Disinfected flowers for hospitalized patients?
April 11, 2006 1:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I disinfect flowers that I want to present to my dad in critical care?

My father is in neuro critical care after a stroke.
People visiting him would like to bring flowers (which I believe will help relieve his post-stroke depression to an extent) but the hospital disallows flowers either in the critical care or in the non-CC wards, to prevent infection from flowers.

Is there a way to disinfect flowers, such as by applying standard commercially available broad-spectrum disinfectants? Do you know of any such disinfectants that can be used on flowers?
Is there any other way to do this?
posted by elamp to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Not if the hospital does not allow flowers - you aren't going to be able to get out of a regulation by claiming you have disinfected them.
posted by agregoli at 1:53 PM on April 11, 2006

Perhaps use silk flowers? They're available at most craft stores.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:54 PM on April 11, 2006

I don't think it's a good idea to second guess the health care professionals on this one. Many hospitals have a concierge or patient advocate department -- they might be able to make a suggestion for a flower substitute. What about decorative balloons? (Though of course a whole roomful of balloons might be rather oppressive, a couple of bunches here and there look very jolly. When she was dying in the hospital, my grandmother specifically asked for balloons instead of flowers.)
posted by La Cieca at 1:58 PM on April 11, 2006

would the hospital allow something like balloons instead of flowers?

on preview,since La Cieca beat me to it: what about bringing in photos of family friends? That might make it feel more homey.
posted by ambrosia at 2:00 PM on April 11, 2006

agregoli >>> "Not if the hospital does not allow flowers - you aren't going to be able to get out of a regulation by claiming you have disinfected them."

Yeah seriously. "The people who know what they're doing say we can't bring them in. So how can we get around that?"

Come on. Ask them what you can bring. And rather than flowers, try something handmade. Have everyone get together, for example, and make a thousand paper cranes. It'll only take a few hours, depending on how many people you have.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:06 PM on April 11, 2006

Also, if you try, it won't endear you to the nurses and staff - some people you will definitely want on your side.
posted by agregoli at 2:08 PM on April 11, 2006

Go with silk flowers or the paper cranes or something like that. Even if you disinfect the flowers (!), it's possible they'll still refuse them as part of a scent-free and allergen-free work or care environment. My hospital also rejects balloons made of latex, although I think they might allow mylar.
posted by acoutu at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2006

I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I'm currently working with a post-stroke patient whose daughter sends her fresh flowers every week, and she definitely appreciates that, so I think your impulse is great.

Photos and pictures could work. Or maybe have people write out cards (even postcards?) that you can read to your dad. Can you bring in a portable stereo and play some of his favorite music, or music that other people bring?

Hang in there. My dad's post-stroke depression lasted quite a long time -- I know how hard and disorienting it can be.
posted by occhiblu at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2006

Ditto to the mylar balloons. At Yale's hospital, at least, there's a big sign in the entryway prohibiting latex but allowing mylar. I don't remember anything about flower prohibitions but the info desk (or hospital gift shop) should be able to answer that.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2006

I'd have to look this up to make sure, but my understanding is that it's not necessarily that the flowers are carrying infectious agents in and of themselves. The concern may be that the flowers standing in water create an excellent medium for bacteria to grow (think about how slimy water gets when you leave cut flowers standing in water too long -- like that, but on a more minor level.) In addition, pouring more water in may cause the bacteria that have already started to grow on that medium to aerosolize and thereby potentially affect the patient in the room.

I have to say that the main places where I've seen this prohibition is actually for patients who are neutropenic (i.e. depressed white blood cell count, as in chemotherapy patients, etc.) Then again, in an ICU setting, you might have other people with compromised immune systems, hence the blanket prohibition.

Balloons: latex poses both allergy issues as well as choking/suffocation hazards for young children.

(Disclaimer: I am a health care professional, but I am not an infection control specialist.)

I think some of the other suggestions are excellent, however, even if they're not what you envisioned.
posted by navsaria at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2006

Flowers also cause work for hospital staff. Someone has to clean the vase, pick up leaves and flowers, move it when it's in the way, etc.
posted by acoutu at 2:57 PM on April 11, 2006

When I was in ICU last year, I couldn't receive flowers there either -- someone told me it was because of scent-free/allergan-free/minimal-bacteria restrictions (and yes, it's the standing water that's the issue, more so than the flowers themselves). Even if those things wouldn't have made me sick(er), they could all have affected other critical care patients. Please don't risk patient health (nor add the hassle to the nurses' workloads) by attempting to get around this regulation.

