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Nursing Woes: Angry Person 1 inch From my Face

November 19, 2013

The ER is a dynamic place.  You encounter people of different ethnicities, socioeconomic classes and apparently, temperaments. The other day while in triage, a patient’s family member came about one inch from my face. They were angry, and we were busy taking care of a line of people.  That’s when they started to escalate.   They started yelling, and reaching over the counter with their finger at us. At the time, I wasn’t visibly pregnant, my coworker was, but that didn’t seem to deter this angry bird. It’s funny, in these types of situations there is no time to think, you just act, I guess. I pressed the silent security alarm, paged overhead for staff and security,  and within seconds we had backup.  Eventually the police came because the family wasn’t deescalating with our resources.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened and probably won’t be the last time.  Unfortunately, on a daily basis, staff in the ER are verbally and physically abused by patients and family members alike. A few months ago, Texas passed a bill that treats assaults against emergency personnel as a third degree felony, it used to be a misdemeanor. A third degree felony is punishable by a fine from $0 up to $10,000 and penitentiary time of 2 to 10 years. BRAVO!!! From what I understand, in California, you get a little slap on the wrist compared to a third degree felony (fine up to 1,000 and penitentiary time not exceeding 6 months.)  Please correct me if this information is wrong, this is what I found in the California penal code: 241 c.

We are not sitting around eating cinnamon rolls all day.

We are not sitting around eating cinnamon rolls all day.

I love my job, but not when I have to deal with knuckleheads. People need to understand that we are always trying our best. The next time you go to an ER, if there is a line or it looks busy, please note that the staff in the back aren’t playing darts and eating bonbons.  They are taking care of sick people, you know: people that can’t breathe, people having a heart attack…..maybe even a stroke, etc. No ER likes a lobby full of sick patients, we want you in a bed asap where we can take care of you.  I heard of a true story from a coworker:  there was a man that interrupted a resuscitation of a patient in order to ask when someone would see their family member that was a patient (this patient was stable: breathing and perfusing.)  Who does that?

True statements I’ve heard from working in the ER:

“When is the doctor coming?  I’ve been in the room for 5 minutes!!!”

“I have to work in an hour, can we zip through this whole process in that amount of time?”

“I can’t breathe.” (speaking full and complete sentences with no distress noted whatsoever)

“That person that just got taken back looked like they didn’t have insurance, why were they brought back before me?”

Anyway, I can go on……and on………and on.  Please think of me the next time you have to wait at your local ER and try not to be the angry bird that harasses the pregnant ladies 😉

Questions for you:  How has your experience been at ER’s?  Have you ever encountered people being rude because they had to wait or have you been that person?  Any experiences from other nurses or anyone else working in hospitality/customer service?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Brent permalink
    November 19, 2013 6:24 am

    I work in a children’s ER and this too is a very common scene…even security is involved at at least once a week…. I love it though and would not want to trade it for a floor nurse position.

  2. Karis permalink
    November 19, 2013 6:30 am

    I’m an ICU nurse and had an unfortunate week of having to file a police report on a verbally abusive family who was threatening to harm us including bombing the building. Not only did I have to do this once, but actually a total of four times on four seperate days. Needless to say I was upset, my husband was as well, and it took too long for the administration and the police dept to respond. (I’m also quite pregnant.) I’m honestly tired of this part of the job. I hate being verbally and at times physically assaulted in my place if work. Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue and I only pray that California will follow Texas’ lead.

  3. David Sanchez permalink
    November 19, 2013 10:21 am

    It seems more folks are angry these days…
    In Corona they advertise how many minutes your have to wait to be seen at their ER on a large Digital Billboard off the freeway. As an MRI Technologist we deal with people…not hamburgers..sometimes you cant have it your way and try to control everything. A fraction of Patients cant understand this and try to bully their way to service and its the incorrect manner to go about it. Its just unfortunate that security and sometimes Police must be involved…

  4. elizabeth permalink
    November 19, 2013 4:47 pm

    Nurses aren’t the only health care professionals either that get the wrath. I am a pharmacist, and we are merely the bearer of the bad news that their insurance has a) changed what is covered, b) now requires a prior authorization process for that pricey med, or c) has changed the copay on said medication….but frequently it is the pharmacy/pharmacist that is blamed for the price issues. Sadly, we are already seeing an increase in this wrath as plans are changing right now and patients have not read their benefits packet closely enough…..I personally believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg (right now) regarding how volatile people can be….I think there is going to be more to come, especially when the FDA switches hydrocodone to CII status (most likely happening in the next year), and that is going to open up a whole new can of worms…..

  5. November 19, 2013 5:07 pm

    I feel for you!! I used to work in a Pedi ER and witnessed the same anger many times. I think it’s part of a larger problem – people with extremely MINOR complaints are clogging up and paralyzing the emergency healthcare delivery system. There is such a strain on the ER’s resources because of people using it as a free clinic. I was yelled at by a mom asking how much longer it was going to be for her daughter’s stuffy nose – well we had just finished calling a baby’s death, and my other patient was seizing – so I told her it wasn’t going to be anytime soon. She “reported me” to whoever and I never heard about it again. Hang in there! I’ve learned over the years that people who treat you that way would treat ANYONE that way who was in your shoes – it’s not you, it’s them.

  6. January 8, 2014 3:45 am

    Of course nobody deserves such abuse but you have to admit ER’s aren’t always perfect places. Unfortunately the users often get frustrated with staff. Is that just the user’s fault? Of course not! Almost everyone (even nice people) has a story how they or a loved one were driven to frustration by their ER experience. Everyone, users & staff, are in a stressful situation often made worse by bad policies, overcrowding, or inadequate or poorly designed facilities. I know most ER staff work hard to reduce that stress. I felt compelled to comment because the blog entry & prior comments suggest the problem is simply some people – inconsiderate bullies. I think when problems occur there can often be triggering circumstances that may suggest areas for improvement. It seems that improvement won’t happen if the problem users are just dismissed as being jerks or bullies.

    My local ER recently had a sad failure of service. It is a small hospital and the ER has a single triage station. My understanding of what happened is the triage nurse was busy when a taxi driver brought in a non-verbal man in a wheelchair. The taxi driver pushed the elderly man over to the triage station and tried to interrupt the current consultation to ask what to do with the guy. (The ER did have a information/reception desk but the driver skipped that & headed direct to triage). The busy triage nurse told the taxi driver to leave the man in the waiting room. He was not given a ‘ticket number’ to put him into a service queue. The taxi driver left. Soon after the triage nurse’s shift ended and she was relieved by her replacement. The new triage nurse was not told about the man. In the busy ER he went largely unnoticed. A few other users did notice that the slumped man had been there an awfully long time and they commented to the staff at the info/reception desk. Those staff repeatedly dismissed the concerns because they had assumed the man had seen triage. It ended up that almost 24 hours after being dropped off by the taxi driver the man was discovered dead in his wheelchair. During his time in the waiting room he had thrown up on the floor. Staff moved him and his chair to clean up the mess but because he was non-verbal nobody communicated with him in the entire time he was in the ER. He apparently was also relocated a few times times by staff & other users who found his chair to be in the way in the crowed, busy, waiting room.

    It is a sad story. I’m hopeful the review of what happened will result in operational changes that can prevent re-occurrence. I’m sure this incident has been very stressful for the ER staff. No doubt it probably bothers many who have had reason to visit the ER since and may have an ongoing effect on how users communicate with staff. For instance if a overworked staff member is dismissive, a user may be more likely to be ticked off now than before that incident.

    Anyways, congrats on getting debt-free!

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