When Family threatens you (vent)

  1. Okay, I went into work tonight in good spirits. Had a nice group of patients, all except this one pt's family (patient not the problem). I recognized the patient immediately from previous admissions & recalled lots of drama & the MD having long (1hr) talks w/ family in room QD, due to family always being upset/angry.

    One family member in particular came in tonight w/ huge chip on the shoulder. It was my 1st night with this patient this admission.I had a feeling that no matter what I did, it wouldn't be right in the family's eyes. They arrived angry, with lots of questions. I tried to address them quickly & thoughtfully.

    Without revealing the details, it seems this family member's "final straw" was when they felt "insulted" by something in my tone of voice or choice of words. Our discussion was witnessed by other staff in the hall, who didn't think I was being rude in any way. Nonetheless, I told this family member that I was sorry if I upset them, and that I fully did not intend to offend at all.I spoke in a calm, what I tried to convey (caring) earnest tone. I really did want to help them, despite it all. I told this person that I think there was a misunderstanding, as I really wanted to help, and that it seemed we were having a problem communicating.

    This family member was having none of that! They threatened to "punch me out" and made a gesture with the fist. It was witnessed by another staff member. They didn't actually do anything, but when I look back on it, I feel 1)angry (how inappropriate) 2) a little scared (yikes, who knows how unstable this person is?).

    There have been multiple medical staff (MD,RN, etc) who will no longer care for this patient due to past experiences w/ the family (another MD "fired patient" last admission).
    Now I know why.

    People that know me, know I am not a mean spirited person, and several staff told me not to take this episode personally. How can I not? I decided (on my drive home) I am not caring for this patient ever again, period. Tomorrow I will ask for another assignment when I go into work (just not that one patient).
    I would be willing to quit my job over it, if it came down to it, to tell you the truth.

    I'm not afraid to speak up about this to my nurse manager...we will have to discuss it when she returns to work after Thankgiving.

    This has never happened to me before (I work the hospital floors, not ER). Oh sure, I have had confused pts (etoh, or post op) swing at me.But this threat was different- from a stone cold sober angry family member. Of course, I tried the empathy approach & offered support & help to the family, but as I said, there was no reasoning with them. They saw the enemy & it was me.

    All my nurse peers were supportive & understanding tonight, but I just feel so sad & emotionally drained. I'm having a hard enough time putting up with the cr@p of nursing as it is, let alone this type of behavior. It makes me want to quit my job and go work on an assembly line again, where I didn't have to deal with people.

    Thanks for listening. I needed to vent.
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    About Genista

    Joined: Nov '99; Posts: 829; Likes: 166
    Registered Nurse; from US


  3. by   Sleepyeyes
    I would've very calmly told that family member that threats to the staff were not tolerated, and called security to escort them out, followed up by a call to the police.

    Not Tolerated. Only way that kind will get The Message.
  4. by   Y2KRN

    Happy Thanksgiving! I understand completely how you feel! I am an ER nurse and I work in a very busy 50 bed ER. I have been threatened and and once swung at by a patient. I know that they say not to take what people say or do personally but, it is very hard not to. When people ask me what is the biggest stress for you working in the Ed I say patients and their families, nothing can ruin my night more. I actually notice when I don't get yelled at all night! I have learned to deal with it better but, I think that it is always in the back of my mind am I going to be assaulted today. We all think this way, especially at triage. We are trying to get the Doctors to agree on doing triage with the nurses as well. We have asked for glass at triage to separate us from the waiting room, or administration says that that makes us looks cold and uncaring if we have barriers??

    I do have support from other staff members and if I am leary no one hesitates to go into a room with me. Even the Doc's are right there. Most times when I have a problem with patient or family, I get the Doc. I know that on the floor you don't have this option, but get your nursing superviser involved and if need be call in the Doc, or house Doc if you can. Maybe even an ER Doc. Someone who is in the house is preferable.

    What is your policy about having them escorted off the floor and out of the building?? I think refusing to care for this patient is the right way to go until some issues can be addressed with management!! I would ask some hard questions to your superviser!! I am glad that you had support from you peers that does help but, you need some action as well and for the higher ups to follow policy and protect your working enviroment.

    This is a major problem in healthcare today, and needs to be dealt with. I think it stems from people expecting the Hyatt when they come to hospitals these days.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say I understand, and hope this works out for you and does not make you quit nursing all together!! When we stop being bothered by things like this then it is really time to move on.

    Eat lots of Turkey

  5. by   emily_mom
    If someone threatened to punch me, I would definitely have them escorted out. They sound like they are a chronic problem to your institution and this wasn't an isolated incident. Better to get some record of this activity. That way if they sue you/hospital, you have record of this.

