As a nurse you have had your fill of treating rude patients. You know the ones I mean. Your stomach scrunches up into a knot when you say their names. You dread answering their bell. Don’t despair. There are two things you can do to deal with these patients’ rude behavior.
1. Put yourself in your patient’s shoes.
An oncology nurse, Cathy, was giving chemotherapy to 19 year old Karl who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Week after week Karl acted rudely to Cathy. She was getting angrier and angrier at the way Karl treated her and hated to see him walk in the door.
What would happen if Cathy takes the focus off her feelings and starts thinking about what it would be like to be Karl. How would she feel if she was facing cancer at his age?
The next time Karl came in for treatment, he was nastier than usual. Cathy decided to try this new approach.
“What’s it like to have leukemia?” She asked Karl.
“It sucks.” he replied as he started to cry. “I’m afraid I’m going to die.”
As they talked, Cathy realized Karl was using anger to keep from facing his fears. Dealing with your own mortality is hard at any age. To a teenager, death is incomprehensible.
2. Change how you feel about your patient’s behavior.
When Karl was rude to her during his chemotherapy sessions, Cathy felt mad. Why? What was Cathy saying to herself about Karl’s actions that caused her to feel that way?
To feel angry she must have been thinking: “Here’s another teenager who doesn’t respect older people.” or “He shouldn’t be treating me this way.” or “Who does he think he is to be so rude?”
If Cathy changed her thoughts, she could change her feelings. If she said to herself, “He must be going through a rough time.” or “This has got to be hard for him to handle at his age.”, then she could have felt empathy or sadness or understanding.
Next time you are dealing with a rude patient, put your feelings aside for a minute. See if putting yourself in that patient’s place will give you a new perspective. How would you act in the same circumstances? If you are feeling negatively towards this patient, take a minute to listen to what you are telling yourself about his behavior. If you can change your feelings, you maybe able to take action that will ultimately improve your patient’s behavior.