How Would You Handle Pt Anger r/t Wait?


It happens to all of us. We're in a patient's room, we go out intending to get that pillow, that sleeping med, whatever (it's usually something minor), and as you're passing another patient's room, Something Very Bad is happening and you're suddenly taking care of a crashing patient, and Stable Patient's pillow is the furthest thing from your mind.

We're not allowed to say to Stable Patient, "I had a patient who needed me more" and now when we go back there a half-hour later, Stable Patient is ready to spit nails because she's been waiting so long for something that seems so simple. She's threatening to write to everyone up to the Pope about this inefficient service, and you know that she's the type to do it.

You now have to calm this patient down and take care of her.

How do you handle it? What do you say? How do you smooth things over?


527 Posts

Specializes in Cardiology.

I would apologize and simply say that something pressing came up. And I would also mention that as soon as I was free, that I returned to them as soon as I could. I would also ask them if they needed anything else. I am very soft spoken and I haven't really had a problem patients getting angry with me. I'm sure the more experience I get, the more I will encounter stickier situations. By the way, is it inappropriate to say that something urgent came up?

TazziRN, RN

6,487 Posts

I see nothing wrong with simply saying, "There was an emergency involving another pt and I came back as quickly as I could. I'm sorry no one was able to tell you about the delay."

Editorial Team / Admin

Silverdragon102, BSN

1 Article; 39,477 Posts

Specializes in Medical and general practice now LTC. Has 35 years experience.
I see nothing wrong with simply saying, "There was an emergency involving another pt and I came back as quickly as I could. I'm sorry no one was able to tell you about the delay."


have said something similar several times with no problems and on a couple of occassions if the patient is still angry even after apology have walked away


26 Posts

Specializes in rehab and LTC, some psych.

I am an LPN so I work subacute, LTC and can only speak on that experience, however, I get the patients that you discharge so I can somewhat relate. In my area, the area hospitals do not use LPNs. I saw one floor that "experimented" with using LPNs and all they did was pass pills, not much else. I'm very hands-on and need more stimulation so I chose nt to go that route. I love nursing and medicine....and I love doctors. Can I say that? So I chose an area where I can utilize alot of skills aside from a typical med pass. I have dealt with the letter writers. IMO, it usually boils down to a need to feel validated. It's a control issue for them. They can't control the progression of their illness but they can demand a pillow and be in control of that. I find that most patients have sympathy for a fellow sufferer and when I finally get that pillow to their room, I explain there was an emergency that I had to tend to but they were not forgotten I made sure they were next on my list. They usually mellow out because they don't want to be the cause of somebody's possible death or code over a silly demand for a pillow. Convincing them that they were next usually convinces them that they too were on the high priority list and that 's what they want to hear. Then you give them the line about how you took the time to find this specific pillow because all of the other ones were to flat and not good enough for them. Again, this gives them a sense of validation. After you help them strategically place this fluffy pillow under their leg or their head or wherever they want it, you ask them what more can you do for them. I usually get a "Oh Honey, dont worry about me, you go finish with that really sick patient. I can wait." It usually works every time. They don't need to know that after the crash, there were 2 other patients ahead of them, not to mention a quick coffee break. Just by telling them you are available to them is pretty much what they want to hear and that because you were busy with an emergency gives them the impression that they've got a hard working nurse who will be attentative to them when and if they crash. It's reassuring for them. They usually end the conversation by saying something about not sending in that other nurse who never works and is always taking breaks. For some reason, some patients believe we nurses are wasting their money by not working and by taking too many breaks. Some have this preconceived notion that those nurses just don't do anything. When you tell them differently and go that extra step by fluffing the pillow in their presence, it tends to calm them down and they put the pen down and put the paper away.


Specializes in L&D, medsurg,hospice,sub-acute.

Tell them the truth--there was an emergency, and I got abck to you as soon as I could....and don't be afraid to chart a patients anger, especially if they use foul language or extreme accusations,and your may save your butt if they start targeting you (has happened where I have worked)


162 Posts

Specializes in acute medical.
I see nothing wrong with simply saying, "There was an emergency involving another pt and I came back as quickly as I could. I'm sorry no one was able to tell you about the delay."

I agree. After all, they are in a hospital. Also, if they continue to complain, I would also write in the notes something to the effect that despite being informed that there was an emergency that the patient continued to be abusive etc etc, and also write your actions to placate them and assist them. That way you can cover your own back should it go further. Of course to maintain confidentiality specifics re: the emergency can't be recorded, but we all know that.


88 Posts

yes, i would and have also explained that there was a pt emergency, etc seems that if the waiting pt has heard the code/emergency/ppl running down the hall, they are a little less mad.


41 Posts

Specializes in ED, PACU, OB, Education.

On the other hand, I have had patients who have looked me straight in the eye and clearly stated, I really don't care about what is going on with anyone else. Where upon I usually smile back at them and say, I sure hope no one needs a pillow when you are having your emergency! And leave. Some people are the same considerate, socially conscious people in the hospital that they are outside of it and realize that priorities have to be made when taking care of mass amounts of sick people. Others are the same rude, arrogant jacks in the hospital as they are on the highway, in the supermarket, and anywhere else you find them. It's all about them. And I love it when they write the nasty letters because then I can tell administration all about the encounter and smile and say now what would you have done. They usually agree with saving lives comes first.

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

153 Articles; 21,232 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 31 years experience.

We used to get this in the ER a lot. My pat answer (said with a smile) was "You don't want to be first in the ER!" And....then I would proceed on to whatever else needed attention in the room.

Tweety, BSN, RN

32,997 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 31 years experience.

I apologize and I usually can smooth things over with an explanation that I was in a bad way, because most of the time I already have a good rapport with the patient.

If they can't give over it, I give them the names and phones numbers of people they can complain to and hand them the phone. I don't have the patience to suck up to selfish patients who can't take a sincere apology. Maybe if enough patients complain they might realize we need lower ratios.........yeah right.


645 Posts

I find that USUALLY,and I say USUALLY if you just explain that you had an emergency with another patient they understand. I think it also helps reassure them that if you have an emergency with them then you will put them top priority.

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