Take two aspirin and call me in the morning

I suppose that all of us at one time have been a patient or known a patient in a hospital. I’m amazed at how many people remain unaware of proper hospital etiquette.

People are hospitalized for one reason - because they are ill. They’re there to receive treatment and to begin the recovery process. Everyone likes to know that their friends and family care about them, but no one wants to feel like they have to sit up and talk to entertain a constant stream of visitors, either live or on the telephone, when all they really want to do is rest.

In the New York suburbs, where I’m originally from, hospital patients are guarded almost to the level of a valuable art exhibit. All visitors must be checked in, and visitors are limited to two at a time, even if they are all members of the same family. Other geographical areas I’ve been to tend to be less regimented. Anyone who knows the patient’s room number can go right up, even if it’s a party of six. The hospital feels that visitors other than members of the patient’s immediate family have enough common sense to limit their visits to five or ten minutes if the patient clearly isn’t feeling well; and perhaps twenty or thirty even under the best of circumstances.

Unfortunately, there’s always going to be people who forget the patient is a patient. They’ll bring little Junior and the twins along to visit Great Aunt Edna, forgetting that the sight of her own grandchildren isn’t likely to be a welcome one for Auntie, at least not while she’s feeling under the weather. Or other people will visit in the aforementioned group of six to have a little party in Uncle Charlie’s room, each trying to outtalk the other in voices that can be heard clear down to the nurses’ station, often peppered with profanity. Maybe old Unc just isn’t well enough to appreciate the funny story about the farmer’s twin daughters. Or maybe the usually dapper old gent doesn’t like being seen without his teeth in or his hairpiece in place.

Then there are the ones whose reasons for visiting are less than well meaning. Nosy Aunt Harriet might want to know just how sick the patient is; so she can alert the family - with a dramatic flourish, of course - and make an uncomplicated case of tonsillitis sound like a visit from the Grim Reaper is imminent. Maybe Cousin Homer wants to know if he’ll be getting that coin collection the patient promised to leave him in his will earlier than he thought.

There’s nothing to be said about people with such underhanded motives. But for the well-meaning folks, please remember how you felt last time you were sick at home. That person in the hospital bed is sicker than you were, plus they’re at an added disadvantage - it’s hard to rest when someone sticks a thermometer in your mouth every four hours. Drop in, sure. Bring a card or a bunch of flowers from the supermarket, sure. But please remember that sitting there all day, chatting about this and that, only serves to drain the patient’s strength.