The hardest patients to take care of are the ones my age. When a young 30 something guy with Cystic Fibrosis comes for surgery because he can’t breathe right, it is like a Chuck Norris kick to the gut. They say when Chuck Norris kicks you in the gut; your stomach apologizes to him in advance.
I find it difficult because taking care of people my own age with significant medical problems makes me really introspect. Youth is a time of misplaced invincibility. We think nothing can harm us, that the only thing we need to think about is increasing our wealth, starting a family, and going to the gym so you look good enough to start a family.
After taking care of many patients my age who are suffering from an ailment, I have learned one main lesson. Let them have some control.
Recently, I was taking care of a guy with Cystic Fibrosis. It is a genetic disease where difficulty to breathe is the often the most significant problem, leading to frequent lung infections, prolonged hospital stays, and multiple organ dysfunction. He came to have a procedure done to repair a hole in his stomach. He has had the procedure done multiple times. Each one was unsuccessful for one reason or another.
He was furious to find out that the outcome this time was also the same. At a time where you should be at your strongest, the feeling of helplessness can bring out real frustration. And that was exactly what he was feeling.
A mentor of mine told me as an intern that with these kinds of patients, you have to realize that they’re not trying to be difficult. They aren’t really angry with you. They’ve lost whatever control they have in their lives, and their anger is a mechanism to seize the moment.
So when he decided to yell at me after the procedure, I was ready to listen.
Sometimes doctors need to just shut up and listen.
I sat down next to him, heard him out, allowed him to vent his frustrations, and waited for him to be done. I even tried to wait a few moments after he was done to make sure. He goes, “Why aren’t you talking dude, stop being awkward.”
And we laughed. It was a chance for him to express himself and process openly his concerns. His life has has been spiraling out of control.
In a lot of situations, be it in medicine or relationships, we’re not really listening to hear what the person in front of us is trying to say. We’re waiting for them to be done so we can say what we wanted to say 15 minutes ago. All of this while hoping not to forget our thoughts while they are talking.
You know its true.
It is imperative to listen, absorb, and reflect some positivity in these situations. This extends to all forms of relationships. Hear what they have to say, do what you can to help the situation. Their words to you, though in anger, may be far more compelling and beneficial to you than your treatment of their illness.
Give them some control.