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Understanding fear is a vital part of care

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‘Don't you drive yet?’ a colleague asked me, as I muttered about the new bus timetable. I hastily discounted any idea of applying for a driving licence, adding that, it was far too grown-up a thing to do – and besides, I might accidentally hurt someone.

He paused for a moment. ‘You give IV drugs on a daily basis but won’t learn to drive?’ It does seem a bit silly. But fears don’t come with the prerequisite of being rational – ask any patient.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a patient who was frightened of being anaesthetised and never waking up again. So much so, in fact, that they’ve put off seeing a doctor and even delayed having an operation.

Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what’s worrying them – are they worried about how their spouse is coping at home? Is it generalised anxiety about their problem or are they just missing the dog?

Before reassuring them, you have to understand why they’re anxious. And that’s where we sometimes fall down, because that means gaining their trust, understanding their problem and setting their mind at rest. That all takes time – something we don’t always have enough of.

I’m lucky. I work in a well-staffed area where I’m well supported by my colleagues. Not everyone does. But when you do, what a difference it makes to be able to spend that extra five minutes with a patient, to sort their problem out and leave them feeling relaxed and reassured. You can’t really put a price on that.

Sometimes people’s fears surprise me – they can seem obscure to the point of being esoteric or as pedestrian as they are commonplace. That doesn’t matter. What matters is taking them seriously and doing what you can to inform and reassure the patient. We mustn’t judge the validity of concerns. They all deserve respect and sympathy.

Arabella Sinclair-Penwarden is a staff nurse in Devon

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