SERIES: Tips to improve your patient experience: #3 What to do with all those flowers?

 In Cancer, Coping with Chronic illness, Diabetes, Patient Experience

Ok, not everyone is lucky enough to be overwhelmed with flowers when they are sick but flowers are the standard go-to, thoughtful gift sent to someone that is in hospital and ….well, they are a little problematic for us patients. (Sorry) I should explain.

First of all, there is natural tendency to equate flowers with an expression of love/how much people care. But over the long term, this is not good for patients’ morale. 

Unfortunately the number of bunches of flowers you receive from friends and family is inversely related to the length and frequency of your hospitalisations.  The first time I was in hospital it was a shock for everyone (myself included) and I was treated to some incredible floral displays, which was very touching.  But my most recent hospitalisations have seen a total absence of flowers, which is likely (and understandably) representative of everyone getting used to the new normal of me being sick. Compassion fatigue. That can be a bit of a depressing realisation. So best not to count bouquets as love, I find! 

But actually, in truth, I am not too upset by the lack of blooms because the second reason that flowers are problematic for patients is that they are difficult to place and look after in a hospital room!

I know, I sound really ungrateful now.  But hear me out. 

The thing is, as every patient knows, there are essentially only two places in a hospital room that you can have a vase:

  • Your bedside table which is very small and on wheels putting space at a premium and the chances of the vase being knocked or falling off very high. 

  • The small table against the wall that you share with your fellow room occupant and is mostly used by visitors for their stuff or for you to put your tray on to eat your meals. Space is at a premium here too, though at least when placed here both you and your room companion can enjoy the colours from your beds.

And, unless your well-intentioned bouquet of flowers arrives with a vase – which most do not – you have to beg a vase from a busy nurse or hope that today is the day that the helpful ward volunteer will come along and he or she will be able to get you one.  In my experience, there are never enough vases on any hospital ward, anywhere, so in all likelihood those lovely flowers are going to be without water for some time unless, that is, you put them in the sink! But this has obvious disadvantages for both you and your room mate and also rather defeats the object of sending flowers as you can’t see them in the sink if you are in bed.

 

The third reason flowers are problematic gifts for patients is that they wilt. They die. What enters the room all beautiful and full of promise and hope, then begins to droop, shrivel and die. The water goes green and they start to smell. Until finally they are carted off by the cleaning team to go to floral heaven.  I may be more given to thinking in metaphors than others, but the whole wilting and dying thing has little place in my mind for a patient in a hospital room. It’s just not that helpful actually.

 

Fourthly, there are some wards that do not allow patients to receive flowers because of concerns about allergies and pollutants, in which case that thoughtful gift is never even delivered! 

 

All that said…. I can not deny that flowers are beautiful so if you are sent flowers in hospital, here are my tips for keeping them alive!

  • Change the water every couple of days ideally at room temperature.

  • Cut the stems regularly – not so easy in hospital with a plastic knife left over from lunch and I have ruined several nail scissors in my time, but sometimes the volunteers will do it for you and this is a great help!

  • Add those little sachets that come with the flowers. And if you don’t have any, then you can add… soda (sprite or 7up!) or a copper coin or even an aspirin (but I do not advocate using the ones you have been prescribed and are meant to be taking! Humans before flowers. Take your pills in the right doses.)  

And if you are considering sending flowers to a patient in hospital, my tips are:

  • Check with the nursing staff that flowers are allowed.

  • Ask around to find out if anyone else has sent any recently so you can stagger your deliveries.  A new bouquet each week would be lovely!

  • Ask the florist to create a kind of stable vase by wrapping the stems in plastic and filling with water. Some do this already and they are great!

  • Consider whether another gift might be more useful and lasting. (Of course, as the founder of social enterprise INGA Wellbeing providing attractive and comfortable patient clothing, I am going to suggest you send an INGA Wellbeing item or gift coupon as I can personally testify that these clothes have been useful time and again, hospitalisation after hospitalisation!  And if two or three of you pooled your flower money, you would be able to offer a top, trousers or dress as a far more thoughtful gift!

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