Hospital Visit Etiquette: Don’t Forget Courtesy

Concern and stress may cause visitors to forget their manners

A recent hospital stay taught me something that I had not given much thought to before: the way hospital visitors conduct themselves can make a big difference in the comfort and well-being of the patients.
When I was first admitted to the hospital, I shared a room with a woman who told me she was 86. Her visitors were quiet and courteous, so it did not bother me in the least when occasionally she had one or two more than the two-visitor limit. She and her visitors respected my privacy but acknowledged that I was there by either saying hello or making eye contact and nodding when they passed my bed. When she left the hospital, her brother gave me the mylar balloons that had decorated her side of the room — perhaps because they noticed I had only one visitor during my stay.
My new roommate, a young woman, was crying and moaning when she was brought into the room, which led me to believe that she had either had surgery or been in some kind of accident. After she was transferred into the bed, a crowd of visitors, some young and some older, came in to visit. Although I didn’t count them, there were so many that they didn’t all fit on the young woman’s side of the room. Two of them stood against the wall on my side of the room and stared at me as if I were some kind of circus animal. And even though the patient was clearly in pain, all the visitors chatted as if they were at a party or a family reunion instead of in a hospital room.
Eventually, I asked the nurse to request that the visitors at least stay on the other side of the room, and they complied.
Then the visitors started a parade back and forth to the bathroom. This was a problem because the condition I was being treated for sometimes made it necessary for me to get to the bathroom quickly. So I asked the nurse if there was a visitor bathroom on the floor. When she said yes, I asked her to inform the people visiting the other patient.
Meanwhile, I kept looking at the clock, hoping that visitor hours would end soon and relative quiet would be restored. At 9:30 p.m., most of the visitors left but one (or maybe two — I couldn't tell with the curtain drawn) stayed until morning. I don't know if this was sanctioned by the hospital or merely a violation of the rules. Throughout the night I could hear conversation from the other side of the room, and the volume on the handheld television speaker was kept high enough for the visitor(s), and me, to hear.
In the morning, my mother called me to see how I was doing. When she asked if I had slept well, I told her, “No, the people visiting the other patient were making noise all night.”
Before I ended my phone call, I overheard the visitor(s) talking to the nurse, complaining that I had made too much noise and had kept them up all night. It seemed to me that it was a pre-emptive strike in case I made a complaint. When I explained things from my perspective, the nurse acted quickly to move the other patient to another room.

I got another roommate that day, a woman who was at midlife and whose family and friends were quiet and respectful, although they did need a reminder about the visitors bathroom.

Certainly patients benefits from having loved ones around. But family and friends are under stress when visiting someone in the hospital and may not be their most courteous. Remembering a few things about visiting a hospital can make it easier on the patient being visited and any other patients sharing the room.
Many hospitals have rules for visitors listed on their websites. And the British website NHS Choices offers these guidelines on what hospital visitors should not do:
  • It's best not to sit on the patient’s bed as this can spread germs. Use the chairs provided.
  • Don’t put your feet on the patient’s bed.
  • Don’t touch the patient’s wounds or any medical equipment they are attached to, such as drips or catheters. This can cause infections.
  • Don’t use the patients’ toilets. Ask the ward staff where the nearest public toilets are.
  • Don’t share property, such as toiletries, tissues or items of hospital equipment with the patients.

One way to keep friends and family informed about a patient without having them all come to the hospital is to use a website, like CaringBridge, to post updates about the patient. The password-protected website helps to maintain privacy while also allowing those close to the patient to stay informed.
Carla Baranauckas
By Carla Baranauckas
Carla Baranauckas was Next Avenue's assistant managing editor. Follow Carla on Twitter @cabara.

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