health

"When my mum was in hospital, something happened to me that's entirely against who I am."

Worksafe Victoria
Thanks to our brand partner, Worksafe Victoria

If you’ve ever heard those wild news stories where distraught parents somehow manage to lift cars off their trapped children in fits of desperate and loving instinct, the story I’m about to tell you next will not seem at all odd.

I am the very epitome of a polite people pleaser, and I detest the idea that someone who has had even the briefest of interactions with me would walk away thinking I was rude or inconsiderate in any way or had left a cloud of uneasiness across their day.

It can often mean that if a dish I order in a restaurant arrives cold, I won’t send it back or if someone in my office accidentally uses my personal mug, I’ll sit and seethe quietly about it at my desk rather than make them feel awkward about it.

However, all that carefully curated politeness rushes out the door faster than an Instagram influencer spotting a pink wall when someone I love is lying in a hospital bed.

A few years ago my mother was ill and in hospital for a number of days, and so our family would trek in through those bleak, sterile halls to her tiny grey room to sit with her each day and wait for news.

Spending endless days in a hospital room, talking with a parade of doctors and nurses and having the smell of disinfectant permeate your nostrils is kind of like downing three shots of tequila and barely pausing for a hit of lemon (except obviously way less fun).

It makes you forget the way you would normally behave while also breaking down that polite social barrier we all build up around ourselves while interacting with strangers in a professional setting. A barrier that exists so we can navigate through difficult situations all while keeping a wall in place so that everyone feels safe and removed from the emotion of the situation.

A few years ago in that hospital room, however, I shattered that wall.

It was on one of those long nights in the hospital, sitting next to my mother’s bed, that I snapped for the first time.

She was in severe pain, unable to sleep or even get comfortable enough to rest for just a moment, and the more I watched her in pain the angrier and angrier I became. We were in a hospital for God’s sake, surrounded by doctors and nurses, medical equipment and medicines, how could someone be in so much pain and just be left to suffer all alone like this, I fumed. We were in a building filled with people and yet I felt completely alone.

Hitting the buzzer in the hospital room for assistance didn’t feel like quite enough, so instead, I stomped down the corridor to the nurse’s station and slammed my hands down on the bench repeatedly until someone came out. Then I proceeded to raise my voice (OK, I yelled, a lot) at the two nurses who were extremely polite to me during the entire extent of my ranting outburst, accompanying me to my mother’s room and checking in on us for the rest of the night.

hospital-woman
"It was on one of those long nights in the hospital, sitting next to my mother's bed, that I snapped for the first time."
ADVERTISEMENT

Of course now, many years, I can see that my outburst was wrong. That the nurses working had done all they could, had followed every protocol and offered every comfort, even staying completely calm throughout my emotional outburst. The worst part is I'm sure that I was not the only loved one of a patient to yell at them that night.

The next day I behaved slightly worse, I am ashamed to say. Exhausted from the long night and facing down another long day of worry in a rigid hospital chair, I lost my cool when the doctors made their morning visit to my mother's room, delivering the news that they were yet to come across a final diagnosis and so would have to perform even more tests.

I won't repeat word for word what I said to them, mostly because some of the phrasings are not suitable to repeat in public, but it was very much along the lines of "but how can you not know what's wrong yet? What have you been doing all this time?! It's unacceptable that we keep going around in circles like this!"

At that moment I felt that maybe being assertive and pushy would get us better results, but yelling will not bring on a cure or a diagnosis.

After the doctors had left the room my sister, who had just become a doctor herself, explained to me that my outburst was so much more a hindrance than a help.

Every time I raised my voice during the doctor's visit, it could mean that we missed a piece of information or we slowed down the process of the doctors and nurses who were trying to do their jobs.

And even if they always keep up a professional facade when dealing with a loved one's outburst, no-one can operate properly while someone is being abusive towards them in their workplace.

Being in that hospital turned me into a person I didn't recognise, but now I can see that my behaviour was wrong.

And if I'm ever unfortunate enough to find myself in that position again I will change my behaviour - and call it out if I see my friends or family behaving this way - keeping in mind what doctors and nurses go through each day caring for the ones we love.

We're all capable of losing our cool or being rude in stressful situations. Occupational violence and aggression (OVA) is an unfortunate part of the daily lives of most of our healthcare workers, but it absolutely shouldn't be. To see what we can all do to recognise and prevent these situations from happening, visit www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/itsneverok.

This content was brought to you with thanks by our brand partner, WorkSafe Victoria.

Worksafe Victoria

No matter what the situation, aggression and violence is never OK. Unacceptable behaviour can have a negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of our healthcare workers.
We need everyone to work together to ‘Recognise. Report. Prevent’.
- Recognise – be aware of what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable. Recognise it within yourself, and in those around you.
- Report – if you witness or experience violent or aggressive behaviour, do not get involved. Report it immediately to someone at the healthcare facility, or to the police.
- Prevent – recognise unacceptable behaviour and unreasonable reactions in yourself. Notice your triggers and take time out before things escalate. If you’re an employer or in management at a healthcare service, ensure you investigate incidents, review and implement controls to eliminate or reduce the risks, and encourage your workers to report incidents.

00:00 / ???