I am the angry family whisperer.
The woman on the other end of the line is angry because we discharged her husband home and he still drinking, and she’s talking over me and won’t let me explain that her husband was medically stabilized and ready to go home and honestly, we can’t keep people from drinking or using drugs or being assholes in general. Just not our job.
When you have someone yelling at you it’s really hard not to get mad back, and as I tried to get this woman to calm down, asked her not to yell at me or talk over me, I realized that this was a person in crisis. She didn’t need me to be confrontational back. She needed me to listen.
Do I really want to listen? No. I’m busy, I have four patients and discharges and our hospital is filled to the brim. Do I take the time anyway. Absolutely.
I start by recognizing that the woman on the other end of the line is in a difficult situation. Her husband has a brain injury, has poor impulse control, is an alcoholic. No one is going to win in this situation and the people who lose the most are families. I tell her that it must be hard living with these challenges, I reflect that she sounds frustrated, I support her in taking care of herself, in addressing her own psych problems.
At the end of the call, she’s no longer angry. She has been listened to. Nothing I say will change anything about her situation. Her husband has further to fall before he’ll get any help, or he’s going to die from his behavior. But his wife has been heard, even if it’s just for five minutes.
Providing compassion under duress. Recognizing that families are in crisis. Giving a shit even when you don’t have the time. That’s real nursing.