The experience for a patient in an operating room environment begins well before they arrive on the gurney. This fact is important for nurses to embrace as they approach a patient for the first time. Whether the patient is having an outpatient surgical procedure or they are experiencing a medical emergency in the OR, they have been experiencing pain, anxiety and fear for a significant amount of time. A nurse who is truly empathetic to this fact will take pride in treating each patient as if they were a family member, giving them their full attention, calling them by name and looking them in the eye during each visit. In this article, we’ll share two patient stories that will present common areas where patients feel vulnerable and treated as though they were a number and not a name.
Outpatient Surgical Patient
Mike recently completed a short outpatient surgical procedure at a facility dedicated to only outpatient treatments. He had his appointment scheduled and was feeling upset that surgery was the only option to stop his discomfort and was very nervous about anesthesia. Once checked-in, he was taken to a pre-op area that was very busy. Patients were lined up in stalls waiting a turn in the OR. During pre-op, Mark was visited by three different nurses, each of them asking the same basic questions about medications and allergies. None of them stopped in long enough to stand by his bed, perhaps touch his arm and have a conversation with him eye-to-eye about exactly where he was and what the game plan would be for the appointment. The facility was foreign and he’d never seen any of these nurses before. The only way for him to get information was to gather bits and pieces as the various nurses came by. All of the nurses asked if he had questions, but because he was so nervous about the surgery, he didn’t know exactly what to ask. What he really needed was someone there to connect with him on a personal level to explain the basics and answer common questions.
The surgery took minutes as expected and post-op was a more drawn-out version of pre-op. Six different nurses filed in and out of the room checking vitals, some of them not even speaking to him at all. Again, no one took the time to treat him as a wounded soul that was their equal to explain how long he would be in recovery and what the requirements were to be discharged. He ended up leaving that day feeling that no one really had his back while he was there.
Patients don’t need babysitters and everyone knows that the work of a nurse on the OR floor is extremely busy, however taking the time to make eye contact and connect with the patient on a personal level can be integrated into a nurse’s existing routine. Facility directors should also conduct studies on how to better assign nurses to patients. This would help monitor a patient based on interaction and data rather than just by looking at the chart of vital sign recordings. In addition, establishing a familiar face for the patient to reach out to makes them feel safe in the environment.
Emergency Room Patient
Oprah Winfrey recently interviewed stroke patient Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who detailed her experience in the ER. Similar to Mark’s story, she had moments of insecurity in the environment when nurses and healthcare workers were performing tests and procedures without connecting with her as a person. She was in the midst of a severe hemorrhage in her brain and the chaos around her was causing distraction and stress that was hindering her ability to focus on healing. She went on to say that prior to treatment, in her condition where she had no idea who she was, she was given consent forms to sign.
Going through the motions as a patient has helped Dr. Bolte Taylor be a better teacher to first year medical students. She now emphasizes to students that when they enter a room to interact with a patient that they leave all of their external stresses, appointments and personal issues at the door. As they approach the patient they need to bring all of themselves, look the patient in the eye and touch them passing hope and energy to them rather than take it away. She calls this being “walk-in ready” where you show up for your patient 100%.
Bolte Taylor also says that patients can perceive those people who are truly there to help and those who are just going through the motions. The people there to help share their good energy and help a patient in their recovery. Those going through the motions can actually take a patient’s energy away making them work harder in their recovery.
When she was in the OR for her stroke, her doctor provided this energy which immediately brought a wave of trust and calm over her even when her brain was in the midst of shutting down. The doctor touched her skin and approached her gently. She then looked her in the eye and asked permission to perform the necessary exams. Bolte Taylor said “She recognized that I was wounded, not stupid” and that made all the difference.
Are you a “walk-in ready” nurse? Do you make a personal connection with each of your patients to make them feel safe in your facility? Even if you know you’ll only see the patient once for 2 minutes during their visit, your 2 minutes could make a world of difference if you are the one nurse who looked them in the eye and passed them your positive energy of hope and healing.