04/16/2014 12:36 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 11:24 EDT

Sticky Situation: Are Flowers the Best Hospital Gift?

Sticky situation:

I will be visiting a friend in the hospital this weekend. I want to bring something but I am not sure about flowers. It seems to me that they could be quite cumbersome when you have to take them home. Not to mention that some patients are allergic to them. Regarding the box of chocolates, we all know more and more diabetics, so it probably is not the ideal gift. I would appreciate it if you could please give me some gift suggestions to ease my choice. Thank you.


Your intuition is good. Although very embellishing and cheerful, flower bouquets are now being discouraged from being brought to hospital patients. As you write, it could be burdensome for the patient to take the bouquet home and he may be allergic to pollen. Flowers may also trigger an allergic reaction in a roommate.

While undergoing treatments, some patients can't tolerate strong scents. They make them nauseous. These disturbing odours are not limited to flowers, but also apply to perfumes and smoking. When planning your visit to the hospital, avoid wearing perfume and smoking. The smell of smoke is generally an unpleasant one for non-smokers, especially in a health care facility.

Plants are discouraged too as they may contain mold, small insects and even bacteria.

Regarding chocolates, you know your friend and what is allowed or not, in his diet. When in doubt, ask him what he would like you to bring as a treat, or call the nurses' station. If you are bringing candies, make sure that they are individually wrapped. This will help in safe storage and sharing with other visitors, a roommate and the personnel.

For other gift choices, think about cozy, comfortable and comforting things, such as:

  • A throw,
  • A scarf,
  • A shoulder wrap,
  • A pair of socks, "spa" style without tight elastics around the ankles,
  • A little extra cushion for the back,
  • A colouring book and crayons, magazines and word games or even a puzzle,
  • An iTunes gift card to buy music, games or an audio book.

Patient or visitor, we are all uncomfortable with hospital visits. Patients feel vulnerable because of the disease and also their outfits. Let's face it, it is not their usual power suit and what you may be used to seeing them in. Visitors, like you, also struggle with what to say and do.

To help, here's a previous blog and some visitor guidelines below.

Make sure that you are welcome. Call the patient, the hospital or relatives to verify.

Do not go there if, you have even the slightest bit of flu, cough or runny nose beginning to manifest itself.

Have a positive and empathetic attitude. It is not about you, it is about him. Be attentive to the patient. You're not there to tell your woes. It is entirely appropriate for you to ask the patient how he is feeling. Let him share what he is comfortable with. Don't ask for details, if he doesn't provide them. Observe his non-verbal body language and take your cues from it.

Turn off your cell phone before entering the hospital. If you are expecting an important call, this is probably not the time to visit a patient. Choose your priority. Your incoming calls can be disturbing to the patient and the others around you.

Do what the hospital signs ask you to do; turn off your cell, use hand sanitizer and/or wear a mask.

Knock before entering, even if the door is open. Wait to be invited in. If the door is ajar and the patient is sleeping, go to the nurses' station and validate whether or not you should wait.

Do not sit on the patient's bed. Use the chair. The patient might feel invaded by your close proximity or be uncomfortable with the movement in his bed.

Do not use the toilet in the patient's room. Use the public restrooms instead.

Use your voice library; soft and low.

When a medical staff member enters the room, excuse yourself to the rest area or say your good-byes.

The ideal duration of a hospital visit is around 40 minutes, but could be as short as five minutes. Generally, when another group of visitors arrives, the previous one leaves. It may be difficult and tiring for the patient to make conversation with everyone.

If you were asked to stay with the patient for several hours, bring reading material. Reassure the patient that you are well, comfortable, and that conversation is not necessary.

Before leaving, ask the patient or his family how you can help by suggesting to:

  • Do the laundry for the patient or his family.
  • Prepare a meal.
  • Taxi the children to their activities.
  • Give news to others; extended family, friends, neighbors or colleagues, by informing them via email, social networks or over the phone, about the patient's progress.

Protect yourself and your loved ones, by reapplying hand sanitizer as you leave the hospital.

Generally, as a visitor, respect the wishes of your friend the patient and the hospital's instructions.

Have a sticky situation at work or home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Check out Facebook, Twitter or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities.