The hospital can be a frightening place. For some, just setting foot into the bright, sterile, often noisy environment can set off a series of physical reactions from increased blood pressure to complete panic. It is a given that it is our job to support the patient in any way needed, but what about the family member? How can we better support the parent of a child newly diagnosed with cancer or chronic illness, the family member who has just lost a loved one, or the family member who has doubt or skepticism around the daily routines of hospital life? Here are just a few simple ways.
Show Empathy & Compassion
Remember why you became a nurse, to care for those in need. Try to imagine if the patient was your mother, father, sister, brother, child, or friend. Imagine how you would feel if faced with a devastating diagnosis or news. Sick people and their loved ones are not at their best. Try to remember this when dealing with a particularly unnerving family member. The word compassion is synonymous with the work of a nurse. It is at the core of our very being. Show compassion not only for your patient, but for the family as well.
Your patient’s family member will have many questions. Remember, they are looking to you for answers and support. Each and every question is important to them. Take the time to answer. If you are busy, take a moment to update them quickly, but clearly. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time, but make it a priority. Remember, the nurse is often the lifeline for the patient’s loved ones.
Give simple and short explanations. The parent of a sick baby on a ventilator does not need an anatomy and physiology lesson. They need to know if their baby’s condition is worsening or improving. Think before you speak. Rehearse your updates in your head before you begin.
The parent of a child newly diagnosed with Type I Diabetes will likely not hear all of your instructions no matter how clear you feel you have been. Remember to be empathetic and show compassion. If this was your child, any amount of education you have regarding diabetes will be out the window. You would be stuck on the diagnosis and possible outcomes for your child. It is often hard to process information coming from many directions when in shock. Be prepared to explain the same thing more than once and perhaps in a different way.
Nurses are tasked with many important jobs in one shift alone. Perhaps the most important is that of being supportive, empathetic, and compassionate toward the patient’s loved ones. May we never lose these qualities, for this is what sets us apart. If no one has said it today, thank you for all you do. Keep up the great work!
Lori is an American nurse and yogini living in Gothenburg, Sweden. She contributes regularly to Mighty Nurse, AWHONN, American Nurse Today, and has been featured in The Huffington Post. Follow her adventures through her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.