Tag Archives: patient rights

Does a hospital’s right to hire smokers trump a patient’s right to breathe clean air?

I was recently in the hospital to get a head start on trying to control the leaky cellulitis/lymphedema/edema causing havoc and pain on my left leg and life.  For an entire day all my experiences in the hospital were incredibly good… until…

The new aide came closer to take vitals until she was close enough to smell cigarette smoke on her.  “Smoker”?  I asked – she said, “Yes” and continued to wrap the blood pressure cuff around my left arm and placed the thermometer into my mouth.

For whatever reason when she finished with the blood pressure, she held on to the handle of the thermometer and I smelled the smoke on her fingers held next to my nose.  My mouth was tight around the thermometer and now could not breathe without smelling her smoke and I pulled away and said, “Your fingers reek of cigarette smoke.”

She agreed and I suggested she wash her hands.  She said she did but the smoke smell did not come off.  I was trapped – a hospital patient forced to inhale cigarette smoke from a hospital worker.  She said she would get someone else to do my vitals.

Funny thing.  I was in that hospital because of a forty-year smoking habit and developed emphysema (COPD) due – probably – to smoking.

I stopped smoking in 1997 – a tough time that took me over two years to get over the gut wrenching addiction urge to smoke again…and here I was trapped in the hospital, forced to inhale smoke from a hospital employee reeking of cigarette smoke.  The irony of all their outside hospital signs proving they were a “Smoke-free” hospital and grounds was laughable.

I complained.  The hospital person I complained to told me they would get someone else to do my vitals…that I did not have to have a smoker helping me.  I asked about the other seniors – any patient – who would probably not complain of being forced to inhale the toxins of cigarette smoke from a hospital employee for fear of retaliation…no one seemed concerned about them.  Apparently, the issue is only an issue with me, an ex-smoker, as far as the hospital is concerned.

A few hours later, the RN came in with the vials of antibiotics and other meds that went directly into my veins.  He dropped one vial, hesitated, picked it up, hooked it into the devise going directly into my vein, and plunged the contents inside.  Neither of us said a word.  I remember thinking, isn’t this hospital floor dirty?  And hoped the contents of the vial stayed uncontaminated.

As an almost thirty year hairdresser, if I dropped a comb on the floor it was cleaned and re-sterilized before touching a patron.  Apparently, hospitals are different.

A while later it was time to hook up the oxygen tube to my bipap.  I pulled to get it for her but the end was stuck between the hospital bed wheel and the metal bedframe I’d just lowered.  I left to visit the bathroom and when I came back, the hospital employee had ‘fixed’ it.

I looked and she had placed the deformed tube end on my machine but had not pushed it on to secure it.  I did it and went to bed…wondering why an employee was allowed to reek of cigarette smoke and work around patients….wondered why an RN didn’t throw the vial away and get a new one for the patient when it dropped to the dirty floor…wondered why the tube end of the oxygen tube wasn’t replaced by a clean, sterile one when it had been lodged against the dirty hospital bed wheel.

To be clear…I do not care if the hospital person smokes.  I care when her/his right to smoke interferes with my right to breathe clean air – especially in a hospital.

I was discharged and came home the next day.

Am I overreacting and expecting too much from a hospital?

Thanks for reading… Sharon O’Hara