The dynamic world of healthcare. It’s the field I decided to invest my education in and get a job in. I’ve seem some of the best things happen, and some of the most horrendous things doing what I do. I’ve met thousands of people from many different backgrounds, suffering from very different struggles. With each individual I meet, I learn something new. I empathize with their struggles and learn what it takes to make a difference in a patient’s day (or in some cases, life). I notice that there are so many things that go unanswered or unexplained that can make a huge difference in a patient’s experience and outlook. These 10 pieces of advice are enough to uncover some of the most personal levels of empathy towards patients, and will hopefully help you better understand your healthcare providers when times are tough.
1. Get a living will. Know what it is. Use it.
My most valuable piece of advice, hence the reason it stands at number one. A living will is a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent. We all work hard our entire lives building wealth and investments. Give your families and yourself peace of mind that the right decisions will be made on your behalf when you can no longer physically make them. (That includes decisions for your life as well.) Give your family the comfort of knowing that what they choose as your ultimatum during struggling times is what you wanted for yourself. Too many times have I seen withering patients being forced to cling on to their lived out lives by means of artificial life support because their families or next of kin just couldn’t accept reality and let go.
2. Being calm is part of my job.
Please stop assuming that your nurse or therapist does not care about your ill family member because you caught them at the nurses’ station making a head piece straw out of suction tubing while comparing CPR to the “Staying Alive” music video. We spend a good amount of our time in hospitals making a living out of what we do. We see things that you don’t ever need to see. Part of our jobs include relaying devastating news to someone about a love one or witnessing someones’ child die despite all of our attempts to save them. We deal with things that happen to people that are just unfair and unexplainable. Our emotions need a filter for the sake of our sanity. It is our job to take care of you and to make sure you get what is best for your overall well being. It is also our job to keep it together throughout our day. The fact is, it’s part of our job to be strong. While we are resuscitating your mother or calling a rapid response on your child, inside we are crying with you.
3. There are things we are not entitled to tell you.
We usually know what your preliminary test results mean once we get them. Unfortunately, due to the laws of medical malpractice and ethics, we are not licensed to tell you. Nothing is worse for a nurse to receive bad results about your possibilities of having cancer or a debilitating illness before the doctor has been in to see you. I assure you that we wish we could give you answers but legally, we can’t. Understand that we are here to help you in your time of need, not keep things from you.
4. Work follows us home sometimes.
There have been times where certain situations linger in my mind way past the time I clocked out for the night. We are human and despite our attempts to keep it together at work, that’s not always possible. Being human gives us the right to be sensitive. We go home and pray for you. We cry the tears we held in all day for you. It is nearly impossible for a human being to leave work for the day without a drop of emotion after failing to save a child’s life. It is just as impossible to hand a devastated mother her lifeless child to hold one last time. This is just part of our work days, despite our best efforts to make everything better. Sometimes when all you can do is blame us because you are in denial, it is higher powers that are in control. We spend our 12+ hours running around exhausting ourselves caring for you, while wishing we could just have a little bit of time to hold your hand and be there for you during these trying times.
5. You have the right to a second opinion.
We won’t ever tell you that we think your doctor is wrong. Although we can tell you that it is perfectly okay to consider seeking a second opinion. Not every doctor is created equal, and not all have gone through the same experiences. Some have been in practice for a few years while some have spent the equivalent of my age practicing medicine. There are some doctors out there where reimbursements and compensation is all they see, hear, or care about. Ask questions and be involved with your care. It is your doctor’s job to take care of you, but it is ultimately your job to ensure that. Unfortunately, in my field of work, I have seen a handful of practitioners refuse or avoid using certain strategies to help save a person’s life because of sheer ignorance or fear. Some are not competent enough or are just not willing to ask for some help. Ego is a big issue in the healthcare field, and I wish more patients knew that.
6. Treat us nicely. We are the one’s caring for you.
Please keep in mind the dynamics of the human behavior. If you treat someone with respect, you will get it back. Treat somebody poorly and it may affect the way you are cared for. I always make myself as emotionally available to my patients as possible. Please do not abuse my empathy. I will answer that call bell of yours and walk into your room with a smile every time. Keep in mind that how you treat one nurse may affect how you are treated by another. We are human! We talk amongst ourselves and complain. It is just how people are, regardless of their title. You are in the hospital so we know life sucks for you right now. Trust me, out of all the people to understand that it would be us. We work with the ill all day long. Yet mistreating the person who is working their ass off to get you out of this hole is not going to make your stay any better.
7. Don’t bother to ask if I have done this before.
When I am asked this question, I will usually say yes even when it is not true. Part of my scope of practice is to perform these needle sticks, catheter inserts, and other painful procedures on you. It will not make you feel any better to know that it is really my second day on the job and you are my lucky number one. It will also not be any better if this is my 57375385 day as a critical care nurse who has 3 other critical patients and hours left of charting to do. We are all human and we all have our days. Sometimes there are days when there is no such thing as a difficult IV. Other days, your vein will be waving us down yet we still cannot find it. On the flip side, it is perfectly okay to ask for another provider to try a needle stick if your arm has had enough of one nurse. You aren’t a mannequin, and your level of comfort should be respected.
8. If you like us, fill out those patient comment envelopes.
Taking the time to fill out those patient comments actually goes a long way. Every year we are evaluated by our superiors and those show up to our benefit. We work hard because we want to. We work hard because we know it is you that we are working for. I chose to work in healthcare because it gives me the opportunity to help those that need it. If you notice that work ethic, voice it. Remember our names and let people know that good healthcare still exists out there.
9. Take infection control seriously. Enforce it!
My least favorite part of working in the healthcare field is watching fellow healthcare workers (including your lovely doctors) walk in to various rooms without washing their hands or obeying contact precaution regulations. In a nutshell, there are certain bacteria and viruses that are transmitted in different ways. Some are by contact (touching a patient or an object that is contaminated), droplet (sneezing or touching something with contaminated droplets), or airborne (its all over the air, so wear a special mask). We even have immunocompromised patients that are placed on precautions for their safety. Hospitals have it all over the place. There are big orange signs instructing you what to do before entering a room with contact precautions. There are hand washing posters in every crevice of the hospital. Unfortunately, it is not in everyone’s priority to follow these simple rules and a simple reminder from their patient is all it takes to get them back on their infection control game.
10. We won’t tell you to make your loved one a DNR.
There is nothing more unethical than telling you that we think it is best to let your loved one go. We will help clarify reality for you and help you choose the best care for you and your loved one. Death of a loved one is a very difficult part of life to go through. Our judgement is often hazed with emotion and denial that deciding what is best may be the hardest decision you can ever make. Understanding the reality of a situation is so important in these times. This can often lead us to help you decide on placing your loved one in comfort care where we can avoid torturing them with broken ribs after CPR or pointless pain and torment that all those tests and procedures do to them. Death is a normal part of life and we will all endure it sometimes. If the time is here, let your loved one go with dignity.
My point for sharing this article is to bring definition to the intentions of your healthcare providers. There are some things that just cannot be said within our scope of professionalism, which can make medically trying times that much more difficult. Hopefully, this article will play a role in helping you realize that good healthcare workers are out there. Hopefully it will show you that you are just as important in your health plan as we are. You are part of your own health care team. So by knowing your options and understanding your situation, you have made all the difference. Take care of yourselves, and appreciate those that do the same for you.