I often see interesting, beautiful and inspirational things decorating my patient’s rooms. Gifts from families and friends certainly help people to feel better about being stuck in a dreary and boring hospital environment. Having something nice to look at can help individuals deal with pain, loneliness and depression, too.
Furry stuffed animals, plastic flowers, books, greeting cards and balloons usually aren’t much of a problem from an Infectious Disease standpoint.
Rosary beads, fetishes and other religious items are likewise not an issue.
Living green plants and blooms are beautiful, but can be a threat to immunocompromised patients who have reduced immunity. Wet soil and potted plants can grow mold, and flower vases containing cloudy water can contain bacteria of many types.
Battery powered waterfalls can be contaminated with skin organisms when patients and visitors stick their fingers in the water to play in it, and Legionella as well as other water-loving bacteria can cause pneumonia when they are aerosolized by these devices. These are best avoided, even in relatively healthy patients.
Therapy dogs and other pets have skin organisms similar to those of humans and other mammals, but if they are petted by many patients, their fur can certainly become colonized by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
At some hospitals, I have even seen such animals allowed to touch the patients’ bedding, which might be contaminated by patient sputum/stool or blood. Although no outbreaks have been reported from such a source, it is always a good idea to use Purell or wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching the animals.
When choosing edible gifts, it might be wise to check with the patient’s nurse or doctor to see what sort of diet they might be on. Low salt or diabetic diets might not include rich chocolate candies or fried pork skins!
Hopefully, these few tips will help you to find happy and healing items for your hospitalized friends and famly.
Happy, Healing and Safe Gifts (first three always, fourth only in some circumstances)