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Saw a horrible ex-patient on the street...Reaction?

acmsn1012 acmsn1012 (New) New

Hi there

I was wondering what some of you do when you see a patient you once had on the street? I have read plenty of articles (including this one: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/seeing-a-patient-outside-the-hospital/) about nurses seeing former patients outside the hospital or care facility, but none that really relate to my recent experience.

I am a nursing student and recently finished a 6-month externship at a hospital in the city where I study. Today I was walking home from my last class for the day and saw a former patient of mine riding her bike. This patient almost brought me to my knees with the hell she put me through. I dealt with her every night, usually for 12 hours for 9 nights straight until I finally got the weekend I needed. Every night she had a new nurse who would complain about the way she abused our presence and care, and then become shocked to learn I had worked with her every day for several days beforehand. I know that my story doesn't even compare to the horror stories of bad patients that other nurses have had, but in my 6 months of working as an extern, this girl really defined my bad-patient experience. So when I saw her today, I couldn't help but stop, shocked, in my tracks, :eek: and use every ounce of power within me to hold back from running up to her and establishing some off-the-clock justice. Nothing physical--I'm not that bad!! I just kind of wish I was wearing scrubs, so she might recognize that I am, in fact, a real human being, and exist outside the hospital. I wish that if she saw me, she would apologize for the impossible behavior she displayed a few months ago, and perhaps show that she really is a decent girl.

Anyway, I was just wondering what you (more professional) nurses do when you encounter a bad patient outside of the hospital?

Any suggestions for me? I worry now that she lives in my neighborhood and I'm scared my brain might explode if I ever see her again!

Looking forward to your responses


I can understand the frustration of having a patient run you ragged and treat you badly. But a certain amount of that goes with the territory. Some people are nice when things are normal but don't handle sickness or injugy well. Then there are the "problem children" who aren't all that nice to begin with. The stress of health challenges can make them even worse.

Is this right? No. Do we deserve to be given a hard time by the very patients we're trying to help? No. Can we set limits or try to trade assignments if the situation is really bad? Sometimes. The main thing to remember is that, regardless of how pointed the patient's remarks might be, it's rarely personal.

The fact that even the sight of this person still disturbs you so much suggests that you may need to speak with someone about the patient and the effect she had on you. Doing this might help you handle future situations in a way that doesn't leave you feeling bruised and abused.

As far as running into her on the street, I suggest you resist the urge to 'splain things to her and just go about your business. Unless she were to bring up her hospital stay, you wouldn't be able to address what's troubling you wihtout risking a breach of HIPAA. Even if she did say something that opened the door, there is little to be gained by a confrontation on the street.

Your biggest concern should be how to discharge the anger/anxiety/resentment and whatever else you may be feeling. If you don't, the next patient who is similarly difficult might (after a very short time) evoke a lot of emotion that rightly belongs to someone else.

Get help by talking to someone you trust. Identify what had you feeling so frustrated (did you, for example, feel trapped?), and find ways to address future feelings so that they don't continue to burden you and compromise your practice.

Best wishes to you.

Edited by rn/writer

Hey there

Thanks so much for your kind response -- just the reason why I joined allnurses.com -- I knew it would be a good place to reach out to a community of people who understand each other.

After seeing that patient today, I did some thinking and recalled that during that patient's stay, I was working under some rough conditions - my charge nurse had requested me to stay for doubles and extra shifts all that week, and my last interaction with that patient was my 9th consecutive day at my 14th hour of a double! Whew! I am thankful for my experience as a nurse extern, because not only did I learn a lot of great nursing skills and science, but I learned how to work with other nurses. One important lesson I learned was that I need to say "no" when I am burnt out! I stand my ground in saying that the patient acted extremely inappropriately throughout her stay, but I understand how I may have let my unrelated stress interfere with my focus in treating a demanding patient.

Anyway, I think that seeing the ex-patient today brought back a whole ton of those feelings of stress, and it was the last thing I expected. I have never seen a patient outside of their stay in the hospital, but always planned to remain professional in the occasion that it occurs. I think I was just in pure shock to see the one patient that I had such a hard time with. I'm kind of embarrassed by how aggressive I came off in my original post -- thankfully, I know how to keep my cool around patients and when in stressful situations (as opposed to many people I know--including my BSN program classmates--yikes!) and I would absolutely never confront a patient, or approach them in this kind of situation. I'm glad that the whole event blew over, and I can relax now and move on. I plan on taking a positive approach by focusing on the positive: Fortunately, the patient seemed healthy and was riding her bike on a beautiful summer day. Hopefully, she will stay happy and healthy, and OUT of the hospital with silly demands!

Thanks again for putting things back into perspective!

- ACM SN :)

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 20 years experience.

Allnurses is at its best when one member can offer another a different perspective on an issue and help her/him to learn and grow from the experience, as you obviously have, OP. Bravo to rn/writer for her well-articulated post, and to you as well for taking it to heart. Well done!!:yeah:

I wish I had great things to dsya but I have felt the same way you do now. It is frustrating when not only the patients, but their families and even your director treat you badly. I only wish I had pursued my original degree plan of English major instead of nursing....