Words matter

A few weeks ago, I was at the park with my kids when my two-year-old noticed a large spider crawling across the sidewalk. He crouched down, fascinated, as he watched it scurry along. Another boy joined him, but moments later, that boy’s mom swooped him up and yelled, “That spider almost touched you!”

My son immediately jumped back and ran to me, crying. I comforted him and told him it was okay, then tried to bring him back to the spider. But the damage was done. He was terrified, and still is, even of the small ants on our kitchen floor.

This experience taught me an important lesson– our reactions matter. And the more I thought about things, the more I realized that this applies to the patient/nurse relationship as well. ┬áPatients watch us to determine how to react to their situation.

Think about it. If you tell a soon-to-have-a-colonoscopy patient that they have to drink a gallon of this horrible stuff that’s going to give them the worst diarrhea of their life, and you make a disgusted face as you hand them the first cup, how do you think they’re going to handle it? I bet they are miserable.

Now if you take that same patient, and calmly explain that they’ll be drinking Go-Lytely, you’ll keep it cool to make it taste better, and it will clear them out so the doctor can see everything he needs to see during the exam… the Go-Lytely is still going to taste bad, but I bet they handle it a lot better.

This morning I read a blog post titled, “It’s not a shit bag” by a woman with an ileostomy. In her post, she discusses hearing two nurses call ostomy bags “shit bags,” and the effect that this had on her.

Remember, what you say matters. If your patient is about to have a procedure, like an ileostomy placement, how you discuss this with them will be something they remember forever. So be truthful but upbeat, and let them know that this is the beginning of a new journey (most likely feeling much better), and not the end of the world.