When caring for a patient that pushes my buttons, I remind myself that they were once an innocent baby who was loved by someone.
We’ve all had the patient on the schedule who makes you clench your teeth; the one who triggers the reflexive “ugh” in the part of your mind that you don’t want to acknowledge; the one who fits an archetype that’s always had a negative role in your story. I think of these people as “that guy,” but their gender is irrelevant, of course.
A few weeks ago, I took care of someone who’d been “that guy” for many of my colleagues. That is, until the resident who took care of him at Johns Hopkins Bayview. The patient said that he’d had a life with far too many hospitalizations and that a healthcare professional had never treated him like a person. The resident looked at this patient and either saw beyond or didn’t see the things that made others make harmful and unfounded assumptions that had delayed and complicated his care. Thankfully, because of that pivotal experience with the resident, he’s making progress.
I remember the first time I took care of someone who was “that guy.” I was a nursing student at Hurley Hospital in Michigan, and the RN who was precepting me on the burn unit couldn’t stop talking about how the man we were taking care of was worthless because of what she presumed was his delinquency. He was in a medically-induced coma at the time, thankfully, or he would have heard a nonstop eight-hour stream of insults hurled in his direction by the person on whom his life depended. I was horrified, doubly so when I went into the room and saw his mother listening to every drop of vitriol from the RN’s mouth and crying silently.
At the time, I was a new mother. When I saw her sitting there watching her son fight for his life, I was reminded that every person was someone’s baby. Since then, whenever I feel my eyes start to roll or my hackles go up about taking care of “that guy,” I look for the love. I look for the metaphorical mother in the visitor chair and remember that this patient was somebody’s baby. And then I treat them the way I would want my sons to be treated.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.