A Word About Hospitals and Flowers

The dread “____ is in the hospital” call came in early February. I spent parts of that month on airplanes, doing bedside duty, and taking care of things away from home. A few long weekends disappeared from the calendar, and a bunch of stuff I’d wanted to get done either went *poof* or caused cascading delays. Meanwhile, other, smaller emergencies didn’t get the memo about waiting their turn. It’s taken most of March to get back on top of things.

If you have friends and family, at some point the same might happen to you. One moment your life is chugging along, and the next you’re sitting in a hospital keeping someone company, or just being there for them while they go through a miserable, painful experience.

One lesson from this is that it’s important to have a way to quickly contact people who may be expecting things from you, so that they can know you’ll be unavailable and can make alternate plans. A quick exercise is to list all of the things you’re involved in, and who might be left hanging if you had to suddenly disappeared. Do you have their contact info, or contact info for someone who can let other people know? Can you reach them if don’t have net access?

The other lesson has to do with flowers.

The florist industry has spent a lot of advertising money conditioning us to send flowers when someone we’re close to goes into the hospital. From what I’ve seen hanging around a large hospital, that advertising paid off. Arrangements too large for one person to carry getting wheeled in; Roses and daisies by the dozens; a large, heavily tattooed Yakuza wannabe carrying a dainty little arrangement in a tiny vase for his sick mother.

There are at least three problems here.

First, there’s not a lot of room in many hospital rooms. Surface space is at a premium. There’s no place for the flowers to go that doesn’t displace something else, and often that something else is medical. So expensive arrangements end up on the floor in the corner, out of the patient’s sight.

Second is the issue of pollen and smell. You’d think that people (or florists) would know not to send a mass of allergens into confined places where people might be having, say, respiratory problems. But it happens. And you don’t want the patient going into a sneezing fit when they’re hooked up to a bunch of tubes, or when they’re in traction. And we link smells to events. It isn’t nice to associate the smell of, say, roses with having an IV needle changed and being woken up at all hours for blood pressure checks.

Third is the “no flowers” policy in some wards that will leave you stuck with a bill for flowers that the florist couldn’t deliver, or which a nurse immediately redirected to a trash can outside. An expensive gesture, wasted.

So when someone you love goes into the hospital, think twice about sending flowers. If you can, coordinate and send one small, neutral arrangement. Cards are good. Send cards.