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.