‘Hospitaland’ full of strange customs

Tips to navigate the bizarre ways of medical culture

The odds are in favour you’ll one day find yourself in a hospital, and the older you get, the greater the odds that you will. You might as well pack your bags today because being a patient is a lot like taking a trip to a foreign country.

If I were to write a guidebook for hospital patients, I’d call it “The Lonely Patient’s Guide to Hospitaland.”

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The inhabitants dress differently — usually in greens and white coats, and it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Doctors wear nametags with their first and last names. Almost all the rest of the staff show only first names. You, however, have to wear a wrist band with your full name, birth date, PHN and the name of some doctor you may not recall meeting.

If you have allergies, you earn an extra brightly coloured wristband, but don’t mistake this for an all-inclusive resort. The closest thing you’ll get to a massage might be a sponge bath.

In the summer time, if your semiprivate room is too hot, you might hallucinate that you’re in a sauna since you and the other guests are all nearly naked beneath your very thin hospital gowns. And like the pool deck, you’ll see more than you wish to of the scantily clad guest strolling by showing places gowns don’t quite cover up.

While you’ve heard that in some countries a five star resort is really four stars in quality, when you start complaining that the food is only two stars, doctors take this as a sign that you’re getting better or at least nearly normal and ready for discharge.

The inhabitants of Hospitaland speak a different language. Instead of “aloha,” we have other multipurpose, ill-defined words like “rounds.” When a doctor visits patients at the bedside, we call this doing rounds. When a bunch of doctors gather to talk about one patient, we call that department rounds. When doctors gather for group education, it’s called grand rounds. When doctors and nurses meet to talk about the patients on the ward, we call it team rounds. When I can’t find anyone to help me read a CT scan, all the radiologists are on brown rounds (that is a coffee break).

They also speak in code. Code Blue is a cardiac or respiratory arrest. Code Pink is a maternity emergency. Code White is a psychiatric emergency. Code Yellow is pee on the floor and a potential WorkSafe hazard. Every hospital has its own code.

The inhabitants have odd customs. Everyone who talks to you will write in a big binder with your name on it, but don’t dare try to look into that binder yourself. A stern and scary nurse will tell you that you are not allowed to do this without medical supervision — unless you care to fill out a bit of paperwork and wait (until you are discharged from the hospital). If you hadn’t been diagnosed with paranoia on admission, you might be before discharge (but don’t take my word for it. Just try to look in that binder).

On Friday, March 27 at 7 p.m., I’ll be speaking on “How to Survive Your Hospital Stay” at the Confederation Community Centre at 4585 Albert St. in North Burnaby (near the McGill Public Library and Eileen Daily Pool). This free public talk is part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients education series. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to have the healthiest, least eventful hospital stay possible. For more information, call Leona Cullen at 604-259-4450 or register online at lcullen@divisionsbc.ca. In my next column, I’ll tell you what to pack for your inevitable trip to Hospitaland.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. For more information on the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s public health education series, check our website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby. For more on achieving your positive potential at every age, got to davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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