The word ‘apron’ reminds me of the doctors in the Hollywood movies wearing starched, pristine, lustrous white aprons, knee length and full sleeves, shielding almost their entire dress; just revealing the tie knot and leaving the rest of their formal clothing to imagination. It also reminds me of fair Indo‐American dentists in toothpaste commercials with extremely white teeth and matching white aprons to stress upon the fact that the toothpaste they are endorsing can turn anything white.
Back home, every single person in advertisements has an impeccably clean white apron, right from the potato peeler in a chips factory to the managing director of the richest corporate hospital. There was a time when people clad in long white aprons were equated only to scientists or doctors.
With the passage of time, this equation doesn’t hold true. Just like we expect every other object to be essentially multipurpose, aprons have also shed its puritan image.
So what does the word ‘apron’ mean? Deviating from the norms of typing a key word in Google or Wikipedia, I decided to take the help of something more archaic and authentic. Yes, you guessed it right, the hardbound Oxford English dictionary.(Also something I doubt will soon be a part of history.)
Getting back to the point; an ‘apron’ as per the dictionary has many meanings. The one most relevant to this article was, ‘a garment covering and protecting the front part of a person’s clothes either from chest or waist level and tied at the back’.
As I have explained what an ‘apron’ literally mean in this context, you would still be wondering why I chose to call it ‘plastic’. So again taking the help of the dictionary, I select a meaning which is most convenient and useful to explain my analogy. ‘Plastic’ means – capable of being moulded. Putting them together- plastic apron means a piece of garment which can be moulded to exhibit an adaptability to different environments. Some of you would still be scratching your heads thinking how it makes sense to club these two words and I don’t blame you.
One needs to pass through various stages of medical education, both as a student and as a teacher, to experience and analyse this analogy. Even I did not worry about the apron before I entered the medical profession.
As an MBBS student, my first tryst with the apron came when I started attending clinical postings in my 2nd year of college. I got caught, for the not so shiny white nature of my apron. (‘Not so shiny’ would be a very modest attempt to explain something which remotely resembled white). Closely followed the punch dialogue, for the first time, and over the years so many more times that I lost count. “When I was of your age, my apron used to be clean and shiny white. It’s a shame that you cannot maintain your apron properly. An apron reveals the character of a doctor” said my professor, dressed in plain formal clothes.
I searched from head to toe, but the piece or to be precise his character certificate was missing. I wondered whether this so called ‘certificate’ was relevant only during student days. Slowly I began to realize that the ‘apron’, just like the humans and most of the gadgets, is evolutionary. Multipurpose and multitasking are the two most sought after M’s in anyone or anything. Surprisingly ‘apron’ also is not far behind in these qualities. So how can an apron be M2. It is simple.
Waking up in the morning, late for class, you hardly have time for a bath or to press your clothes (which should have been done the day prior), but no worries. Brush your teeth, grab your apron and wear it over whatever you are wearing, day or night clothes, run for class. That is your ‘time saver’ apron. Looking into the mirror, thanks to your tight fitting dress, the newly acquired waistline is ever protruding, no problem, we have a ‘camouflage’ apron.
Impressing an examiner in viva, extra white ‘viva’ apron. Getting caught for some pranks in college and being summoned by Head of the department, the special extra white ‘HOD’ apron for pleading mercy. Cannot find enough space in your pockets to load your items, ‘multi pocket’ apron. Attempting to jump a wall and dress gets torn, there comes ‘Mseal’ apron.
Feeling cold in a movie hall or feeling cold at night, cannot find your warm clothes, there is ‘sweater’ apron. Had a plate of your favourite pani puri, don’t know where to wipe your face, ‘tissue’ apron. Want to get away from a traffic cop for violating rules, ‘anticipatory bail’ apron. Wearing a churidar, cannot find your dupatta, our ‘saviour’ apron. Passing out from college, time for autographs, ‘graffiti’ apron.
This proves how multipurpose a piece of garment can be. The greatest asset of a medical student.
On a serious note, the real purpose of an ‘apron’, which I got to know through research and discussion, is to shield yourself from infective materials and prevent your clothes from getting soiled. The choice of color white was for the person to take notice of the slightest amount of dirt and prompt him/her to wash the apron and keep it neat and tidy.
At this juncture, I am sure you would be compelled to ask me whether I had been successful in keeping my apron shiny white during student days. Wasn’t it a very difficult job? True, I agree it was a very difficult job just like keeping anything clean from your sleeves to your cupboard.
I had not been entirely successful in keeping the apron shiny white as I had my own difficulties. But I have always taken pride in keeping my apron as clean as possible, (Not shiny white), because I do believe that, even though it does not entirely spill out your character, it does give away a part of it.
The saas–bahu saga still continues and I consciously try not to be a part of it. I don’t want to pass down the wrongs I experienced. In simple words I refrain from telling false stories to my juniors or students about how clean my apron used to be in my student days, because it was not. But that shouldn’t stop anybody from striving to be clean. It also does not prevent me from correcting a person wearing an untidy apron, sans self‐praise, because it just takes some extra effort.
My humble request to the present generation of medical students would be to maintain an apron, if not shiny white, would at least be clean and would not act as a patient repellent device. I think we should respect it and prevent its use as a multipurpose object outside the confines of college and hospital.
About the author : Dr.Akshay Prabhu is an alumnus of KMC Mangalore and is a well-acclaimed sportsperson alongside being a doctor. He reads a lot and has recently begun penning down his thoughts as well. A writer to look out for, with the advantage of having a wide-spread and unique perspective of things.
Edited by : Sreya Banerjee