≡ Menu

An Unhealthy Dose Of Bad Manners

I am a nurse in an intensive care unit in a large metropolitan hospital. Often we see people at their worst, and their relatives and friends too! It can be amazing how many ‘friends’ come out of the woodwork when someone is seriously ill in hospital. Often a patient will be unconscious or feel very tired and unwell, and may not be in a position to refuse visitors. For this reason we recommend that only close family and friends visit a person in the ICU.

However some people do not understand this and family often feel powerless to say no. I cared for a young girl ‘B’ who had a severe head injury following a high speed car vs truck accident. Her mother was killed, and her boyfriend severely injured as well. This event was on the radio and TV for several days, as the main highway was closed for hours following the crash.

B came from a complicated family, as her father had died and her mother remarried twice, and there were many family members to contend with. Her oldest brother was appointed as the ‘family contact’ as this makes our job easier, by speaking with just one rather than many people. On this day, there were lots of visitors again, about 3 days after the accident. Then 2 women came in to visit, apparently friends of B’s mother. They immediately began to fuss with sheets, try to comb B’s hair, wipe her face, etc., etc. This is not permitted in the ICU as B had a breathing tube in that could be dislodged, and many other tubes, as well as a large surgical wound on her head. I started to ask the women to just restrict themselves to holding B’s hand, when they whipped up the bed sheets to ‘make her legs comfortable’. I was horrified, as they exposed B’s private parts and the curtains were wide open! I pulled the sheet back down firmly and asked them to leave it alone.

They stated that they worked in the nursing industry too – as carers. This is quite different from an experienced ICU nurse! One of them held her hand up in front of my face to stop me stopping them. I tried to explain the risks of dislodging tubes, but they continued on. One demanded cream so that they could rub B’s pressure points (heels, elbows etc)! I had to say no, this action causes pressure sores, not prevents them! After all this, they left when other people wanted to come in. I asked the family that these women NOT be allowed back in as they weren’t family, thankfully B’s brother agreed!

I know their intentions were to be kind and caring, but they were dangerous and rude. Even when asked to stop, they saw themselves as in the right. ‘Hospital etiquette’ should be about loving your loved one, not taking over the hospitals job. 0809-12

How serendipitous this story was submitted at this time!   A month or so ago my husband and I made a hasty trip to see a dear friend of mine who was in the ICU at a metropolitan hospital several states away from where we live.   I experienced firsthand some bizarre behavior by others that had me horrified and furious.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mamamia August 14, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Please stay out of the hospital unless you are a close family, or a friend that is basically family.

    Your presence is overwhelming and not needed. Call, send a letter, send some flowers instead.

    I was in the hospital once, and the visitors were overwhelming and I just wanted to rest. Please, stay home.

  • PM August 14, 2012, 2:59 pm

    I know a few people my dad would call “crepe drapers,” meaning they basically hang around hospitals waiting during surgeries and in emergency rooms waiting to “drape funeral crepe.” They do so under the guise of being “helpful” and “concerned.” I don’t know whether it’s because they get fed some sort of narcisstic supply from being seen as supportive or because they’re just nosy.

    I’ve only had to deal with it once, when a friend was going through a particularly difficult labor. There were several complications and every time the father would come to the waiting room to update the family, the crepe drapers (family friends of the grandparents-to-be) would cluck their tongues and tell some horrifying birth story of a friend of a friend who suffered the same complication, which ended in the mother’s or the baby’s death. I was so horrified by the behavior, not to mention deeply concerned for my friend, I couldn’t even respond.

    The crepe drapers were on their third or so round of “stories that will make you think your daughter is about to die in childbirth” when a nurse left the birthing center desk, walked over and said, “You are not helping the situation at all, telling these nice people those stories in such a loud voice. In fact, you’re scaring the other families whose loved ones are giving birth. If you can’t contain yourself, you have to leave.”

    Of course, the crepe drapers were deeply offended and huffed that they were ONLY trying to help. But they were embarrassed enough that they eventually left. The maternal grandmother-to-be glared at the grandfather-to-be and said, “Eventually, you’re going to figure out not to TELL THEM when someone is in the hospital.”

