Dealing with a dirty old man

  1. So I ran into an old neighbor the other day. He asked what I was up to, and when I said going to school to be a nurse (doing pre reqs) he leered at me and said, "You can be MY nurse!" Ick.

    And it's been bugging me ever since. I just kind of ignored it at the time and asked what his kids were doing, but I keep wondering how I could have handled it better. And also, is this a daily thing nurses deal with? Weekly? Monthly?

    On the other hand, I told an acquaintance of mine the same thing, and when she answered "you could be MY nurse" I felt validated and happy. So maybe I was just reading too much into it the first time. Although I'm pretty sure I didn't mistake the leer and once-over that accompanied it.

    So anyway, my question to the universe of nurses is, how common is this? And what different ways do you deal, especially if you live in a smaller town and have to see the same people all the time? If you do run into your acquaintances and neighbors working, are you the one who gives them the sponge baths or whatever they are fantasizing about? Or do you get to pass them over to someone who doesn't know them?
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  2. 54 Comments

  3. by   Double-Helix
    You just ignore it. It’s not the last time a man will make an unsolicited comment toward you, whatever the context. Learn to brush it off now and don’t pay it any mind.

    Stereotypically for some older men, nurses are the pretty young ladies who wait on them when they are sick. For what it’s worth, my grandfather still says things to me to the affect of, “I hope my nurse is as pretty as you.” or “You can be my nurse.” And I know, while what he’s implying is that he thinks I’m good looking, there’s nothing sexual behind it. It’s just his way at trying to pay a compliment.

    In smaller hospitals in smaller towns, it may be impossible to avoid caring for acquaintances or even friends because everyone knows everyone. But if I have the option, I’ll try to trade assignments. This is for the patient’s privacy as much as for my own professional boundaries.
  4. by   jen.lu
    If it's something direct and obviously intended to have a sexual inuendo behind it, I always remind my patients that those comments aren't professional and they can't say things like that, and they usually behave for me after that.
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    If that's the worst thing you ever have to encounter, you'll be a lucky nurse indeed. Nursing is full of "dirty old men" who will literally chase you around the bed if given half a chance. It's also full of mean, nasty, overbearing patients and families. You will be cussed out, hit, pinched, bitten, kicked, your breasts grabbed, and have food or urine (or worse) thrown in your face. In other words, you need to learn to let stuff roll off your back, otherwise you'll be one disappointed nurse.

    Your neighbor probably didn't mean anything bad by "leering" at you and saying you can be his nurse. It was a compliment, even though it repulsed you. Old people get a bad rap, anyway; would you feel the same way if he were young and handsome? Just curious...
  6. by   NightNerd
    Since he's a neighbor (as opposed to someone you're obligated to take care of), I guess if that statement and his overall demeanor bothered me that much, we just wouldn't associate. If you felt like you had to say something, maybe a, "Oh, what do you mean?" with a little head tilt would give him pause. He may very well have meant nothing by it, though.

    When I'm taking care of patients who make inappropriate commentary or physical contact, I am very straightforward: "That's not acceptable." Our taking care of patients doesn't mean they're allowed to harass us or make us uncomfortable. That being said, I don't think the grand majority of patients "fantasize" about being given a sponge bath. Most, in my experience, are more frustrated and embarrassed with the lack of independence. I won't lie and say I've never had a patient act inappropriately toward me, but it's pretty rare, maybe monthly. I currently work on a psych floor, so your mileage may vary.

    If a patient is capable of moving his arms and hands at all, they can probably at least wash their own private areas, even if they are bedbound. I hand them a soapy washcloth and ask them to finish cleaning while I change the bathwater or some other task.

    I've never been in a situation where I've been asked to care for an acquaintance, but I would ask to trade assignments with another nurse. It's usually more comfortable for the patient, I feel like, although some people are genuinely happy to have someone they know take care of them.
  7. by   Libby1987
    Unless you felt threatened in some fashion, it was a politically incorrect compliment and not necessarily "dirty".

    Humans are predictably imperfect and there is more humanity of all kinds in nursing then maybe any other profession. Wait til your first baby dies, 30 years later mine is still seared in my memory, that comment won't even be a blimp in your memory.

    Also, 30 years in nursing and I've never had the above hostile behavior directed at me, A LOT of paperwork but no one has ever hit me, spit at me, flung any bodily fluids.. Not that it hasn't happened to other nurses but the documentation is what any of our nurses would say is the negative in nursing.

