You have 10 patients you have to check up on during your shift in the ICU. As you walk into the 4th patient’s room you encounter the dreaded scene. A highly emotional family sees you walk in and they attack. Some crying hysterically wanting to know if their loved one is going to be ok, others, like the father, are getting upset and yelling at you thinking he can do your job better than you or the doctors can. While you might want to run or make sarcastic comments back, you know this will not help your case in the long run. You know you need to calm the family down (after all it probably isn’t great for the patient having their stress level go up because of their family), but you also have 6 other patients you need to check on and get vitals for. Here are some ways to help you handle that kind of family:
1.) Listen. Let them talk, many times if the family knows you are listening and understanding what they are saying they feel more comfortable and begin to trust you. Many people just need to vent out what they are thinking and feeling and suddenly they feel better.
2.) Reassure. When dealing with a family member, no matter what state they may be in, make sure you keep reminding them that you are doing everything in your power to help care for the patient along with the doctors.
3.) What you say. Remember, most of the family probably did not go to medical school. While medical lingo is the way you speak normally, pause and remember to speak “human” to the family!
4.) Strength in Numbers. If you have an extra aggressive family member, you don’t have to face them alone. Bring another nurse along when you talk to the family member so you have backup in case you need it. Also, that other nurse may be able to calm down the family member in a way you didn’t think of!
Handling difficult family members is tough and sometimes you just want to avoid it. Hang in there and support the family. It’s sometimes hard to remember between your rounds, all the procedures you need to follow and personal things that are on your mind that the family could be in a panic & fear state of mind. Any support you give them will help them calm down and allow you to do your job.