One proud Torres Strait Islander gentleman was referred to my clinic with a palliative tumour wound that started initially on his upper thigh but was rapidly spreading to his mid-section (genital area).
This man was very reluctant to accept help and had obviously had some sort of bad experience in the mainstream hospital health care system.
He was shy, quietly spoken, never married, lived with his sister and worked hard all his life.
For this gentleman to accept the care I offered I had to liaise and work closely with the Indigenous health workers who were nearly always with him to ensure he felt safe with me. This took months to establish an environment of trust.
This man’s wound was horrific. It was embarrassing for him to have a woman he did not know attend to his wound in a private area of his body.
It spread quickly and developed into a very nasty fungating tumour.
These types of tumours are ones nurses never forget. The odour is horrendous, controlling exudate and pain is often difficult to manage. This caused great distress to the patient.
Initially, the patient wore loose-fitting pants over his wound dressings.
However, as time went on the tumour got bigger. It got to a stage where no pants or shorts would fit over the tumour.
The patient would come into the clinic wearing only a long loose-fitting t-shirt.
One day the patient heard a comment, “That patient should wear pants.”
This comment embarrassed him and you could see on his face the hurt, sadness and humiliation.
Here was a man who worked hard in his life and now a comment and this tumour had robbed him of his dignity.
I felt so sorry for him that day and helpless. I didn’t know how I could help him.
How does a nurse return a patient’s dignity when it has been taken away by a foolish comment and a hideous disease process? My heart broke for my patient that day.
I thought, what could I do? How can I help him?
I thought, my patient is a very traditional and proud man. I could look for a traditional garment like a lap-lap or lava-lava which is like a skirt.
He could wrap this around his waist, and no-one would be the wiser.
I went to every store in Cairns to find a suitable lap-lap, but most had lace around the edges.
At this point I sent out a private email to some of my friends.
One knew of a local shop where she lived in Brisbane that specialised in Indigenous traditional clothing.
She sent up a lap-lap in the colour of blue, nothing fancy, no lace but perfect for ‘our patient’.
The patient arrived for his wound care at the same time the parcel with the lap-lap arrived at the hospital.
He opened it and had the shiest of smiles.
He said, “It’s the colour of the sea, I loved going fishing.”
No other words were needed. His smile and gentle pat of my hand was the biggest thank you he could give.
He wore it out of the procedure room, wrapped around him, and no one was the wiser except a nurse and a man who was walking a little taller that day.
The disease eventually took its toll and his sister sent me a message to invite me to his funeral.
At the coffin. friends were invited to say goodbye and place flowers, to which I did.
His sister stood up, came over and whispered to me, “A part of you is now with him forever, he is wearing the lap-lap, the colour of the sea.”
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