It’s no secret that some patients can be incredibly challenging to look after, but what exactly constitutes a difficult patient?
Is it non-compliance? Aggression? Someone who is more than a little enthusiastic with their call bell?
Nursing is hard work at the best of times let alone caring for patients who can be confused, demanding or even abusive. While nurses are remarkably resilient at coping with whatever is thrown at them (and sometimes this literally means objects that are thrown at them) it can be difficult to know exactly how to deal with ‘difficult’ patients.
Personally I dislike it when patients are labelled as ‘difficult’ when they are handed over. It implies that they are purposely trying to make things harder for the nurse when the truth is they are probably just anxious, scared, confused or unsure.
The vast majority of patients would not choose to be in hospital or dependent on others for care but they do not have a choice. Remember how lucky you are to be able to leave at the end of your shift and go home because some patients will never get that opportunity again.
I have found that taking time to listen to and acknowledge patients who have ‘caused trouble’ is often all that is needed to put them at ease and make them more co-operative; a luxury afforded to me by supernumerary student status; however there will always be times when nurses may come close to losing their patience with patients because we are after all, only human (though you could easily see why others may assume we are actually angels).
Everyone has their own strategies for coping with difficult patients but let me share mine with you; though I suspect you may already be familiar with it. Imagine you are at work and for whatever reason you are starting to feel frustrated and short tempered with a patient.
As clichéd as it may be take a deep breath, count to ten and take a step back.
Now take a look at that patient again. Are they young, old, male, female? It is irrelevant. That patient is someone’s family. They are someone’s mother, father, grandparent, child, husband or wife. How would you feel if they were your grandparent? Would you not want them to be treated with kindness and compassion?
There is no excuse for abusive or violent behaviour and these should be reported and handled appropriately; but for me the solution is simple. Treat your patients as you would wish your relatives and yourself to be treated – with the love and respect they deserve (even if they are being a pain in the gluteus maximus).
Laura Carter is a third year student nurse at the University of Kingston.