Friday, March 17, 2017

Hospital Etiquette 101

I'm talking about hospital etiquette today because it seems that so many are in new territory here! As a nurse, I can speak pretty confidently to what works and what doesn't work for most patients when they're hospitalized. These tips loosely apply to moms who have just had babies. That's a joyous occasion that's unlike most other hospital stays. At the same time, and as you'll see in tip number one below, it's important to know the patient and respect his or her wishes...always.
 
 
 1) First and foremost, know the patient and the situation. Did the patient just receive some bad news? Do they need time to process that news before visitors arrive? What's the patient like? Is he or she an outgoing extrovert who needs to see familiar faces? Or does he or she value privacy and isn't usually up for small talk? This seems obvious, but I feel like this gets overlooked so often. When all else fails, just think about the patient and what you think might make him or her the happiest.
 
2) Don't come in large groups. For the love, please don't do this. For the sake of the patient and for the sake of the hospital staff. The rooms are small; seating is limited. Your loved one is there to get well not to socialize. A rule of thumb: if the room is so crowded that you're using a potty chair as a seat, there's too many people in the room.

3) Don't overstay your welcome. Short visits are better for everyone. I'd say 30 minutes max, but every patient (and every situation) is different. With that said...
 
4) Look out for cues from the patient. Is the patient yawning with every other word? Is the patient grimacing in pain, or do they keep telling you they're nauseated? Pick up on that and cut your visit short.

 5) Try to schedule your visit so it doesn't coincide with mealtime. I know this isn't always possible, but the morning and afternoon hours are usually better. Meals are delivered warm, and patients generally want to eat them that way.
 
6) Do knock before entering. Another obvious point, but it doesn't happen often enough. Patients are often changing, napping, or using the restroom. Respect their privacy.
 
7) Do ask the patient's nurse if now is a good time. He or she might have some good info for you because they've been with the patient the most that day. For instance, "Today's been a bad day. The patient is in a lot of pain, and she's depressed that she's still in the hospital." Information like that can give the visitor a lot of insight into how to approach their visit.
 
8) Don't bring food for yourself unless the patient has a good appetite and is not turned off by smells. If you're bringing something for yourself to eat, ask the patient if you can bring him or her something.
 
9) If a patient is nauseated, vomiting, or is NPO (nothing by mouth), for the love of all that is good, do NOT bring food inside their room. Y'all, this happens ALL.THE.TIME. Do you know how wrong it is to devour a piece of pizza in front of someone who can't eat because they're having surgery later in the day? Or how wrong it is to eat a foot-long tuna fish sub in front of a patient who is nauseated? Just don't do it. Your grumbling tummy can wait, I promise.
 
10) Do call the patient beforehand and ask if you can bring anything. A cup of coffee? Some fresh socks? A magazine?
 
11) If a nurse or doctor walks in the room, ask the patient if he or she would like you to step out. Sensitive information is often discussed...and I don't mean life or death stuff always but often things like, "When was your last bowel movement?" Or "Here is your antidepressant." Not everyone is an open book. Some folks are private and don't want their friend from church knowing when they last pooped.
 
12) Don't wear strong scents. Visiting the hospital is not the time to douse yourself in your favorite body spray. So many in the hospital are sensitive to smells, and while you may smell lovely to you, you probably won't smell lovely to a lot of sensitive noses.
 
13) Don't bring plants or flowers...unless...if the patient is going to be in the hospital for a while, plants or flowers are a wonderful addition to their room and truly make it a brighter, happier spot. But if the patient is leaving tomorrow, wait and send those flowers to their home. Flowers are hard to transport from the hospital to home, and sometimes end up being more of a headache than anything! Also, many oncology patients cannot have live plants in their rooms because their white blood cell counts are low, and living plants are a threat to their immune system.
 
14) Do follow the instructions on the patient's door. Does a sign tell you to wear a gown and gloves? Then do it. Does a sign tell you to see the nurse before entering the room? Then go find the nurse. The signs are there for a reason! :)
 
15) Do talk about normal life stuff with the patient but try not to focus on what they're missing out on. So you went to a wedding last night (one in which the patient was supposed to attend), and it was the most fun wedding you're ever attended? The food was divine; the band was great; you danced until 1 in the morning. That's great! Just keep some of those fun details to yourself so the patient doesn't dwell on all of the fun they're missing.
 
16) Do check in often. A daily text message to let them know they're in your thoughts can mean the world to someone...and can really be a bright spot in their day.
 
17) Children. This is a touchy one. A visit from littles can often be the highlight of one's hospital stay. That said, think. Is your child going to scream the entire time because Grandma has an IV? Is your child going to insist on crawling all over the hospital floor? Is he going to throw a fit if he can't eat the Goldfish that just got crushed under your feet? If you answered yes to any of these, it might not be the best time. Facetime is your friend. If your loved one doesn't know how to use it, I'd bet his or her nurse can help out.
 
18) If you are sick or have been sick in the past few days, stay away! We're trying to treat infections not gather new ones.
 
19) Always think about what's best for the patient in the end. I can't tell you how many times loved ones bring patients food from outside the hospital. This is a lovely gesture unless the patient is on a strict diet. A diabetic doesn't need a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He may beg you to bring him one, and I know it's hard to say no, but the doctor has written orders for a reason...to help your loved one heal so he or she can ultimately return home. It may feel like you're doing your loved one a favor, but in fact your gesture is quite the opposite...it's forcing him or her to stay hospitalized even longer.
 
20) And finally, I'll end with an obvious that so often gets ignored. Wash your hands. Before entering the patient's room and when you leave. Germs are everywhere, and germs are rampant in hospitals. Protect your loved one, and protect yourself.
 
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So, what do y'all think? Do you care to add any? Can you speak from personal experience about some definite do's or some definite don'ts? I'd love to hear!
 
I hope everyone has a lovely weekend. Hope to see y'all back here on Monday.