Here’s another in my suggested rules of hospital roommate etiquette. Rules one, two and three involved things patients can do to make life more comfortable for the roommates.
Rule number four expands the horizon a bit to include people who visit you.
Rule Number 4. Control your visitors.
Let me say that I loved having hospital visitors, in small doses and at the right time. During my ordeal fighting paralysis and cancer, there were weeks when I was so out of it, I didn’t know who was visiting me. There were times in the Intensive Care Unit when visitors were not allowed. And there were times when I felt too bad or what was happening to me was so embarrassing, I didn’t want any well-intentioned extra guests in my room.
But overall, I was deeply grateful to have visitors. Some patients never had a visitor. It broke my heart.
One older woman had a crowd of people coming to see her. They would have to walk by me to get to her, glancing at me from the foot of my bed to walk to her area.
One day, they all came at once. I didn’t have any visitors at that time.
As more and more people filed by me, I thought of the routine at the circus when an unending stream of clowns emerge from a car.
This was the clown car in reverse.
The room was set up so each patient had half of the space, separated by a curtain that had to be drawn to provide us some privacy and pulled back to allow us to see each other and speak.
It was closed the day the clowns were sent in. The curtain next to me begin to undulate as more and more visitors crammed by my neighbor’s bedside. Soon the fabric had moved about a foot into my space and a couple of men’s back sides could be seen nearly hitting my bed.
Just then, thankfully, a nurse came in and sternly told members of the crowd they needed to stay on their side of the room and could not infringe on my area. She showed them the imaginary line that they were not allowed to cross.
I think a few of them left, because the space couldn’t contain them.
It’s not too much to ask for boundaries when you are confined to a bed and have a tiny living space to begin with. I was using a bedside commode, a toilet right by me, so it was particularly creepy to think of sitting on the pot with a host of strangers close enough to touch.
I learned that not only does the number of visitors matter, it’s what they do there that can also be incredibly rude.
I know patients are sick and might not feel like policing their guests, but please, people, have some common sense when it comes to your visitors.
I’ll never forget one roommate I had who had issues with her mom. The mother brought the patient’s little boy, Damien (real name), to visit. While the two women were hollering at each other, the toddler would run over to my area, stare at me and touch everything.
This incensed me because I was immunocompromised, highly susceptible to any type of germ. And Damien's mother in the next bed was suffering from a staph infection!
I had one roommate whose grown brother was a germaphobe who would use the hand sanitizer mounted near our doorway about once every 10 minutes. I had no problem with that visitor quirk.
But this kid was running around hog wild and the grownups’ only possible use for the hand sanitizer was as a weapon they might dislodge and hurl.
One young teenage girl I was roommates with brought her boyfriend, who was in his 40s, with her and made him her permanent visitor. He slept in the hospital bed with her, fully-clothed, for days on end. He hid when the meal server came by, then the patient would ask for a second meal (claiming she didn’t like the first) and he would emerge later and eat it.
And he would use the patients’ bathroom.
Major piece of advice: NEVER USE A PATIENT’S HOSPITAL BATHROOM. It is for the patient. Hospitals provide public restrooms on every floor for visitors. Walk a few steps (it will feel good getting out of the room for a while) and visit those when you have to relieve yourselves.
Not only is cleanliness a factor when anybody off the street is using your bathroom, but there’s a dirty little secret about that toilet. It will likely have a “hat” in it.
A hat, a cute name for something weird, is a plastic thing the nurse sticks in the toilet to catch urine or feces of a patient. When the person fills it, she is not allowed to flush, but has to notify the next attendant who comes by so it can be noted and recorded in the charts.
It’s just another part of being sick that is humiliating. But while your hat is waiting to be emptied, you don’t want somebody’s significant other running in there to use the facilities.
Lastly, make sure your visitors are rested enough to come by. If they are too sleepy to interact with you, what’s the point of visiting? (This doesn’t apply to those kind souls who plan to stay all night with you.)
One roommate had a daytime visitor who walked into the room, set his cell phone on a table and fell into a deep sleep. The phone would ring every few minutes, blaring screechy, grating music over and over. He did not wake up.
The woman he was visiting was kind of out of it. Two other visitors thought it was amusing, said he needed his sleep and did nothing to wake him up or grab the phone.
Which made for a lovely afternoon for her roommate: me.