  6. by   Pamelita
    I have to tell you that in my 1 year experience as an RN I found that family members can be the WORST!!! not the patient, not the load, doctors its the FAMILY!!!!
    I don't understand why some family members instead of taking care of their loved one they blame everything on the staff like its our fault that the patient is sick!!
    I found out that sometimes the most aggressive and rude family members are filled with Guilt!! they never took care of their loved one and when they got sick they are all of the sudden "their caregivers" yeah right!
    I am very patient with difficult family members, to the point that they request to my supervisors that they just want me to be their nurse all the time!!! that's like no way jose!!!!!!
    nowdays, there is a lot of people that will just look for some stupid thing to sue you, sucks
    take care
  7. by   tonchitoRN
    ZERO TOLERANCE. write it up in the chart and do an incident report. refuse to be in the same room with this person unless someone else it there. tell them their behavior will not be tolerated.
  8. by   sjoe
    Threatening bodily harm happens to be against the law in California if the person is capable of carrying out that threat.

    My sugggestions:
    1) call security and have this person(s) escorted out--don't take NO for an answer
    2) a formal, written complaint to your facility AND
    3) a formal, written complaint filed with your local police department
    4) (and a restraining order, if that seems TO YOU to be called for).

    Last edit by sjoe on Nov 28, '02
  9. by   suzannasue
    I full heartedly agree with all of the above postings... I have a PERSONAL ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY and would not hesitate for a second to have the offensive family member escorted off the premises nor would I hesitate to press charges to the full extent of the law wherever you may be...the point being your personal safety...the family member's gesture and words were assaultive...do not wait to be battered...
    If this ever happens again, call hospital security then in front of "whomever"..dial 911...ask for law enforcement on site, then get your witnesses together...and document,document,document...
    Stay safe !!!!
  10. by   montroyal
    Forget your manager, forget hospital security, call your local police dept. The threat you described is a crime, period. Have this family member arrested and go to your local court house and have a restraining order issued againts this person.( No reasonable judge would ever deny you) After you do all this then go to your nurse manager and the head of security at your hospital. Give them a copy of the restraining order and explain to them what happen and your fears. Once you have done this it becomes their responsibility to ensure the restraining order is followed. Keep in mind it was always was their responsibility to ensure you have a safe work enviorment and obviously with the past history of this family, they have failed.

    As nurses, we work with both patients and families in their time of crisis. We must show compassion and understanding to all we interact with, but at no time should we feel or experience the threat or reality of violence." They didn't actually do anything," is not true, This person committed a crime by threatening you. If they are willing to go this far, they have the potential to do more. The state of South Carolina inacted a law with reguards to nurses safety. To verbally threaten a nurse is a Felony with a mandatory sentence of two years in the state prision, to assualt a nurse is a Felony with a mandatory sentence of ten years in the state prision. This law was enacted after nurses went to the state legislative branch with horror stories of abuse. This law basicly treats the threatening or assaulting of a nurse the same way they treat the same crimes againts a police officer. South Carolina was the first to step up and ensure the safety of its nurses, but other states are now looking to follow there lead, especially in this time of such a shortage of nurses willing to work in the healthcare system.
  11. by   Sleepyeyes
    Bravo for South Carolina!! How do we get a law like that enacted in our own states??
  12. by   baseline
    I have had a similar experience and have simply called security. I don't get paid to get threatened or injured.

    Out of cuiosity...what about the patient? Is this an elderly person? Confused...unable to speak for themselves? Or are they also intimidated. Perhaps the case management and social worker should be called in if this is an on-going problem.

    Don't let the turkeys get you down. EAT THEM!!!!!! Have a good holiday!!!!
  13. by   indynurse
    Fill out an occurance report today when you go back to work if you did not already do so. This needs to be documented. If it ever happens again, call security and have the individual escorted from the hospital campus. An unsafe work environment should not be tolerated. Period. You never know who has a gun or knife in his or her pocket these days. I would also talk to security and, if your NM is not there, the House Supervisor today. This person cannot be allowed to get away with threatening people without any consequences. He will just continue to threaten and possibly even physically harm the next nurse.
  14. by   deespoohbear
    Originally posted by kona2

    This family member was having none of that! They threatened to "punch me out" and made a gesture with the fist. It was witnessed by another staff member. They didn't actually do anything, but when I look back on it, I feel 1)angry (how inappropriate) 2) a little scared (yikes, who knows how unstable this person is?).

    I would have called the police and filed a formal complaint against this person. I would have called the administration next and inform them of the situation. I am not a big fan of our administrator, but he will not tolerate that kind of nonsense from someone who is alert and oriented. Just because we are nurses does not give anybody the right to use us as their personal whipping "boy." I would also refuse to accept the assignment of this patient unless the family was not allowed to visit. This family has overstepped the line and you do not have to put up with it. Let us know what happens.