When encountering an angry patient, validate feelings rather than becoming defensive.
“I’m in pain and you took away my IVs, the whole tree is gone,” my patient said. “You get to go home, relax, and have fun while I’m here in pain. You don’t care about me.” He was recovering after successful cancer surgery. His wound was healing, he was able to eat food, therefore the surgeon had stopped the IVs, with a goal of the patient returning home.
I resisted defending our decision. When a patient is riding the wave of anger, instead of defensively explaining your kind intention and clinical justification for decisions, validate their experience. Often this is therapeutic in and of itself.
It’s also helpful not to take an angry patient’s words personally. Just like clinicians are praised for curing and comforting, sometimes we’re blamed for disappointments.
As I listened to my patient, he became noticeably calmer, and he soon shared his gratitude for the caring attention of the healthcare team. He followed his oral medication instructions and participated in physical therapy. Two days later, he went home.
Maybe he will forgive and forget the hurt of having stopped IVs abruptly, and maybe not. But importantly, he was engaged in his recovery care plan and on the path to health.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.