Hospital Decorum


Recently, a friend was telling me about a bad experience she had at a hospital. It wasn’t anything to do with the patient care or hospital itself, but rather the way other visitors at the hospital were behaving.

Hospital stays are always a volatile, vulnerable time for the patients and their families. Because of this, it is absolutely imperative that common courtesies are followed. No one’s experience should be overshadowed by a stranger’s poor behavior.

Here is my list. This is based on many hours, days and months spent as a family member of a hospital patient. There is not much I haven’t seen, endured, and been appalled by. Hopefully, I have not inflicted my selfishness on others.

1. Children should not be at a hospital, unless they are the patient. Not only is this out of respect for all patients (those who are at their end of life, sometimes can not bear noises of any kind), out of an obligation to protect the children (there are things children should not see or hear and there are illnesses they should not be exposed to), and out of practicality for you (if you are there to visit a patient or to try to help with a patient, you can’t babysit and do what you are there to do.)

2. Noise should be kept to a minimum. When speaking to your patient or another visitor, use a low voice. Not only do you not want others to hear your conversation, but you also don’t want to disturb others (just like you wouldn’t want them disturbing you).

3. There seems to be two types of thoughts on visitors. Some patients want everybody and their dog to visit them. Whereas, other patients prefer only close family and friends. If you are not part of the immediate family, you will need to contact an immediate family member to ask if and when it is okay to stop by. Don’t get your feelings hurt if they ask you not to visit. The patient’s needs and wishes must come before all others.

4. A hospital visit is not a chance for a party. Even if your patient is the kind of person who wants a room full of people with them, the other patients may prefer a peaceful atmosphere in which to recuperate. Be respectful. Try to keep visitors to five or fewer in the patient room. Remember the patient is there for a reason and the doctors and nurses must be able to do their jobs.

5. Likewise, a party in the waiting room is also disturbing to other families. Hospital visits are solemn visits.

6. If you are making a visit, it is most appropriate to ask the family if you can bring them anything. It is traditional to send flowers to a patient, but that can be a burden if the family feels obligated to care for them or take them home. You may prefer to take snacks and magazines or to relieve them so they can go out for a hot meal. Any gesture will be much appreciated. There are very nice things you can do to help a family in this type situation that don’t involve going to the hospital. If you know their lawn isn’t being mowed, then mow it for them. Or pick up their newspapers off the lawn.

7. Be sensitive to the situation. Plan a brief visit. Make the patient and/or their immediate family the priority.

8. If a hospital employee comes in to the room, unless you are the spouse, parent or adult child of the patient, you should step out. The nurse may need to disrobe the patient or ask sensitive questions. For this, the room should be cleared of all but one of the closest of relatives.

9. As a visitor or family member, you will want to take something to do while you wait quietly. A book, magazine, iPad with earbuds, etc. will be welcome companions for a long wait. It is also a good idea to take some noise-free, smell-free snacks for yourself. The reason you want noise-fee and smell-free is so as to not disturb any patients. Nerves are on edge at hospitals, so you want to do all you can to minimize the situation.

10. Drama has no place at a hospital. If you don’t know if the family would welcome your visit, then you should not go.

11.  Cell phones should not be used in the patient room.  A brief, quiet conversation may be conducted in the waiting room or in the lobby.

12.  Standing or sitting is okay as long as it is not on the patient’s equipment (bed, wheelchair, etc.).

In a world full of self-involved people, the one great equalizer is illness. Please do all you can to be thoughtful, respectful and appropriate in these situations. Your family member may just have a broken foot, but the patient next door may be dying. Wouldn’t you want them to be quiet and subdued if the situation was reversed?

A little kindness will be much appreciated by hospital patients and their families.

4 thoughts on “Hospital Decorum

  1. Kayla; These are spot-on. I have done more than my share of hospital time, both as a patient and a family member/visitor.

    I would only add one more thing; Often, if the visitor has come a long way, they want to spend HOURS with the patient, to make it worth such a lengthy trip. While it is understandable, it can also be uncomfortable for the patient to have no “alone” time; to be constantly watched. They need time to just rest, and not feel like they need to engage or entertain guests. So, spend some time (10-20 minutes at a time) with the patient, then give them a break of at least that much time to be alone. Go sit in the waiting area for a little while, or leave the hospital for a meal. Then, when you return, the patient will be ready for another visit.

  2. Kayla, All very good suggestions!
    Having just been a family member in day surgery at the hospital this week, we both (patient & family member) were pleased when the nurses explained just one or two quiet family members with the door closed. The reason for not only your patient’s privacy, but the privacy of other patients in the same area.

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