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In hospital room, seek oblivion

Wed., April 3, 2013, midnight

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After several months of being confined to hospitals and rehab facilities, I’m confused about proper behavior of patients when two strangers live together.

How to keep some sense of privacy? Guests, medical procedures, sleep interruptions can be stressful during an illness.

GENTLE READER: Yes, and you should be entitled to sick leave from etiquette, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. If it did, your roommate would also be free to drive you crazy. Miss Manners imagines that you probably already have a good idea of what that can be like.

The situation requires what might be called compassionate inattentiveness. That means that while you should be alert to any emergency affecting your roommate, you should be oblivious to all conversation, medical or social, that is not directed to you. Any information you overhear should be considered unheard, to the extent of your showing signs of having heard it for the first time if your roommate chooses to repeat it to you later.

As for conversation that is over-directed to you, your own illness can be cited to protect you from unwanted chatter: “I’m so sorry, but I need to rest now.”

If the sleep interruptions are from avoidable noise, such as television or telephone calls, you should negotiate politely with your roommate about the proper hours – preferably in the presence of a hospital authority, such as a nurse, to whom you can, if necessary, confidentially report violations.

Unfortunately, this does not help you with inadvertent noises, such as groans and snoring. Nor does it help you with inconsiderate roommates, which is why people who are able to spring for outrageously priced single rooms do so. The most you can do then is to tell your doctor – out of earshot of your roommate – that you are suffering from lack of sleep and hope that another accommodation is available.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,


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