In my hospital roommate etiquette list, I have two rules that cover inconsiderate behavior and two that relate to visitors, both human and animals.
My next rule blends both of those topics: Try not to act or have your visitor act in a way that might invite the police.
As with my previous rules, I believe this one would just be common sense, but I know for a fact that some folks just don’t get it. And as the mild-mannered roommate (formerly) in the next bed, I feel a need to speak out.
Rule Number 5. Don’t commit crimes or allow your visitors to make murderous threats.
My first roommate who violated this rule was a piece of work, I knew right off the bat. I couldn’t really see her, but I could hear her well.
I knew she was recovering from surgery. I knew she was a young mother. I knew she didn’t like the fact that doctors wouldn’t give her the dosage of painkiller she was taking at home (red flag). She wanted to be able to go downstairs eight floors and smoke. She once disappeared for hours because she got lost in the parking garage. She would complain about not taking a shower but she was gone wandering when the nurses were helping people bathe. At about 10 or 11 p.m., she would start griping about not being able to take a shower. She never took one.
But she really came unglued when her mom came to visit. Her mother had flown in from out-of-state to help care for her daughter’s toddler while she was in the hospital.
My roommate would constantly berate and argue with her mother. She was angry that mom had made the trip.
“I don’t need your help. Why don’t you just go home?” she screamed.
I felt bad for the mom, who sounded nice to me. And I felt bad for me, who in addition to feeling physically horrible had to listen to this stress-inducing diatribe.
It all came to a head one day when the patient wanted to leave. She was verbally tussling with her nurses and doctors. Then her mom arrived for the day. I couldn’t see what happened from my side of the curtain, but there was a lot of yelling and pushing and I imagined one of those cartoon scuffles where two opponents are so wrapped up in physical fight that they form a blur.
Somebody announced she was calling the police.
When the dust settled, the mom left and the patient packed up to go. No police ever showed up.
As the patient was storming around gathering her things, my husband walked in.
“Here you go,” she said to him. She handed him a paperback about natural health that her mom had brought for her. She came around the curtain to glance at me. “I don’t want this book,” she said. “You guys can have it.”
It was, inexplicably, soaked with apple juice. We told her thank you and accepted the peace offering. I was afraid she might beat us with it if we declined. When she left, I started breathing easier. And the book went directly into the trash.
My other nearly criminal roommate incident also involved a mother-daughter combo. But this one was reversed: the mother was the patient and the daughter was the budding homicidal maniac.
My roommate, who was recovering from surgery, was elderly and didn’t speak any English. Her daughter visited a few hours a day and interpreted as necessary.
The daughter, who was a bit older than me, marched past my bed daily, never looking at or speaking to me. But one day, she paused at the foot of my bed and we chatted for awhile. She seemed stressed, like all family members of a hospital patient have a right to be, but was pleasant.
But mere minutes later, when a nurse came to check on her mom, the visitor started getting angry about the care her mother had received. Or not received. And the daughter demanded that she released immediately.
That caused a big hubbub involving meetings with nurses and doctors who advised against it. They assured her the mom had been getting good care.
I silently agreed in the adjacent bed. I had been in the room every minute with her mom. The medical staff had been very kind to her, managed to overcome the language barrier and hadn’t treated her poorly at all. The mom didn’t understand any of this debate and was also quiet.
Meanwhile her daughter was getting louder and more furious.
“This is discrimination!” she said.
Finally, the daughter said she was going to take her mother home.
“And if she gets worse, I will personally come back and kill everyone in this hospital!” she said.
Behind the curtain separating us, my mouth dropped open. I didn’t move or speak, but I wanted to say, in a tiny, calming voice: “Even me? Could you maybe spare me? Remember when you stopped by my bed and you seemed to like me?”
The mom was released. Then a few days later, I was. I assume the patient got better at home because I heard no news of a hospital massacre.
Meanwhile, over the next year, I continued my grueling fight against cancer that included trips in and out of the hospital. I had enough problems without worrying that my nutty roommate or a guest would do me further bodily harm.