Silk flowers, balloons (of an allowable material), and artwork/photos/etc. are all great alternatives.
posted by scody at 3:03 PM on April 11, 2006

Irradiated flowers (like irradiated fruit & veg) would be sterile.

But unless the hospital does the irradiating, they're not going to allow them in, since any sick person could sneeze on them between the florist's and the ICU.

Additionally, as an asthmatic who has spent time in an ICU, I suggest to you that there are other reasons for not introducing pollen- and scent-filled flowers into the ICU besides bacteria.
posted by Crosius at 3:43 PM on April 11, 2006

how about favourite music on an MP3 player? small, out of the way, and often a great relief.
posted by b33j at 3:58 PM on April 11, 2006

If you really have your heart set on flowers, maybe you could hang a few posters in his view.

There's something about nature that is invigorating, especially if the only thing you see from your bed is a blank wall (or worse, daytime TV).

If there are children in the family (grandkids?) maybe they could draw pictures of flowers.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:28 PM on April 11, 2006

Quick note about flowers in a critical-care environment: flowers die, and nobody likes to be reminded of that in such a setting. Same goes for plants: "that plant may live longer than I do!" is a bad thought to have. Bring in something that stimulates their mind and gives them a reason to get out of the hospital as quickly as they can.

F'rinstance: my mother-in-law had a brain tumor. Before her surgery, she was morose and thinking the worst. Then she found out that my wife was pregnant with her first grandchild -- she immediately became upbeat, positive and eager to "fight this thing". It's been a few years since the surgery, and her recovery was quick and complete.

Another instance: I just brought my son to visit my parents for the first time (my father is very, very ill) -- the change in his demeanor, and my mother's as well, was tremendous. It was the first time I've seen my father smile in a very long time, and when he smiled at my son, my son lit up like a christmas tree -- and so, then, did my dad.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting you have a child to cheer 'em up -- heh -- but pointing out that positive and engaging thoughts are really important to people in the position your father is in.
posted by davejay at 4:50 PM on April 11, 2006

Bring in something that stimulates their mind and gives them a reason to get out of the hospital as quickly as they can.

A mindflayer? Sheesh, talk about tough love.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 PM on April 11, 2006

Thanks for all your concern and replies.

I know that flowers are a favorite for both my dad and myself.
I am even thinking of a small non-profit business to help people bring flowers to hospitals.

Once I figure out the process, I intend to try & convince some hospitals to let us in(setup or supply to the gift shop, ensure the flowers stay clean by possibly delivering straight to the ICU/wards,taking responsibility for cleanup etc).

Irradidation (as suggested by Crosius) seems like an idea but I do not know how practicable it is.

It may possible to cover the flowers with a suitable transparent material to ensure scent is restricted. Again this may be needed only for patients with respiratory ailments.

I am still freewheeling on this and any ideas would be really helpful.
posted by elamp at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2006

emlamp, my mother and I are allergic to anything green when our immune systems are depressed. She's been in the hospital recently while they're taking care of some issues she's been having, and would be particularly vulnerable to an extreme allergic/athsmatic attack if someone even so much as walked by with a bundle of pollinating flowers that smelled heavily.

I don't think you'll be allowed in to most hospitals. There's too much risk to people like us, and I sure as hell wouldn't appreciate it if the hospital compromised my care by allowing flowers in.
posted by SpecialK at 7:45 AM on April 12, 2006

Yes, chiming in again to say that it's not simply the individual recipient's state of health that's the factor here -- it's the health of all patients in a critical care setting. There are too many risks for too many people in introducing plants/flowers into such a setting -- that's why hospitals have these restrictions in the first place. They have decided that the risks simply outweigh the benefits.

Please respect the medical, logistical, and administrative issues involved here. I love flowers too, and when I was in intensive care it was a bummer to be in there without any flowers in my room (well, it was a bummer when I was alert enough to be aware of my surroundings, which wasn't very frequent), but that's just how it had to be. Even if they hadn't posed a risk to me, they very well could have posed a risk to others.

Again, silk flowers, photos (perhaps of a plant you've purchased/planted on his behalf back home, so he can track its growth), artwork, etc. are all wonderful things to cheer your father while he's recovering, and they don't require you to jump through any hoops.
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2006

Surely I now have a better view of the unintended consequences of flowers in hospitals.

It never is as simple out there or is it?
posted by elamp at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2006

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