4 Ways To Handle Grumpy Patients

A couple of days ago an 86-year-old patient was admitted to us during my night shift: Glasgow coma scale 5, pH of 7.1 CO2 of 110 mmHg. Even though this seemed like a clear indication for intubation, because of his medical history we were hesitant to intubate him right away and decided to give non invasive ventilation a try.

The nurse and I spent practically the whole night watching after him. With great success. His blood gases and mental status improved rapidly. In the morning of my following night shift I asked him, now with an O2 Saturation of 100% and normal blood gases how he felt.

I’m gonna be honest with you, I was fishing for compliments and kind of expected something like:

 “Great, a lot better, thanks for saving me one week of intensive care unit by not intubating me rightaway.”
OR
“You have no idea, I thought I almost died two days ago, now I’m practically fine.”
Silly me.
Instead he said:

“Horrible! This is the worst place I have ever been in. What is this place?” I asked him what was wrong he replied: “Look at these pyjamas your nurse gave me!! I can’t wear those! What is this? And the food? Who can eat this? This is the worst place I have ever been in my whole life. $%&$$”

I’m gonna be honest with you once again and confess that my response was not all that professional. Maybe, cause once again I was sleep-deprived.

I responded passive aggressive by saying ironically: “I didn’t expect thankfulness. But 30 hours ago you were practically dead. The paramedics, the nurses the doctors and I saved your life. Maybe you find something else to focus on right now but the pyjamas.”

I can think of four ways to handle these situations better than I did it back then:

1. Don’t expect thankfulness.

By lowering your expectations, you won’t be disappointed easily.
If your happiness and fulfillment in the job depends on people telling you what a great job you did , more than likely you’ll burnout quickly, cause mainly that doesn’t happen all too often.

2. What are the odds?

Acknowledge that a high percentage of the people on this planet just isn’t very nice. I don’t know about the city you live in, but in Berlin, many people in  the subway aren’t all that polite. They yell, they push, they aren’t polite. Why should that be different in the hospital?

3. Don’t focus on the unthankful people.

There still are the nice people, who get what you do and who actually see, that you the effort you put in your work. Spend some time with these folks, have a chat with them and try to remember them. Try to absorb these experiences to charge your battery.

4. Challenge them.

I sometimes also totally lose an objective view on reality and complain about totally irrelevant things. In these cases, I appreciate it if someone (many times my wife) opens my eyes and asks me whether I have lost my mind.
In the example above I should have asked the patient  this:

“Really? Really? You almost died a couple of days ago.

During the night three paramedics drive to your house, call another doctor who rushes in your home, picks you up, drives you to the ER where three other nurses and two other docs help you, then the ICU-nurse and another doc spend the whole night making sure you are fine.

You get well very quickly and the first thing you do is complaining about the pyjamas and the food? Really? That is the main point you focus your judgement on, right now? Really?”

 If the answer is yes – well, anymore talking would be a waste of time.
Question: What’s  the craziest thing a patient ever complained to you about? Leave a comment below. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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