Flowers for patients
Q. I recently brought a nice bouquet of flowers for my elderly aunt, who was hospitalized for a broken hip. She was quite depressed, and I thought the flowers would brighten her day, particularly since she is a dedicated gardener. To my surprise, the hospital had a policy against bedside flowers, and I could not deliver my gift. What's behind this policy, and is it reasonable?
A. The main worry is infection. Flowers harbor bacteria, and so does the water in a vase. But the presence of bacteria does not automatically translate into the risk of infection. Bacteria, after all, are everywhere; in fact, the human body is home to 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. Most of these microbes are quite wimpy and pose little risk to healthy individuals. But some hospitalized patients are particularly vulnerable. That's why fresh flowers are typically excluded from the rooms of patients with impaired immune systems; cancer chemotherapy patients are a prime example.
There is little evidence that flowers are risky for patients who have intact immune systems. It seems likely that your aunt's hospital has extended a policy that may protect patients who really need protection to those who don't. When it comes to hospital infections, it's hard to argue with an excess of caution — but if the risk is truly minimal, it might be wise to consider psychological health, too, which can also play an important role in recovery.