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Reality Unscripted
Becoming the Patient

It happened last week.  I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, doing my nurse thing.  Suddenly, my heart started acting strange.

I thought it was PVC's, which I have occasionally, but it felt a little different.  I took the stethoscope that was hanging around my neck and listened to my heart.  Wow, I thought, that's pretty fast.  As I counted the beats, I tried to take some deep breaths and calm it down.  I looked up at the other two nurses standing there and said, "My pulse is 160, and I feel a little weird."

Next thing I new, I was in a room with a gown on and hooked up to our ECG machine.  "Do you want to stay here while I go get a doctor?" my co-worker said.

"You've got to be kidding!  Of course I don't want to stay here!" I said.  "I don't want to be a patient."  I got dressed and headed down the hall to find my doctor consulting with another doc, ECG in hand.  Before I knew it, I was in another exam room getting my carotid massaged.

Now the reason for this little story is not to sound dramatic or to get your medical advice regarding my SVT. It's to remind you that being a patient sucks.  It's uncomfortable.  And I'm not talking physically.  It puts you in this place of feeling totally out of control.

And you know us nurses: We like our control.  But I don't think we're alone in that.

So the next time you're caring for a patient, try to put yourself in their shoes.  Try to remember what it was like before you knew anything about medicine. Imagine how they must feel as you spew your new-found knowledge all over them.  Think about the last time you found yourself wearing nothing but an ugly, and all- too-thin piece of cloth (or in my case, paper).  Try to imagine being told that something inside of you isn't working the way it's supposed to.  Or that you will soon be having someone with a very sharp knife standing over you.  Or that there's nothing more to do to make some horrible cancer go away.

None of it feels very good.  Emotions soar.  Fear hovers.

You may not be able to relate to every patient you care for, but you can certainly try to remember a time when you felt out of control, too.

So put on your best empathetic face tomorrow.  Acknowledge your patients' feelings before they even have to voice them.  Help them feel like they still have a little dignity.  Like they aren't stupid.  Like they aren't a bother.  Like they're exactly where they're suppose to be: Getting the best care they can get.

Trust me.  It makes a difference.  And soon enough you'll know just how much.

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9 Responses to “Becoming the Patient”

  1. EdwardRN Says:

    I must admit, I don’t want to end up a patient. I hope I just die on my lawn after jogging or something…no, better yet, on my neighbor’s lawn. I used to be an aircraft electrician when I was in the Air Force; now, I won’t fly. I’m a nurse, and now I don’t ever want to end up in a hospital.

    Ed Gordon

  2. Vivian Says:

    I like to say that I have been on the other side of the bed rail. I have had 8 knee surgeries and a hysterectomy. I know what it is like to be in pain and try to make sure that my patients are properly medicated. And also use what my doctor has told me will make me feel better and often helps the people that I deal with. I work in an extended care nursing home. Fresh out of the hospital postops. I know that they say nurses are the worst patients, but I try not to be a pain in the butt.

  3. andrea Says:

    I must say, even as a nurse, I’ve never been sick enough to be hospitalized except to birth my children. Learning empathy was a major concern as I had no frame of reference. My parents had not ever been in hospital except when dying. I was completely lost on the “floor”. The author is right. You somehow must put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even if you don’t understand. For me, it became an acquired skill as I constantly asked other non-nursing friends what their hospital experience had been. I worked from what was good and what was bad for them. It helped me quite a lot.

  4. katie Says:

    I 100% agree. I’ve been a patient many times before going into nursing school, so it made it that much easier to empathize with them. Yes from time to time we all get a nasty attitude about that mean patient who just will not cooperate or has a bad social background, but i think back to one of those times I was on the opposite end, and it brings it back to reality.

  5. MCKean Says:

    Yes, many of those, “mean patients who will just not cooperate”, are only trying to have some control over their bodies, their lives, retain some amount of dignity, and protect themselves from very real threats of medical missmanagement. They are not there to do the bidding, but we are there to serve them; including listening to them and respecting their wishes, providing more info when we should, and learn to treat the whole patient. How a patient is treated can make the difference between their suffering PTSD from a major surgery or not.

  6. liz Says:

    I have been to hospital a few times in the past few years and certainly understand where patients are coming from, especially eye patients who have to put up with heaps of drops and positioning certain ways…no that kind lol.

    I found that i try to sneak a look at my records to see what they right and stuff like that. Stupidly didnt look to see if that anaesthetist wrote up 4th hrly maxalon or not…which resulted me staying the night in the ER with extrapyramidal side effects ie tongue hanging out, feeling weird (add valium into it too, made me feel more weird lol) and fittin….not good

  7. Angie Says:

    I’ve had patients that used to be RN’s and they were not the best patients. I think it’s because they do know and understand what’s going on and some of them have not been nurses in a very long time and don’t think how things have changed and fuss about it. I’ve also been the patient. Had to have surgery in Oct. and I tried to be a good patient. Luckily I was only there on an outpatient basis, but I was still on a floor for a few hours. I tried not to complain too much and just let them do what they needed to do. Told me thanks for being such a good patient as I was leaving.

  8. Katie Says:

    I’ve also had RNs as patients, and it’s a toss up. Some of them were so willing to teach me (when I was student), and I was really grateful for that. Others were very picky, and as the Angie said above, they don’t understand the change that heath care has gone through so they get a bit snippy and hard to deal with.

    I had to be in the hospital a couple days to have an emergency lap chole (thank goodness, it might have been converted to an open) before I started my job. It really has changed my perspective on everything when I give care. I’m more sympathetic to their pain, and I understand their frustrations. I was terribly scared before I had my surgery, so I feel like I can put myself in their shoes more than I could before.

    When I was a patient, I didn’t really question the RN at all, but I did notice sometimes they had questionable practices that I should have questioned about, i.e. not scrubbing ports before inserting a needle.

  9. Sukie Says:

    I so understand what you wrote! I always used to think I was empathetic until I became a patient in a hospital bed and totally at the mercy of others. When I finally returned to work after that ordeal I made a promise that I would never forget what it felt like. Which each hospitalization I’ve had since it just reminds me to be patient, compassionate and understanding to our patients.

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