Hospital Etiquette for Patients and Visitors

Etiquette Tip: If you want to bring food in for a patient, please check with the doctor, nurses, etc... ahead of time. Since a thoracentesis is no fun, especially on one's birthday, the doctor who performed it said bringing me a pizza was fine. The nurses that afternoon had agreed too. Sadly, the evening nurses really weren't on board with it, but my husband brought it anyway.
  This is my son, helping me to a piece of birthday pizza.

Etiquette for the Patient

  • Hospitals are for getting well, healing, having babies, etc....  They are not 5-star hotels with room service and chocolates left on your pillow. Accept that fact from the get-go and you should do just fine.
  • Nurses are really wonderful, so treat them with kindness and consideration. Gifts like chocolate, cupcakes, and even Graber Olives were much appreciated from what they told me.
  • Hospital gowns are overly revealing, so if you'll be there for a while, leggings or pajama pants can really help.

Etiquette Tip: Hospital food can be really good... or not. You have the right to politely ask for something else within your dietary limits. Keep in mind though that your sense of taste may be "off" from medications you have been placed on.

I asked for the salmon every night. It was smothered in seasonings on the first night I was brought a dinner. By my last meal in the hospital though (above), I knew exactly what would taste great and what to avoid.
  • If you're somehow feeling worse, or having problems with a medication, ask the nurse to get in touch with your doctor(s). They will do what they can to make sure you are taken care of until your doctor is able to see you.
  • Doctors are really not on a set schedule doing rounds in the hospital. You will see them when it is convenient for them to stop in.
  • Use your time with your doctor wisely. They have other patients they need to check on.  
  • Politely end any phone calls you may be on if your doctor enters the room. Turn off the television as well. 
  • Enlist someone you trust who is willing to help you out. My daughter slept in my room a couple of nights and was really helpful with making sure I got everything I needed, though posting those updates with photos of me in my hospital bed on her Facebook page wasn't really what I had in mind when I asked her to stay.  She laughed after one update, saying, "My friends can't believe you're  tweeting on your iPad!"

Etiquette Tip: If you are sent an abundance of get-well flowers, plants or balloon bouquets, consider leaving one or two for the nursing staff to brighten the days of other less fortunate patients or to possibly give to the children’s ward.

Flowers were a welcome gift, especially as I celebrated my birthday in the hospital.

Etiquette For The Visitor

  • Ask how the patient is feeling and tell the patient how much you care, even if you cannot empathize with him or her.
  • If the patient feels like throwing a 'pity-party' just go with it and don't list off all of the ailments they don't have.  Every now and then, a person is allowed to feel sorry for himself or herself without your judging.
  • Keep your visit brief if the patient complains about being tired.
  • Don't share your own health horror stories.
  • Magazines, a warm shawl or sweater, hand knitted socks or a nice box of stationary are thoughtful alternatives to flowers and candy.
  • Leave the diagnosis to doctors. 
  • Don’t ask the patient (even your friend or family member) for a detailed description of the illness as they may not feel comfortable sharing that information, especially if it is a grim diagnosis. 
  • Please do not offer medical advice, that is why the doctors are there.

My sister and daughter both thought taking photos of me with their iPhones to send to everyone, was really a great idea. I managed a smile, even though I didn't feel like smiling at the time.

  • Don’t come to the hospital if you are sick yourself. 
  • Treats are truly welcome, if the doctor and nurses allow them.
  • Don’t smoke and that means even E-cigarettes.
  • Don’t wear heavy perfume.  (Even favorite scents can smell differently to a patient, due to any new medications a patient may be on.)
  • Don’t sit on the bed.
  • Don’t bring small children unless the patient requests they visit.
  • Don’t touch any medical equipment attached to a patient.
  • Keep your voice down if you are visiting someone and they share a room with another patient who is trying to rest.
  • Just because a patient's eyes are closed, doesn't mean the patient cannot hear you.  Watch what you say.

Etiquette Tip: Put your cell phone away and silence it, unless you absolutely have to have it out. Don't take photos or videos unless the patient gives you permission.                           

A Special Note to the Staff at San Antonio Hospital

A first for me: A very polite, "please" is written on every x-ray request from my doctor. The only thing I can compare it to, is the time I was held-up at gunpoint back in the 1970s when working in a liquor store. The crook actually wrote, "Thank you" at the bottom of the hold-up note he handed me.
I have written this blog post in my head about a hundred times but have avoided putting it online for months. There are a lot of personal emotions regarding my winding up in the hospital for 6 days last spring. Since the doctors were so adamant that what happened to me was "extremely rare" and that they "never see it unless someone is in organ failure, or has suffered from Lupus for many years" (I don't have Lupus, but was diagnosed years ago with Ankylosing Spondylitis) and "We don't know why this happened, so we don't know whether it will happen again..." etc... , I've not felt comfortable reliving the whole thing online. So I will just cut to the chase and say this;

To all of the incredible nurses and doctors at San Antonio Hospital, thank you! You were fantastic. You were all well-mannered and very professional. I do want to apologize for any possible perceived rudeness, or shortness of temper on my part, while I was a patient at your fine establishment. Not having more than 12 or 13 total hours of sleep in a 79 hour period, will make anyone a bit nuts.

As I recall, I only locked horns with one nurse in particular after I was out of ICU, and that was on my last night in the hospital, and it was a complete misunderstanding. So, again... If I was rude in any way, please forgive me. My only etiquette tip for the nursing staff would be to shut the door when you leave a room at night. It was hard enough trying to get 15 minutes of sleep now and then, without the amplified sounds of everything going on in the hall outside drifting into my ears. Otherwise, you are all awesome!

Imagine my shock and sheer delight to see the friendly face of my former 8 year old, etiquette class student, Emile Diaz de Leon, when he walked into my room to say "Hello."  Now 28 years old, and married with a child of his own, Emile works at San Antonio Hospital and heard I was there.  He thought I wouldn't remember him.  But who could forget a smile like Emile's?  Not me.  He even spent his evening break telling me about his family!
And I have to say that all of my new doctors were extremely polite and professional.  In fact, one of my new doctors always wrote "please" at the beginning of an x-ray request keeping tabs on the fluid around my lungs and heart for several months following my hospital stay. I found this most polite and when I pointed it out the first time to the x-ray technician, she was as impressed as I.  Neither of us had ever seen a "please" before on a request from a physician.    

As a side note, I have asked my 3 new specialists, that if I am ever hospitalized again for something so out-of-the-blue crazy happening to my body, to please try to find me a bed in a room with someone who is either comatose or in a vegetable-like state (as opposed, of course, to someone like the junkie who was going through a crazy withdrawal in the bed next to me for 4 days.  Seriously... I wanted to shoot myself after just 2 of those days.)


  1. All of these are real good tips. And yes, your sense of smell and taste can really be changed by meds! Let's do lunch soon.

  2. Great post as usual, seeing a former student hopefully made your stay a little more pleasant.

  3. It really did make it a lot more pleasant. It was a total surprise. Like I wrote though, I was a basket case with no sleep all week. It was a bit embarrassing :( At least it took my mind off of what was really going on. BTW... thanks again for all of your help after I was released from the hospital. I am very grateful to have such a good friend!

  4. I have had many friends and relatives hospitalized for brief stays in the past few years and the addition of cell phones and electronic tablets to the mix has been distracting. They are great for bored patients who need to get word out to others, but visitors bringing them in has caused all sorts of excess noise and challenges. (Note to my nieces and nephews; iPhones and iPads are not babysitters!)

  5. Glad you are doing well now :-)

  6. Whenever I read Your Post Allways got Something New
    Hospital Holloware


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