    Hope that gives you some perspective.
  8. by   Mom2boysRN
    I'll just echo what others have said. You will run into patient's that look at you inappropriately, try and look down your scrubs, or say and do other inappropriate things of varying degrees. I ignore some things like innuendo (I act like I don't realize that's what they are doing). If it's an attempt to look down the scrubs I'll grab the back of my shirt and give it a yank while making eye contact. They are usually embarrassed by it. If they are saying something blatantly inappropriate or trying to touch I'll tell them it's inappropriate. Generally once they are told it's fine. I do home health and I had one patient that had dirty movies on when I would come over (not porn, but movies with lots of sex) I told him to turn it off and all he'd do is mute it and try and get me to look at the screen (always during a sex scene of course). I told the office he needed a male nurse which immediately happened.

    Many men sexualize nurses just as women do with police and firemen. Go in with this understanding and be ready to let them know it's not okay. Whether it's a "dirty old man" or a dirty young one we are professionals and shouldn't allow this behavior.
  9. by   not.done.yet
    I hate to say it, but it is fairly common. I have had VERY old men grab, pinch, tweak, squeeze, grope and lunge...and not so very old. I have had them tell me how much they like watching my butt as I walk away. I had one ask me out. One put on a shorty robe (nothing else) and came into the hall to start rubbing my shoulders while I was charting. Ickfactorickfactorickfactor!!!

    Nurses are the subject of male fantasy. We are female. We tend to start while still young and pretty. Our roles of being caregivers are sexualized, fantasized and idolized. We go back and forth in the public mind from being angels to sexual devils and everything in between. We are alternately powerful and submissive. It goes on and on and on and as people age their filter tends to lose effectiveness and when people are sick their gauge of appropriate behavior can get skewed. I liken it to people falling in love with their therapist.

    This is something you will just need to get good at dealing with. A small smile and change of subject is enough for some. A more terse reprimand is required for others. And with some, their minds are too far gone and you just have to get good at side stepping or never being alone or cornered.

    I try hard to remember it really IS a compliment in its own base way and that often it is more a sign of loneliness than anything else or a result of vulnerability, altered mental status and/or forced dependency via illness. For me, that makes it something I can cope with compassionately (but firmly!). It isn't just OLD men either. It is pretty much all ages. The good news is, we all have gone through it to some degree or another. You will be in good company with plenty of ears to debrief to and ideas for coping with it. I often wonder how devastated/disappointed/embarassed all of them would be if they really knew how horrifying we find it.
  10. by   ~Mi Vida Loca~RN
    Tell him that sounds great, you'll come look for him when you're learning to place IV's.
  11. by   not.done.yet
    Quote from ~Mi Vida Loca~RN
    Tell him that sounds great, you'll come look for him when you're learning to place IV's.
    And Foleys and Flexiseals.
  12. by   not.done.yet
    For someone in casual conversation I would have a hard time not smiling and saying "Wow, that is really creepy" in response to the comment in the OP.
  13. by   SmilingBluEyes
    Not the last time this will happen. You received good feedback already. All I will say is you will learn boundaries as experience comes.

    And try hard not to attach labels to people. Their behaviors can be bizarre, especially when sick.
  14. by   ~Mi Vida Loca~RN
    Quote from SmilingBluEyes
    Not the last time this will happen. You received good feedback already. All I will say is you will learn boundaries as experience comes.

    And try hard not to attach labels to people. Their behaviors can be bizarre, especially when sick.

    Exactly! All joking aside it will occur and quiet frequently. You will have to learn what you're ok with and when lines are crossed and react appropriately. The comment from the neighbor I personally would have just laughed off or smiled and rolled my eyes and I really would have made the comment about the IV's. I do that when people make comments about giving them a sponge bath, I will tell them I will give them a 14g in their EJ instead. I always joke that if I am ever feeling down and need a confidence boost I just have to go work a shift in the nursing home or jail. I walk out feeling like a super model.

    Be alert and aware though because sometimes people take things to far and cross lines. I had a drunk patient that would not stop trying to grope at me and I was having none of it. Everyone thought it was funny and after this man pulled his 3rd IV I was done because when I would go to place another one he kept trying to grab at me inappropriately. I walked out to the nurses station where there were 3 younger residents and a new attending that I knew as a resident as well. The transporter who was helping me on the last IV had said how inappropriate this man was being and the residents started laughing and everyone thought it was funny. I snapped. I went off on all of them saying how if this was their wife, or sister or daughter getting sexually harassed and groped by this drunk man that they were having to take care of and everyone just thought it was funny, they would be lived. The new attending jumped up quick and was like "You know what, you're right and I didn't look at it like that. I will take care of it." The residents jumped up to follow and he did take care of it. Even took him to CT himself and back. Placed a new line. All of it.

    Learn your limits and stand up for yourself because it's going to happen. A lot. But try not to take offence to every comment or you're gonna have a long miserable road ahead of you.

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