“Quiet” Superstition in Healthcare

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (PB).

PB: “I work in the healthcare field, and nobody is allowed anywhere in the hospital to say the word ‘quiet’. Because if you say the word quiet, then all you know what will break loose and your quiet moment will turn into chaos. And its in every hospital everywhere in the country, I don’t know about in the world. And if anyone is heard saying the word quiet, they are admonished by everyone around them. And usually we just say ‘you can’t say the q-word!’ And instead we would just say, you know, ‘it’s very calm’, or ‘I like the way things are going right now’. But if you use the word quiet you have broken the cardinal rule.”

CB: “So, why do you think its important that people believe in this?”

PB: “Um, I think that when you work in field such as the medical field where a lot of times things are just not in your control even though you want them to be, you know, you just want to make people better, and you want to have a workload that is manageable, and some sense that there is something that you are controlling. And so by not using that word, you have the idea that you are not bringing on the chaos.”

CB: “What does the quiet superstition mean to you?”

PB: “Uh, to me it means, it’s sorta a part of a brotherhood or sisterhood from being a part of that community in a hospital. It’s something that you all believe in and you all can joke about but its also something like I don’t want your night to get worse and i don’t want my day to get worse, and so we can all do this one sort of silly thing to try and help each other.”


My informant has worked as a respiratory therapist for about 8 years. This position requires that she work with every part of the medical personnel and with every department. She has also worked in about 4 hospitals in the Northern California area. Because of this, she has become very integrated into the overarching healthcare culture surrounding her work.

I interviewed my informant in person. We were in my bedroom on my bed, and the conversation was very comfortable and casual. I had heard many stories from her work beforehand.
When my informant first told me about the quiet superstition, I was really intrigued because healthcare workers are so heavily associated with clinical scientific thinking. However, there are many holes in science. As we have it now, it cannot predict everything, and it certainly can’t predict what will or won’t be a crazy night. In the face of this uncertainty, healthcare workers have begun to believe in this superstition in order to regain a sense of agency. I think that this bad luck superstition is particularly interesting because there is no way to undo it. Once the bad luck has been brought, the entire hospital will be affected until the next shift. I was also really intrigued about how following the superstition was seen as a sign of respect. My informant seemed to acknowledge that the superstition was likely untrue in the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she became a wholehearted believer once she entered the hospital setting.

For more variations of healthcare superstitions see SSMHealth’s blog post “10 ER superstitions for a full moon Friday the 13th”. https://www.ssmhealth.com/blogs/ssm-health-matters/september-2019/10-er-superstitions-for-a-full-moon-friday-the-13