    Friend gave birth shortly after. She and baby boy are beautiful and healthy.

  • Ruby August 14, 2012, 3:42 pm

    I am posting yet again…

    When my mother was in the ICU with pneumonia (and brain damage from it) she was also on the ventilator. The orders were for her to be allowed to rest so she would not wake up and fight the ventilator.

    My sister’s landlord, of all people, came in. Apparently, he’s some kind of unregistered preacher. He asked if he could pray for her. I assumed that meant to stand quietly by her bedside and pray silently.

    No… he grabbed her hand and yelled, “If you can hear me, squeeze my hand!” (Our mother was unable to understand and/or respond to such instructions at that time.) When she didn’t respond, he did it again. Then he prayed very loudly over her. I was ready to kick him out of the room when my sister made him leave.

    Who do these people think they are?

  • Ruby August 14, 2012, 3:53 pm

    “Wendy B August 13, 2012 at 9:39 am
    I’ve seen nurses in ICU give great latitude to visiting when the person may be about to die. I’ve also seen them kick people out when they got to be too much. I don’t think we give our nurses enough credit for the stuff they put up with.”

    When my mother was in the ICU, my daughter, 11 at the time, fell off of a snowy log. I had to leave my mom’s side and get my daughter and bring her back to the ER in the same hospital. At about 2 in the morning, they told us my daughter’s arm was broken and they treated her.

    Afterward, we went up to the ICU, and I very politely asked the nurse if my daughter could come in to see my mom if she was very quiet. (Visitors have to be 12 and older, and it was the middle of the night as well.) My mother was in very critical condition, and the nurse knew she was probably dying. The nurse was so sweet and allowed us in. She even gave my daughter a warm blanket. That was the last time my daughter saw my mother alive. She got to see her grandma, and I’m grateful for that.

  • lkb August 14, 2012, 4:16 pm

    Michellep: How unexpected and what a sweet thing for you to say! I wish you well on your nursing career — you sound like the kind of nurse we all want to have.

  • Angela August 14, 2012, 10:37 pm

    Mamamia: my department chair was seriously ill and in the ICU for several weeks a couple of years ago. I am very fond of him but decided against visiting him. I’d be in the way, if anything, and I also knew he wouldn’t want me to see him in that state. Thanks for the affirmation. I did send food (for the family) and when I told him why I hadn’t visited him, it turned out that that is exactly how he would have felt and he was glad that I hadn’t come.

  • penguintummy August 15, 2012, 4:11 am

    Just to clarify, at the hospital I work at, security cant be called on for every disagreement. I asked the ladies to leave and spoke with B’s brother to ask them not to come back. They weren’t there as friends, they were there to make themselves feel good and important.
    In Australia carers are workers in aged or disability care who help with feeding, showering, dressing etc.
    Interesting to read all the comments!

  • --Lia August 15, 2012, 8:06 am

    Let me share a positive story. My boyfriend and I were in the town where he used to work. We’d gotten together with his old work buddies, many of whom he considers good friends. We were prepared to leave the next day when he came down with symptoms that landed him in the ER, then admitted to a room, then given a series of invasive tests, then surgery. As illnesses go, this one wasn’t terribly serious. I’m sure the EMTs don’t remember it as anything out of the ordinary, and from a legal standpoint, he was always competent enough to make his own decisions, but as you can imagine, I was pretty concerned and by his side every moment. Since he’d promised to send some information the moment he got home, he emailed them to say he was hospitalized and still in town. One of his friends visited the hospital. I was glad to have him there. No one else called. At the time, I didn’t think about it one way or the other. 5 days later when he was discharged and seeing them again before leaving town, one of the women he worked with told me that when she was seriously ill, the constant phone calls and visits and notes of concern were a bother, so when she learned what was happening with my boyfriend, she went into action. ONE person was put in charge of visiting. ONE person was in charge of disseminating news. Everyone else was given instructions to leave us alone. All of a sudden I realized how brilliant that was. I couldn’t thank her enough.

