How to be a good patient ….



So after spending the past 10 days either in a gown, out of gown, or en-route to having another gown, I’ve made several observations along the way about being a good patient. Please note being a ‘good’ patient doesn’t guarantee you good care.
And disclaimer alert, don’t take this article too seriously !!

I was brought up in the 70’s, the relevance of this is that we were brought up to respect positions of authority, to be polite and hey I’m British so also have that annoying Hugh Grant apologetic nonsense. Someone else farts in the lift I apologise, I apologise for taking the blame, and then apologise for apologising. Are you feeling me? It’s deep routed I can’t help it …sorry.

The other thing I do and I again suspect I’m not alone here, I thank people a lot. Thanks for operating on me, thanks for transferring me, thanks for your precious time, thanks for not letting me die in surgery. Hey I’m practising gratitude and it’s working for me, you should see my overflowing gratitude jar. Is this annoying you? How much thanks should you offer to be at the acceptable level? Hmmm

Lastly, after a long career in Adults Social Care in front-line services, I pride myself in my patience, tolerance and empathy. I am never rude to a customer, sure some people drive you mad at times, but you never let the mask slip and utter a sigh or eye roll. Definitely don’t let a few f bombs roll out. I’m also genuinely interested in people, communication is my strength so will ask people how they are and want to hear the details. Really….

I’ve previously read in a study that patients were treated better if they had certain qualities. Smiling, being appreciative, considerate, co-operating, following instructions – yah de yah. Undesirable qualities included calling out constantly in pain, being rude, English as a second language, not being considerate, swearing, hitting out etc.

Obviously the more extreme behaviours are unacceptable and undesirable. But the pain thing – hmm surely can’t pain itself can make the mildest mannered person irritable, certainly if not managed properly, and certain pre-existing conditions like dementia would surely mean that person maybe more disorientated, unable to express pain in other ways or scared.

Anyone can feel scared once admitted. There was a period at 3am, the Devil’s hour, on my first night where I did. Why? Well just 8 hours’ earlier I was coming round from 7 hours of surgery, pumped full of analgesia, struggling to manage pain with morphine, my named nurse was on a break and her replacement already caring for 3 other patients left me alone, my oxygen kept dipping and tripping the alarm off, my imagination was on overload and I had no mobile phone to contact the outside world ! Opposite me was a woman who had no verbal communication following a surgical procedure, we’d never met before but there is a patient code. I had her back and she had mine. She would loudly tap her table to get the nurses attention when my (muted) alarm went off and I’d call out reassurance to her when she was struggling to breathe. That was an intense night!

According to another article, the following are the ten most annoying patients staff have to cope with – I’ve already skimmed through to assess which one(s) I am.

1. The Liar – withholds the truth, misses out information, lies basically.
2. The Hypochondriac – worries about every little ache, pain and worries incessantly
3. The Skeptic – is described as belittling a professional’s knowledge and asking for another opinion
4. The Self Diagnoser – obviously has had a better online medical education and knowledge than the professionals and isn’t afraid to tell you
5. The Ingrate – can’t you even just be appreciative? Smile damn you
6. The Angry Patient – Obviously kicks off at everything
7. The Chatterbox – obviously over talks
8. The Late Patient – obviously is late and effects the rest of the appointments (is this possible ??)
9. The Gossip – someone who knows all the latest treatments and stories about medical treatments
10. The Distracted Patient – can never listen to instructions as too busy tweeting, texting or calling – put the phone down now!

So, how do you become a good patient? – as that’s what I promised you. On a previous admission a friend who was a male model visited topless, that certainly improved the level of nursing care I had for ooh at least a day. Book a topless butler to visit you!! I jest. The answer is being yourself. Ok, not recommended if you are a psychopath. But really you can’t help who you are and let’s face it most of us haven’t been admitted to hospital as we were under occupied and fancied medical treatment as a little treat or buzz. We are sick, in pain, unwell, cut us a bit of slack please.

Everyone’s personality differs, our coping strategies, our experiences, ways we cope with pain, and the way we cope with different personalities. Some people have a low pain threshold and others sky high. Everyone reacts differently to different drugs, treatments and interventions- and even every time differs. You can’t predict your behaviour.

I’m an annoyingly positive person generally, and determined. Doesn’t mean I can’t feel teary, sorry for myself or vulnerable at times when struggling with pain or illness, admittedly I try to disguise it. We are taught to express ourselves, so why suppress this when admitted to hospital? If something hurts don’t suffer in silence.

It seems that you do get labelled by staff on wards, in my recent stay there was a woman with dementia who called out for 24 hours, she was ignored. Another patient I was indiscreetly told moaned too much and demanded too much, she was sent home prematurely. There was another who was ‘faking her Sickle Cell Crisis’ apparently and on the bell all the time, they’d sussed her and ignored her. These aren’t unique. I appreciate for every good patient there must be a bad, who moans, complains, swears, etc

After writing this I wondered what labels (multiple) I have been given. You see I’m polite, grateful and emphatic of the stress and pressure that staff are under, apologetic when my mood is grumpier as pain is ravaging my body, appreciative of help. I know my treatment plan, won’t take any sh*t, but will still smile and ask how their shift is going or how they are feeling before anything else. Don’t ever be passive, you’ll be forgotten, be calmly assertive when its needed, keep that as your trump card. Humour is a golden card too – not inappropriate stuff or you’ll be having a psych visit instead

Even with that being said, there are some staff that will never warm up, or be respectful themselves, the unfeeling that can’t offer you anything, like manners, eye contact, reassurance, empathy. There were two on the ward on Saturday night that kissed their teeth and rolled their eyes that I dared to arrive on ward at 10pm interrupting a quiet shift. You can’t beat fire with fire, don’t even bother. Just rise above these negative types and don’t stress.

I guess my labels must be – chameleon – survivor – at all costs!!
PS Avoid ill health and ageing at all costs !!


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