Hospitals are not a tick on the social calendar

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Over the years and in several countries of the Gulf, I have noticed that hospitals often become centers of social gatherings, particularly with the more traditional families. If a family member is admitted, you can be sure that he or she will be entertaining the whole family and friends to boot during their stay.

My wife was admitted at a local hospital recently as a result of a bronchial viral infection. The daily visits to cheer her up provided me with a brief snapshot of how hospitals strive for order and how patients and visitors alike seem to take off in the opposite direction.

It is at one of the better hospitals in Jeddah, well laid out with soothing and friendly décor. The hospital is not a very large one but seems to be planned with the convenience of patients and visitors alike in mind. The staff for the most part is courteous and amiable, and one does not immediately sense that this is primarily a commercial enterprise, hungrily out to get your last drop of blood, unlike some other such institutions.

During my visits to cheer up my wife, I happened to observe quite a few radical violations of posted rules. For one, in spite of “No Smoking” signs everywhere, some people insisted on doing just the opposite. While this infraction may be tolerable at other places, it is certainly not helpful at a hospital. In fact, on the fourth floor at a lounge for children not far from the room where my wife was admitted, adults were busily puffing away near the emergency exit while watching a soccer game on television. My requests to curtail this misbehavior within the premises were obeyed only during my presence. Once my back was turned, out came another dosage of nicotine. My comments to the expatriate hospital staff on this matter were usually met with a shrug of helplessness.

The next common transgression I immediately noticed was how we have a passion for parking right up at the entrance. It doesn’t matter if there are “No Parking” signs posted. If we can double and triple park, so be it. In fact, a few visitors had driven on top of the sidewalk closest to the entrance. God help those pedestrians and visitors alike who had to navigate between this jungle of oddly parked cars. The extremely bold and adventurous drivers had gone so far as to park their vehicles where the ambulances had to pull in thus blocking any access in an emergency. Is this an inherited habit from days gone by when all we had to ride were the backs of camels?

Cellular phone usage was de rigor with the visitors as they sat in the lobby or by the doctor’s waiting room. The different ringing tones of several cell phones on the patients’ floor one evening literally drove me nuts! Cellular microwaves could and often do play havoc with the settings on life-support equipment.

And then there were the visitors! Not content to limit themselves to small parties or groups, these people came in large herds carrying everything but the kitchen sink into the patient’s room. Flasks of tea, or pots and pans of home-cooked food in the arms of the weary maids trailing them, it did not matter. This was party time, and the visiting crowd swelled ten-fold over the weekend. The home-cooked meals may have tasted better, but weren’t the patients aware that they had to follow a strict and regimented diet of hospital fare for their speedy recovery? And the kids! They simply ran out of the rooms and used the hallways for track and field! Have we totally lost control as parents?

Whenever people are in a hospital here, there seems to be more emphasis on the visitor than the patient. This whole hospital visiting thing has got out of hand. Instead of being there for the patient, their families have to act as hosts; serving tea, coffee, cold drinks, chocolates, dates, etc. They are already worried about their family members in the hospital but then they have all the added pressure of being hosts and receiving visitors. It can't be restful for the patient either, having a room full of visitors and maids, kids, etc. around.

When I spoke to a Saudi lady about her experience when her father-in-law was in the hospital, she felt the same way. She was absolutely exhausted. She said that “when I deliver my next child, don't expect any chocolates, I'm opting out of that whole thing. Let’s stop this hospital circus and put the patient first.”

While I believe that all patients welcome visitors to break the monotony and boredom of hospital stay, and especially those patients whose mobility is severely limited, we as visitors must try to maintain a regard for their comfort and welfare and respect hospital visitation rules. And let us not forget the convenience of those other patients we do not know.

Hospitals are there to fix people and not an event to mark off on a social calendar.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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