Anxiety in the hospital setting: A patient's perspective
The following short article is a brief insight into a recent experience in a hospital. I have not included any names of places or people in order to keep the information confidential. This article stresses the importance of positive suggestion and body language in the hospital setting.
I recently had an operation at a hospital in London. Nobody likes to have a general anaesthetic (GA) at the best of times; however, it had to be done. I had a small indent at the back of my tongue and it needed to be investigated. The surgeon said that the operation had to be under a GA because of the gag reflex - the indent was right at the back of the tongue. He was right.
Having prepared for the operation, which involved a great deal of worrying, I went into the ward to get ready for the operation. They took my blood pressure twice before the operation. My blood pressure is a little bit on the high side. I have asked my GP to have a look at it but he said that it was a little high and it was nothing to worry about. However, the body language of the staff made it worse. There was no care. And the more anxious that I got, the worse they became. Fortunately, the anaesthetist was excellent and, for that vital part of the operation, I was fairly calm.
After the operation, I faced a difficult situation. I felt a great deal of pain on the other side of my mouth. I feared that they had 'done the wrong side'. I asked the nurse what had happened and whether the operation had been successful, and she confirmed that it had; however, I could feel that nothing had been done on the right side of my mouth. And, when I complained, they treated me as if I were stupid. I knew that the operation hadn't been done and they pretended that it was because my mouth was numb. So in the recovery room, in an altered state of awareness, in which I should be sleeping and relaxing, I was angry. And no one cared. It was a terrifying experience. I, again, asked for more information and they begrudgingly showed me the report that a full investigation had been carried out but that no operation had taken place.
Now, the decision to not operate happened, in my opinion, to be the right one. The surgeon made the bold and correct decision to not operate. The small indentation was consistent with the tonsil tissue on the other side of the mouth; there was no induration or polyps, no abrasion or anything sinister. Any pain that I had been experiencing was due to a constant worry and testing of the surrounding area - akin to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Full marks so far to the anaesthetist and the surgeon. However, I didn't give many marks to the nurses.
I had to remind them to take my cannula out, and when I got home, I had to take the conductor pads for the ECG myself. They forgot. And in the recovery room, fearful that I had gone through the whole procedure for nothing, I was blanked by the nurses. I nearly left with tubes attached to my body. They also left the automatic blood pressure machine on and measured this ten times before they released. Help!
In conclusion, every word and body movement has an effect on the patient's well-being. There are a lot of anxious people out there and having an operation can be a daunting experience. Nurses and doctors should use calming words to reframe the experience to help their patients (Lang and Laser, 2009): It is so important to do this, particularly in the vital stages of the surgery - before and after the event. I would recommend studying a little bit about comfort talk (Lang, 2017) and learning some re-framing strategies, but the most important skills are: Empathy (you should know if your patient is anxious), rapport and care.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help you deal with the anxiety you may experience in a hospital setting, so do not hesitate to contact someone to talk to in a non-judgmental space.
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