What Really Happens In A Shared Hospital Room

But it's worth remembering what gets lost when a medical trend takes hold. While a good night's sleep and lower risk of infection are excellent arguments for single-occupancy hospital rooms, there are times when it's nice to have a stranger in the next bed. This became clear in several comments on the post, which offer a glimpse into the kind of close calls that can happen, often at night, when no one else is watching.

For instance, judithg writes:

"Make sure you get into a shared room or a ward. It's the best way to stay alive. If it weren't for my city hospital ward mate who got up at 3am when I had convulsions, I would have been dead at 19. Shared rooms with at least two patients means that nurses and doctors are going in and out of the room all night and that gives you a chance to grab one or point to an infusion that needs refilling."

JLP makes the point that annoying patients can alienate even the most attentive nursing staff, and that can lead to trouble:

I once had a roommate who was so needy about everything possible that the nurses tuned her out and ignored when she called for them. Lucky for her and them, I noticed that she seemed more agitated at one point than before and called them myself to come take a look at her. Turned out she was having a severe allergic reaction to her pain meds. A roommate can come in handy!

And frankly, even the best nurses can't be with all patients every minute. "On two different occasions," writes xray, "in two different hospitals, I was sharing a surgical recovery hospital room and was able to alert the nursing staff during night about serious adverse events happening to my room mate for which he was unable to call (or realize his situation) and which required immediate attention. In a private room they would probably have suffered, or in the one case bled to death."

A parent, ab2cup, says that for children, a shared room can provide instant playmates:

Both of my sons spent a couple of days in the hospital in Germany when they were under 7 years old. Not only were there other patients in the room, but my wife stayed over night in the room with them. The kids shared toys and movies. It was far better for them than being alone.

Of course, as Sartre said, "Hell is other people," and having a roommate when you're sick and vulnerable can certainly be a bummer. One reader recalled a meth user roommate "who got very antsy (and chatty and demanding) by 10am each morning as she bargained with the staff for meds." And then there's this, which reminds me of taking the Acela from New York to Boston before they had the "Quiet Car."

omg....a few years ago I had to spend a week in a hospital after major surgery....started out with a younger roommate....she was on her cell phone constantly, even very late into the evening...I'm talking midnight. Also, she kept the TV on constantly, even if it was muted, when it was 2 a.m., the flickering/changing lights and colors made it almost impossible for me to sleep. I even asked one of the nurses to speak to her....he was hesitant to do so. She finally left after a few days and I got some peace.

If you want to hear more on this topic, or add to the discussion, listen to Radio Boston today at 3.

This program aired on September 20, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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