The Only Ones Who Can
I agreed to help the other tech with her difficult patient.
The woman in question was slouched in her chair. When the other tech asked if she was ready to bathe yet, the woman swore and pleaded to be put back in bed. The tech looked at me with smug "I told you so" eyes.
The nurse came in and told the patient she had doctor orders to stay in the chair for another 3 hours. The woman yelled and demanded to be put back to bed.
I leaned down to look at the woman. "You look pretty uncomfortable. Here, why don't you let me put your feet up? Here, you dropped your PCA button. Why don't you give it a push? Your gown is all twisted. Why don't you let me put on a fresh one? While we're changing, why don't I wash up under your arms? I'll wash your legs too. We can save the rest for when you get back in bed."
The woman grasped my at arm and said "You're not made for this, honey."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You don't walk away."
"I can't walk away until I get you a little more comfortable, can I?"
The woman didn't swear the rest of the shift.
I'm not saying that all problems can be solved by a little extra attention. But if nothing else can be gained from my short little story, I want to impress upon anyone who reads the idea that anger and rudeness in patients is often misdirected pain. Humans aren't naturally mean-spirited; we care too much about what others think of us to be coarse. We want to be thought well of, so we treat people politely. A patient who is less than polite has either been treated poorly, or is hurting.
Spending a few minutes to make a person more comfortable can make all the difference. Sometimes all people need is a sympathetic ear. I have won over more disagreeable people than I can count simply by listening. It works with coworkers. It works with superiors. It works with perfect strangers. The key to solving the problem lies in not taking things personally. It is important--essential!--for nurses and techs to try to approach patients with a firm respect for their inherent worth as individuals. If we can't try to see where they're coming from, we are not fit to serve them.
It frightens me to think of how that woman's day would have gone if I'd not agreed to help bathe her. She was in absolute agony sitting the way she was, and the other tech was too insulted to see how it needed fixing. That's why I think nursing isn't only my calling, but my duty. If there aren't people like me out there to advocate the patient and listen carefully to their needs... who will?
Nothing is worse than a dismissive or judgemental caretaker.