idea. -- COZY IN SCOTTSDALE

DEAR COZY: I think it's a great idea, too.

DEAR ABBY: This may come as a shock, but patients in the hospital are there because they are SICK. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff need access to their sick bodies. Sometimes quick access can make the difference between life and death. So, while the patient's dignity is a priority for health-care professionals, of even greater importance is the patient's life or limb.

I am a nurse on a medical-surgical floor at our local hospital. We are careful to offer patients two gowns -- one over the front, and the other reversed as a robe over the back. If they are bed-bound, we have no shortage of blankets to protect their modesty. Being Southern myself -- like "Offended," the author of that letter -- I know how we love to blow things out of proportion, and frankly, "Offended" has done just that with this gown thing. My advice to her: Build a bridge, sweetie, and get over it! -- RN IN TYLERTOWN, MISS.

DEAR RN: Not so fast. While I agree in principle with what you're saying, our population is becoming increasingly diverse, and it is important that the medical community adopt culturally appropriate methods to accommodate those whose cultures are averse to "the wide-open spaces."

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