Dear Family Members

  1. This open letter is aimed at the difficult, belligerent family members out there who give bedside nurses a hellish time. I know you love the patient who is laying in that bed very much. Not only are we here for the patient, but we are also here to support you during this critical time. Just meet us halfway, please. A little bit of mutual respect can go a long way in fostering goodwill.

    Dear Family Members

    Forewarning: this is an open letter that contains explicit material with which not everyone will find agreeable. However, these are my inner thoughts.

    Dear family members and visitors,

    Let me start by saying that I know you care very deeply about the loved one who is laying in that bed. Each patient is a living, breathing, pulsating individual with memories, emotions, thoughts, perspectives and experiences that are far too unique to be exactly the same as any other person on the face of this planet. If you didn't care, in all likelihood you wouldn't be here to visit.

    If you have been respectful in all interactions with nursing staff, I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. On occasion you may observe something or hear statements that confuse you or cause some anxiety, so thank you for asking us questions to clarify instead of immediately taking a defensive stance. We are here to help people. We are not here to hurt people. Not only are we here for the patient, but we are also here to support you during this rough time.

    I'm assured that I'm speaking for the vast majority of nurses when I say that we do not set out to abuse, neglect, ignore, or otherwise mistreat patients. Again, we are here to help the patient. I really detest when you camp out in the patient's room for 24 hours a day, snap pictures with your cell phone, and use profane language when communicating with staff. Not to be mean, but if you think you can provide a higher level of care, you are free to take the patient home. You would not be able to camp out at a library, curse out the librarian, get in her face, and take pictures for very long. You would be stopped in your tracks if you tried to waltz into a sandwich shop, swear and curse at the workers because you feel the service is crappy, and take cell phone pictures of the equipment and people. Why, then, do you feel it is okay to act like a fool at a healthcare facility?

    My last question was silly because I already know the answer. You know that management at many hospitals, nursing homes, and other types of healthcare facilities adopt the 'customer is always right' mantra and will coddle to you, even if you misbehave. You know this, so you take advantage. Whatever happened to treating people in a way you would want to be treated?

    I have been in your shoes because I have had gravely ill loved ones who once occupied that hospital bed. My mother was in a hepatic coma for nine days in 2002 while desperately awaiting a liver transplantation because a new liver was the only thing that would save her life. My father had a nasty bout of pneumonia in 2009 and required intravenous antibiotics. Not once did I become belligerent toward nursing staff. Some would say, "You're a nurse, so you weren't as scared as other family members." I was a factory worker back in 2002, not a nurse, and it was frightening to see my mother unresponsive. However, I always respected the healthcare team.

    This plea is intended for the difficult, disrespectful family members out there. Keep in mind that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Be aware that while the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it is not right to displace your anger. Nurses are working under increased pressure in this day and age and must do more with less, although administration forbids us from telling you this. Mutual respect and shared understanding go a long way during this trying time of illness. We know you love the person who lays in that bed and we'll be here for you. Just meet us halfway, please.
    Last edit by Joe V on Sep 10, '18
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    About TheCommuter, BSN, RN

    TheCommuter is a moderator of and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.

    Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,032; Likes: 69,296
    CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
    Specialty: Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych

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  3. by   beckyboo1
    Sadly, the ppl who should benefit from this post will either think you are not talking about them or they will say "but the nurse deserved it!"
  4. by   itsnowornever
    During clinical rotation in peds we had a mother who did just that: photographed our EVERY MOVE. We were sent into that room with that patient to get used to it...what a scary though, that this was something we had to get used to! The sick part? The child was there and the mother was being looked into for having done something to place her child there. Take all the photos you want! Why? Because I wont treat your child in a manner that you most likely did.
  5. by   emerjensee
    Thank you for this post!

    I remember being in labor with my daughter for a good total of 24 hours. Not once did I snap at my nurses or midwife... Not once was I rude or demanding because I was in pain. I knew there were there because they wanted to help me and take care of me.

    I remember (vaguely) the nurses commenting on how wonderful it was to have a patient who was actually respectful and nice to them and not yelling and screaming because they were stressed or in pain.

    I also recall my mom (also a nurse) telling me of a story about working nights on a med/surg floor. This mid 20's male black-american had the audacity to tell her that she was just a 'spoiled white girl'... She was livid and thought, "Why yes, how spoiled am I to be here with you, changing your bed pan... at 2am in the morning" HA!

    I will always continue to show the utmost respect and patience with the people who care for me.. they're doing they're jobs.. and its one they've chosen because they CARE...

