Friday, August 26, 2011

Hospital Roommate Etiquette: Rule Number Two


Until patients each have private rooms when they are hospitalized, they should abide by some basic hospital roommate etiquettte. I’ve already posted one rule. Here’s my next suggestion.
Rule Number 2: Be considerate.
We all learned this when we were kids. It means using common courtesy and being willing to compromise. It becomes more important when you are confined to a bed and your roommate is inches away from you.
During my journey in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, I came across many hospital roomates who -- once they got in a gown and a bed -- didn’t seem to think that rule applied anymore.
There is a natural tendency to make an exception for yourself. You’re sick, your privacy is a dim memory and you are in close proximity to a total stranger. Being polite is not high on your to-do list.
But you don’t need to make things worse by being, well, inconsiderate. It just brings added aggravation to the room.
I found most insensitive behavior centers on two things: Cell phones and TVs.
Cell Phones
We’ve come a long way, in a short time, from the days when No Cell Phones signs were posted on hospital walls. Now, everyone has phones: patients, visitors, doctors and nurses.
I was too sick most of my time in the hospital  to even hold or speak on a phone. But some of my roommates just yakked and yakked no matter what time of day or night.
You know the uncomfortable feeling you get when a guy in line in front of you is openly blabbing about personal business on his phone? Image that in a confined space.
There’s a reason why in-room hospital phones have time limits. No calls after 10 p.m. or  before 8 a.m., for example. It’s to give the always sleep-deprived patients some peace and quiet.
But patients with cell phones aren’t bound by those rules. Did that one roommate’s husband really have to call daily at 6 a.m. before he left his house? Was there another time at all during the day when he could have touched base?
I had another roommate whose cell phone was constantly ringing, one call after another. During a rare break in the action, she actually apologized to me through the curtain, saying someone had apparently given everyone in her church her number.
You would think it would exhaust her. It did me and I was just listening. I wanted to say, “You are annoying the hell out of me: Would it kill you to turn the ringer down and just let them leave messages?” Instead, Polite Me said, “Oh, that’s OK.”  
But soon I learned she was not going to learn roommate courtesy and compromise that easily.
Which brings me to my second source of rudeness.
The TV
My hospital rooms each had a private TV you could manipulate so it was as close as you wanted. Each bed had one. I was very careful not to turn the volume up loud, but I did like to watch TV. It was company, helped me mark the time and provided a connection with what was happening in the outside world.
(I noticed one day my TV was advertising summer clothes. What? Last I remember it was snowing in my hometown -- a rarity. Turned out I had been given drugs to wipe my toughest months from my memory.)
The first morning with my cell-phone-addicted roommate, I woke up and turned on the morning news, after I knew she was awake. The set was about six inches from my face and the volume was the lowest it would go.
“‘EXCUSE ME,” she said. “Can you turn that down?”
I explained the volume didn’t go lower.
“I just don’t like the sound of TVs at all,” she said. “Can’t stand the noise.”
In a rehab facility, I shared a huge room with another patient. There was more space between us and we each had our own TV.
We would have to go to physical therapy -- in our wheelchairs -- down the hall once or twice a day. 
The polite thing to do is turn off your TV before you leave. 
My one roommate who spoke no English had a habit of leaving her TV on when she left the room, blasting never-ending World Cup in Spanish. She didn’t speak Spanish either.
In the worst rehab place I was in, my first room had three bed-bound occupants, no telephones or TV sets (ostensibly so patients could get out of their rooms and participate in life. Yeah, right.)
One TV owned by the woman in the center bed hung on the wall in front of us, so she controlled it. She spoke in gibberish. (And at least one nurse spoke it back to her.)
Her favorite channel was one that showed old crime dramas. But in the middle of the night she loved watching multiple “Big Momma’s House” movies, turned the volume up and laughed uproariously whenever Martin Lawrence appeared as a woman -- hours on end.
Not worth asking her to turn it down or be polite: she couldn’t comprehend it.
I finally got moved to another room, this time with a considerate roomie. We were in a smaller room, our beds arranged in an L shape. She kept the TV off, but kindly asked one morning if I liked to watch morning news shows. We agreed on a show to watch. Later, she would give me the remote after she had had it for a spell. I could have hugged her. Well, patted her foot. My hand was inches away from it.

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