When you enrolled in your nursing course, you probably wanted to save people’s lives and watch them recover. You were excited to support your patients and guide them through their stay. You were looking for that personal satisfaction that comes from seeing patients walk out of the hospital healthy and ready to get on with their lives.
But newsflash! That is not what all nursing is about.
There are many times were patients receive bad news about their health. There are times that despite all your best efforts, you won’t manage to cure someone. And unfortunately dealing with these situations is very hard. Many people react differently when getting bad news, while some might cry; others might get aggressive or choose to ignore it and walk away. But no matter the reaction, the vast majority go back to the nurse to learn and understand more. So it is up to you to learn how to support them through this hard time in their life.
Let’s break it down, the first stage to support your patients and relatives is to
1. Identify the need
They might come up to you and ask, but most of the time, you will notice something ‘off’ about your patient or relatives. Almost as if they look confused, worried or lost. Once you acknowledge this, find a quiet place to discuss things.
Patients are often sharing their room with at least 3 other people, so finding a more private area to talk or simply closing the curtains will create a more comforting scene.
Pro tip: Offer them tea, coffee or glass of water. They might refuse, but they will appreciate your warm effort.
2. Understand their emotions
Ok, now that the setting is right, start by asking them how they feel, and what they understood from the diagnosis. This is a time for you to gain insight into what the patient and relatives know, sometimes there is more information on the file than they see so it is essential not to reveal information that has not yet been brought up by their doctors.
Once you have a clearer image of their situation, start by explaining what they can expect from the treatment plan. Knowing what to expect often calms their nerves. Make sure to note their body language when giving your explanation and ask them whether they understood.
After having calmed down the situation, it is now an excellent time to ask them about their concerns. Most of the time these will be questions that you could answer from experience, however, if there are things that you do not know do not be afraid to say that you will ask their doctor or a senior nurse. Simply voicing their concern goes a long way, as many patients feel stuck when doctors approach them.
Lastly, the most important thing is to listen to. Some patients do not want to cry in front of their loved ones, so they will choose to find comfort in you. Be there for them, and let them vent out.
Do not be afraid of offering a hug, or shedding a tear with them too. We are all humans, and knowing that they have someone to talk to goes a long way. But, no matter what always end the conversation with a positive note and hope. Research has indicated that patients with a positive mindset recover much better.