“You’re incompetent. Don’t touch him”
I heard my patient’s family member utter those words with anger and I felt my face flush with blood as I stared blankly, completely frozen with fear while trying to think about what I had just done.
If you’re wondering what it is that I did to cause this family member to tell me to back off from my patient then it really was nothing controversial. However, this event really impacted me as a student nurse- hearing those words not only hurt me personally but discouraged me immensely.
Let’s back up. The whole day with this said patient was pretty much a nightmare. My patient had multiple issues and the previous shift nurses changed up the patient’s treatment regimen for my shift. I was one of the first people to greet the family in the morning and I was immediately bombarded with questions as to why the treatment was changed and why the patient’s condition was deteriorating and “who I thought I was to adjust the rate of feeding? (I wasn’t even there the night before to change the rate!)”
Mind you, every time I introduce myself to a patient, I always state my title. “Hi! My name is Vrinda and I’ll be your student nurse today!” Obviously I do this so that both the patient and family know that I am just an extra set of hands who is still learning and I do not make decisions independently nor am I directly responsible for the patient’s well-being. That is the job of the actual nurse who works at the facility. If your actual nurse doesn’t care enough to show her face more than one time per shift then I am not to be held accountable. I will do everything within my limits to help solve the problem but I am not the nurse.
Going further into the day a variety of inopportune events occurred. My patient began coughing and vomiting immediately after I gave medications and to my luck, the suction at the facility was not working. Thankfully the vomiting resolved but the family again demanded to know why I was not able to get the suction to work. I called the nurse who said one of the parts to the suction was missing, and then left my instructor and I to figure out the situation ourselves. Neither me or my instructor knew where to find the missing part to get the suction to work so we were basically praying he would stop vomiting until we could get in touch with someone to fix the suction. All the while this went on the patient’s family was questioning my instructor in front of me if I had given a wrong dose of medication since “something like this never occurred before”. Every time I came in to give medications, the family would grill me on the medication, the dosage, what it was for. The patient had quite a number of meds so when I said “I’m sorry I don’t remember the dosage of this drug” the family to me to check with the nurse that I was giving the correct dose. While I all this was going on I felt a little disheartened but still determined to make it through the day!
6pm hit and it was time for the last blood sugar. After the day’s events I told myself “okay this is the last “intervention” I have to perform. I can do this. It’s just a blood sugar. I can’t mess that up can I?
I had done blood sugars hundreds of time by this point but I simply wasn’t able to get enough blood to come out my patient’s finger test. I apologized while the family member rolled their eyes and began again on a new finger. I got a little bit of blood but again I got an error message on my Accu-Chek. “Why is it taking so long? You’re hurting him!” I apologized and said I was having a hard time. That’s when I saw a spark of anger in the family member’s eyes and I was told that I am incompetent and to get away from my patient.
I was standing there in shock trying to hold back tears. “What did I do wrong?” “Maybe I am incompetent?” “I shouldn’t be a nurse if I can’t do something as simple as this!”
That day at clinicals was certainly a learning experience. I was very hurt by those words but I feel like the situation has made me more resilient. At the moment, I felt horrible and I was devastated the entire day. And yes, I may cried my eyes out in the bathroom for 20 mins, but it’s okay because not every patient and family will be understanding. The fact of the reality is that the patient and family were frustrated. They absolutely have the right to be. This may have been my first time dealing with an unfavorable situation but it sure as hell will not be my last time. And it definitely is not the last time I will be dealing with an overprotective/vitriolic family member. It is a learning experience. I have the patient’s best interest in mind but at the same time, I have to be able to stick up for myself and let the patient/family know that I am not their punching bag.
So what’s the moral of my story? Don’t take anything personally. There will be patients/families who will say the most hurtful things to you but never take it to heart. Here I was questioning my own abilities but that was absolutely wrong. Never give into statements said out of frustration/anger but also don’t let your emotions get in the way of providing efficient and safe care as a nurse.