Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hospital Roommate Etiquette: Rule Number One

More and more hospitals are joining the trend to make all patient rooms private. It makes for a more enjoyable, healthier stay for patients.

Until that day when patients do not have to share a room with a stranger, we could all stand to learn a few rules of hospital roommate etiquette. A lot of it is just common sense and plain courteous behavior. 
In the months I spent confined to a bed in hospitals or rehabilitation centers, I found plenty of roommates that seemed to have neither.
I’ve developed a list of rules that a patient should practice upon entrance to a semi-private room. It would make hospital stays a lot more pleasant.
I’ll share them on this blog one rule at a time.

Rule Number 1:  No whining or screaming.
If you were one of my roommates over the past several years, chances are you were not in good shape. I was in wings that catered to cancer patients, people with a brain injury or disabled folks. 
Not happy places.
But you roomies who spent all that time complaining or yelling made it more of a nightmare for me. And the others on the floor.
We were all hurting. And worried. And sometimes fearing for our very lives.
At a time when I was deeply concerned about my own health, you made it worse by whining about yours.
Early in my hospital journey, I shared a rehab room with a woman who had been in a sledding accident. She had broken several bones and was in a type of traction. Not pleasant, I know.
But did it help that she complained about it, loudly and endlessly on the phone, to her visitors and to the nurses?
“I don’t know how much longer I can stand this!” she said. Doctors told her it would take something like 8 weeks to recover. “EIGHT WEEKS!” she told everyone who would listen. “That’s a long time!! I can’t wait that long.”
Meanwhile, I was in the next bed, slowly going downhill. My diagnosis was a mystery. I kept getting sicker and sicker and doctors were at their wits’ end. They had tried almost everything. Yet my strength and neurological function kept deteriorating.
Eight weeks until your broken bones would be healed?  Sounded like a piece of cake to me.
While my hand trembled as I slowly tried to raise a spoon to my mouth for dinner, my neighbor was complaining about her beverage. She didn’t like the flavor and demanded that the nurse get her another one. She could have done it politely but no, she was harsh and acted like it was the end of the world.
Months later, when I was in a separate rehab facility that was the absolute worst, one patient would scream out all night, every night, keeping me on edge and awake. Because he wasn’t just screaming to scream. He was yelling “Call 9-1-1!!” and hollering the address of the rehab facility.
When I mentioned it to one of the nurses, she said, “Well, he’s been here a long time.”
No excuse.
Another roomie in a wonderful rehab facility seemed to have a deathly fear of the whole medical profession.
When a nurse would enter our room with a blood pressure machine -- which he or she had to do several times a day -- the patient would start shrieking as if she was being attacked. “It’s just a blood pressure machine and it doesn’t hurt,” the nurse would tell her to no avail. The patient couldn’t speak English.
I know. It’s scary being in the hospital. But complaining about it incessantly and at a high volume doesn’t help anyone, particularly your roommate.


  1. Oh Laura, I love this. My dad has always had the gift of charming his nurses. They'd come and sit with him on their breaks. He was always genuinely grateful and kind to them. I have vowed to learn from this because I've seen the opposite and know how those nurses are treated. I had never thought about it from the roomie's perspective. Thank you for that. xoxo

  2. I'm sure the nurses and roommates appreciated his kind demeanor.
    You are welcome for broadening your view. It's one of the things I hope to achieve in my blog!