Just the other day, I heard a story from a nursing unit manager that really annoyed me. The manager was asked to follow up on a patient complaint where the patient stated he was disappointed that the entire time he was in the hospital, he never had a bath. Having been an inpatient for four days following a total hip replacement, it seemed like a reasonable expectation to have a bath (or four for that matter), so his complaint seemed justifiable. The problem was, the manager shifted the blame onto the patient. The first words out of her mouth were, “These patients just don’t get it. We give them a bath-in-a-bag every day.”
There is so much about this single comment that bugs me, but let’s just start with, “They just don’t get it.” The tone implies the patient is wrong and you, the care provider, are right. This type of thinking places you and the patient, in two separate camps; the right and the wrong. One or the other. Secondly, it implies that the patient should know better; again, a condescending posture for the sender.
Whenever I hear the phrase, “They just don’t get it,” I can’t help but think that it’s the sender that doesn’t get it. The comment comes from a posture of superiority and arrogance rather than one of collaboration. What if the nurse manager received the complaint in a spirit of ownership and collaboration? Her response would have been something like, “It sounds like we didn’t do a good job of explaining the bath-in-a-bag. I’ll work on this with my team.”
The other part of this comment that bugs me is the idea that the patient should “get it.” When a patient enters a hospital, it is a foreign land with a foreign language, strange sounds, sights, and smells. This is YOUR world, not theirs. Don’t expect them to just “get it.” It’s up to the caregivers to welcome patients into this strange world, and explain things. The word “bath” in the common vernacular implies a tub filled with water. A bed bath implies a basin of water and a wash cloth. It’s only in today’s healthcare world that a plastic packet filled with moistened paper towels constitutes a bath. So when the patient doesn’t “get it,” simply reposition the lens with which you see the world. Look through the patient’s eyes, then help him understand.