Bed Bath: The First Day of the Rest of Her Life

BedBathIllustration“Bed Bath,” the January Reflections column by pediatric nurse practitioner Kathleen Hughes, is a description of giving a first bed bath as a nurse after many years working in other professions. It’s not the first essay we’ve ever published about giving a bed bath, but it’s wise and meditative and well worth a read. Here’s a small section of this short essay, but please read the whole thing.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

An Ivy League degree and 15 years of teaching and writing did not prepare me any better than my mostly 20-something counterparts in the ways of giving a bed bath to a 72-year-old man I’d never met. What might be different for me is that I have known many kinds of professional challenges. What might also be different is that I have lived enough longer to have attended my father’s hospital-bound illness and death, and to have given birth to and cared for two young children. And so when I washed this man, I was washing my father, I was washing my children; I became one of those people who cared for us. Though giving a bed bath is not anything like lecturing to AP students on Faulkner, or writing a newspaper article on gun control or university library funding or modern exorcisms, I am not sure that either of those tasks made me hunker in a corner for five minutes, gathering myself before striding into the room. I’ve also never left a room feeling like I’ve had as simple and visceral an impact as I did that morning.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Lois Roelofs January 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I love this memory. Thanks for writing. I recall my own “first bath” very well, plus a lot of students’ “firsts” when I was teaching. I see the bed bath, given by a stranger to a stranger, as an intimate, near-isacred encounter.

  2. Becky Lehr, LPN January 6, 2014 at 11:14 am

    A wonderful reminded of where we all began, I am also reminded how easy it is to forget that it is individuals, not ‘cases’ that we treat.

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