    -edit- I do see this article is aimed at family members, and not patients however it should and does carry for both...

  6. by   TheCommuter
    Quote from emerjensee
    I also recall my mom (also a nurse) telling me of a story about working nights on a med/surg floor. This mid 20's male black-american had the audacity to tell her that she was just a 'spoiled white girl'... She was livid and thought, "Why yes, how spoiled am I to be here with you, changing your bed pan... at 2am in the morning" HA!
    Hi, there. I'm the author of the aforementioned article.

    I'm also a black female, and while I might be veering slightly off-subject, I simply wanted to mention that not all of us carry the perpetual chip on our shoulders or think negatively about our Caucasian peers.

    Anyhow, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the article.
  7. by   merlee
    I worked my last few years in Home Health, and for the most part, was treated very well. But I got tired of being blamed for not making timely phone calls to order/reorder equipment or supplies. So I started making these calls from the patient's homes, in front of the pt/family, and giving them all the confirmation info.

    My approval rating, usually 'very good', became 'excellent'. And many people commented on those calls.

    We need to remember that all patients and family members have lost a sense of control over their lives (as if they ever were in control!) and we seem like a safe target to take out their anxiety/anger. I would like to see a 'contract' handed out to pt/family on arrival, for them to treat all members of the hospital staff with courtesy and respect.

    It is appalling that the Monday-to-Friday admin personnel - hereafter referred to as the M-F'ers - do not even ask the lowly peons (that's us) for a recounting of an event BEFORE they make assumptions about the treatment of such aforemented patients.

    Furthermore, each family group must have only one or two 'spokesmen' when it comes to addressing the patient's needs. And I think it is now time to go back to the old 'only 2 visitors' rules - they served a very good purpose, and there could always be exceptions.

    Now I am going back to sleep!
  8. by   NurseCard
    Wish we could frame a copy of that and have it posted near the front doors of every healthcare facility.
  9. by   VICEDRN
    Your article is well-written and I agree with the sentiment with one exception. I have to say that I disagree with the idea that the bulk of these visitors are visiting because they love the person in the bed. I know this is cynical but I honestly have come to feel that many of the visitors are really here for one of two reasons: a) they love a good drama and this one is no exception or b) they are curious about the ER world they saw on tv and want to stop by to check the scene out.
  10. by   nguyency77
    @VICEDRN: I'll add a third reason: They stopped by to ask grandma one last time if she included them in her will. I know it sounds awful, but the place I was working at as a CNA had a lot of very wealthy residents.
  11. by   tewdles
    Unfortunately, not all of the family members have good social or coping skills...stress increases the likelihood that people will behave badly...
  12. by   BostonTerrierLoverRN
    Lol, some are inspired!

    I figured heck, you just can't beat nurses, so I joined them.

    There's nothing like that family member- especially the young ones, when it just "clicks." I wanted a stethoscope sooooo bad at 12 years old-when I saw the Nurses working with the patients, the friendships, and the other vague positioned whitecoats! I wanted one so bad that day

    As I got older I noticed common traits in Nurses(as a family member), they were like an elite club in my eyes.

    I couldn't wait to finally come home, and tell my parents I had decided what I wanted to major in my senior year of High School! You can also bet as the surprise wore off their faces that their son was going to be a Nurse, my excitement was just beginning to feel real.

    So when that aggravating, loud, ADD, and wide-eyed child looks up at you and announces,"I want to be a Nurse too!" Don't forget the time you were inspired-ever how small and quick, that finally grew into an RN Degree. And,... all because she gave me a small used disposable plastic and aluminum stethoscope- that I loved and treasured much more than my Littmann ...and I still have it after all these years. Now, her nursing care lives on through me- who was just a family member.

    I want to pass her own to the next generation wide eyed child, which may take 5 minutes at most- and I bet you didn't know you were a "superstar!"
  13. by   martinalpn
    What bothers me most is not the family but the (use your professional words) in management who decided that this behavior is tolerated and in some ways encouraged. But the facility has a zero tolerance to work place violence. Go figure an oxymoron would not be tolerated at all from another staff member.
  14. by   itsnowornever
    I'd like to add the poor mothers who are wailing in pain who have their own mothers berating them! "No, you don't need an epidural! I did it, your sisters did it, don't be a p**** just suck it up" or the ignorant baby-daddies who say "if you get that your cheating!" Or the one I wanted to haul off and the lady was having very nice contractions and finally moving along , after the delivery dad said "almost made it, but you had to wimp out." OMG can we add this to the "you are horrible" list?!?!?!?