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A Chance to Give from the Heart | The Importance of Bedside Manner in Health Care

Bobby McCarthy
Author, Bobbi McCarthy

The ER was in a rare state of calm…several patients being tended to but NO chaos!!  I was assigned to the patient coming in by Delta~ I prepped the room and waited. The patient arrived, awake but tearful.  His wife was with him. It seems the patient was having pain in an area that he hadn’t had pain in a while—his cancer treatments had been over for several months—he is awaiting a second opinion. His complaints were pain, loss of appetite, and dry mouth.

As I cared for him he talked to me. He told me of his life, many children and several new grandchildren, how he and his wife cared for his ailing father who recently had passed away.  He cried, a lot.

He began to tell me how he felt failed by the caregivers in his cancer care.  He shared with me that he only saw the primary doc 4 times in his many months of treatment and that he was seen by varying other PA’s or NP’s.  He was very upset over the “many times the doc would see him in the waiting room and just walk by, without a handshake or a how are you?”  We talked about this…he told me that very few of his doctors and nurses had the “gift” of bedside manner.  “So many nurses and doctors just see me as a pain in the ass and someone to rob them of their time.”

Two liters of saline, pain meds and many minutes of hand holding at the bedside garnered me the real reason for his ailing health.  Four days ago his 2 teenage grandsons were killed in a car accident…Christmas day. (I do have his permission to talk about this.)  The tears would not stop…his pain increased…but he continued to tell me about them.  His wife sat off to the side, wiping her own tears.

I was granted an unusual amount of time to spend with this man that night in the ER.  He needed me; he needed my hand, my heart and my time.  I thanked God several times while this man was talking to me—for the gift of time. Time is so unusual in the ER…but this is the treatment that this man needed.  Sure the narcotics and the fluid replacement helped…but it was the human experience that made the difference.

When he was in the wheelchair ready to be discharged home he hugged me and looked me in the eye and thanked me for my “bedside manner” and for “caring about what happened to me.” “You, my dear, have the gift of bedside manner,” he told me.  It was my turn to shed a couple of tears!

I don’t tell this experience to toot my own horn.  I tell it because it is such a powerful example to me of what you see at first is not usually what the problem really is, and how important it is for patients to feel cared about by their providers. It is a rare blessing for my ER gang to have the minutes they need to sit with a patient and have the time to establish a relationship so that the patient feels comfortable enough to share the real reason they are ill. Unless we have to intervene with life saving measures initially, we need to remember that they need our presence first…

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