A smile, a touch, eye contact, and a jovial laugh can be a lifeline for patients in a stressful situation.
Colin the Doctor, I’m sick!
Knock Knock . . When I heard the firm knock on the exam room door, I was in the middle of getting to know a new patient. We were discussing her history with anxiety–how severe it was, how it impacted her daily life, what had and had not worked before. We were just getting into what seemed to trigger anxiety when the distraction happened.
I’m sure I frowned. I don’t like to be interrupted in the exam room. I slightly cracked the door and saw our nurse manager. “There’s a code grey,” he said. The alert titles had just been changed and this one was not familiar. “It’s a safety threat–we must go to one of the locked rooms.”
Thoughts of recent medical clinic shootings came up and I pushed them down. I returned to the exam room to get the unknowing patient and decided to be direct. “There’s a security threat. I don’t know what is going on, but for our safety we need to go to a locked room.” She gathered her things and looked afraid. We entered the room where we kept the clinic meds and immunizations. It’s about two sofas wide and one sofa long but ample enough to house us, three nurses, and one other patient who had been in the midst of checking in. My patient looked at me with panic in her eyes. “I’m claustrophobic.” We hadn’t yet gotten to that fact in our recent conversation. She started to get a little shaky and breathed faster.
My first strategy was to stay close even though we were supposed to be distancing. I kept eye contact and held both her hands while saying as many reassuring words in a soft and calm voice as I could. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how she would respond since I’d just met her twenty minutes ago.
As we started telling each other a little about ourselves someone said, “Want to hear a joke?” The tension cut almost immediately as the other patient and one of the nurses bantered back and forth with corny jokes. How I wish I had that skill, to be able to keep jokes in my head! My brain is too full of drug names and classes instead.
This experience reminds me of how laughter can be the best medicine. My patient started to smile and relax and then actually told a joke herself. We made it through. A smile, a touch, eye contact, and a jovial laugh can be a lifeline for patients in a stressful situation.
“Why is a doctor always calm?
They have a lot of patients.”
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.