Saturday, May 25, 2013

Inappropriate Partners

A coworker said something to me many months ago that really bothered me.

Okay, a lot of coworkers say a lot of things to me that really bother me.

There was a male patient around the age of twenty.  He was hostile, guarded, did't trust anybody.  This was understandable.  His diagnosis was schizophrenia.  At age twenty, he had not fully developed into his diagnosis, so he was not completely delusional and in La-La Land.  Most of my coworkers have no people skills.  They ignore patients or yell at them if the noise is too much.  I try to establish the Therapeutic Relationship.

After a few weeks, the young man let his guard down around me and we could have some conversations about his illness, medications, and plans for discharge.  To many other staff members, he was still openly hostile, especially the nasty ones.

I was talking to this young man on the floor one day when an attendant came by and said to me, "Okay, you can stop flirting now.  We all get your point."

This really surprised me.  My immediate reaction was, "Am I flirting?  Am I attracted to this guy and it is showing?"  No, I wasn't attracted to him.  In spite of his progress, he was still a mess, on the brink of a violent eruption whenever the voices instructed him to kill somebody.

Then I thought:  the attendant is an idiot.  He was making a joke, but it is a potentially damaging joke.  A nurse can't hit on the patients.

Then the third phase of analysis:  My interactions with some patients is viewed as flirting by the staff.  This is unsettling and dangerous.  Honestly, I am not flirting.  I have never felt the mildest attraction to any patient.  The typical patient is grotesque, violent, unbathed, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, smells to high heavens, and is downright repulsive.  Addressing the lack of self-care is not the first goal of treatment at the hospital.  Establishing trust between nurse and patient is the first step.

I treat the patients like human beings.  Most of the staff does not.

After the flirting comment, I did curtail my exchanges with patients.  I tried to sound and be even more professional, using Mr or Mrs and trying to not smile or laugh.

A few days ago, something similar happened.

I get a pink rash on my neck at this time of year.  It must be caused by some flower or tree in bloom.  I never figured it out.  It itches and swells a little, but the skin does not weep.

A young male patient was getting ready to erupt.  We got him to go to his room to cool off, but he was pacing, pounding his fists, and muttering to himself about "fucking that bastard up."

The attendant who had made the flirting comment months earlier returned from lunch.  I told him a brief run-down of the situation.  He looked at the rash on my neck and said, "He did that to you?"

I thought the attendant was asking if the patient had hit me or tried to strangle me.  Stupid me.  I never see it coming.  "No, this is from seasonal allergies," I said innocently.  Because it was.

"You mean it didn't happen while you two were making out?" the attendant laughed back, in front of other staff and patients.  Some of the staff laughed.

I froze.  I suddenly remembered the flirting comment from months ago.  It was no one-time poor choice of words.  He is seriously harboring this delusion that I have romantic physical relations with the patients.  And he is an attendant, not a patient.  Once the patients are told this idea, they will run with it.

I had to at least try to squash it.

"Mr Smith," I sternly stated, "Your comment is disparaging to me and the patient."  The smile left his face and anger formed.  "The safety of the patients and staff is compromised by the situation on hand, and you come in here joking about me personally."  Now nobody was laughing.  "If you want to tell people vicious lies about me, do it on your own time and not when we are trying to protect ourselves from an attack."

I am not sure how much anybody understood, other than I was upset.  They probably think I became upset because my secret was outed.  I work with such fools.

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