  • Library Diva August 16, 2012, 11:12 am

    PM, I like the “crepe drapers” term. It made me realize something — I have an aunt who is one. Every time we talk to her, it’s all about who’s sick (people I’ve never met, usually — her neighbor’s church friend, her sister’s landlord, people like that). When I went to visit her, she spent the first hour of our visit talking about all the funerals she’d been to recently, and most of them were not ones she had any strong reason to be at. I heard every gory detail about one for a professional connection of my uncle’s from 30 years ago: all the people that were there, the slideshow, the fact that they had to park a half a mile away. Death and illness are like her two favorite topics, and if anyone within a 20-mile radius is sick, she seems to know all about it. If I ever have bad health-related news that I don’t feel like telling each family member individually, I will just tell her and she will probably have it spread to the entire state by morning!

  • JM Bookworm August 20, 2012, 6:54 am

    I’m a nurse in a hospital and reading some of these comments makes me relise that people are the same everywhere. My least favourite type of visitor are the people that think visiting hour don’t apply to them, I have had several instances of family turning up late at night week after visiting hours asking to see their loved one as they have just arrived in town, gotten off a train etc. we try to. Be accommodating to these people and usually say they can come in for a strict 5 minute visit and we stress the importance of rest for the patient. Every one of these late night visitors I have seen has come in shaken the poor patient awake and talked to them loudly and get offended when we ask them to leave well after the 5 minute mark. Some people just don’t seem to understand that it’s not all about them.

  • Kira September 6, 2012, 6:04 am

    I only just came out of ICU and had an actual funny about visitors. I don’t speak to my mother, but even last time when we had minimal contact she got upset I didn’t tell her about a minor surgery. So I asked someone in the family just inform her I had brain surgery again, was out of surgery and survived. She some how figured that despite no contact for 5years on very bad terms to ring me in ICU (she has other ways she could contact me). I advised the nurse simply I don’t speak to the person fo that name who was my mother. If she calls they have my permission to inform of my condition, but I don’t wish to see or speak to her.

    The funny thing happened when my dad and step mother visited later that evening. My father quickly stopped to tell the nurses “Just Kir’as mum and dad visiting her”. The nurse immediately perked up and gave them a polite and professional questioning names and came and clarified with me that they were indeed two different people. It was amusing for my dad who had for the past couple of days been in with my step mum before with no issue to be stopped and comforting for me. I am not sure what the nurse said, probably that I was unwell to take calls and didn’t wish to speak to anyone. However I loved the audacity of my mother to think not only would I be able to speak to her that soon post op (she was my last brain surgery), but that I would wish to speak to her. If she really wanted to mend fences doped up 1 day after brain surgery is not the way and opens many wounds.

  • Heather B September 17, 2012, 12:42 pm

    When my dad was in his final few weeks after a 2yr battle with cancer I was just amazed at the actions of some people. In my family, the immediate family is always at the hospital (in this case my step-mother, sister and myself arranged to have at least one of us there at all times). In the case of my dad this allowed us to handle the situations that the nursing staff were just too overworked to handle most times (helping him stand up so he could use the bathroom and such). This also allowed us to end visits when dad was unable to but I was flabbergasted at the actions of some people.

    He had one set of visitors though that refused to get the message. They were extended family members who normally are very well versed in proper etiquette. On more than one occasion they would stop by the hospital and stay for hours. Even after my dad would start to comment “well I’m feeling a bit tired and need a sleep” they would just laugh like he was making a joke. When he did fall asleep (which happened regularly by that time to which the rest of us would just go to reading till he woke up again on his own) they would shake him awake!My sister and I eventually had to resort to a phone list where we would get called by other family whenever those two were heading up to see dad so we could be there to end the visits before they turned into a full day thing. We tried talking to them about this and were brushed off that we were being too protective of our dad cause of our ages (we were both in our 20s at the time).

    I mean I learned very early on that death brings out the absolute worst in people but I expected something better in the case of an end of life situation.