Flowers for patients

Published: March, 2012

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.

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