Friday, June 11, 2010

Hospital Experience #5: How Did Nurse Dreadful Perceive Me?

This post is the fifth in a series of posts about my recent experience at Ochsner Hospital, where I had a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. This post is a follow-up to "Hospital Experience #4: Nurse Dreadful," and it would probably be helpful to have read the previous post before reading this one.

In my previous post, I described and reflected on my interaction with a nurse whom I have chosen to call Nurse Dreadful. This name tells you something about how I perceived this nurse! In this post, I will explore how Nurse Dreadful may have perceived me.

First, I will review my perception of Nurse Dreadful. I took an immediate dislike to her: her matter-of-fact manner came across to me as uncaring, and her language in speaking to me communicated disrespect. I did not like Nurse Dreadful at all! I found her, in a word, dreadful.

Now, how did Nurse Dreadful perceive me? Certainly, she would have sensed my dislike. I am sure that I was communicating my negative feelings toward her through my body language, my facial expressions, my tone of voice, and my word choices. I narrowed my eyes at her when she told me that I had to be "naked as a jaybird." I remained stonily silent when she said that she would try to find me two extra pillows in spite of having to take care of eighteen patients that morning. I accusingly said, "This has never happened before," when she was sticking me in an unsuccessful effort to find a vein that would yield blood. I made an insincere and self-serving apology (probably spoken in a petulant tone) when she responded defensively, "Ma'am, I have been doing this for many years," because I feared that she might find a way to retaliate against me later if I irritated her too much.

Nurse Dreadful very likely perceived me as a hostile patient - Patient Dreadful.

I suspect that Nurse Dreadful and I got caught in a spiral of escalating negative feelings and behavior. Her "naked as a jaybird" remark triggered hostility in me. I responded with subtle hostility to her. She responded with irritation about my pillow request to me. I responded with more visible hostility to her. She responded defensively in the vein fiasco to me. I responded with deep yet apology-veiled hostility to her. When laid out like this, our responses to each other seem like moves in a game and make me laugh!

Based on this GAME, then, we came away with very negative impressions of each other. I know that this is true for me, and I am speculating that it may be true for her. We DREADFULIZED each other! I saw her as uncaring, disrespectful, and dreadful. She may well have seen me as uncooperative, hostile, and dreadful. So we have these caricature impressions of each other as Nurse Dreadful and Patient Dreadful (again I am speculating about her impression of me) - all based on a game!

What Nurse Dreadful and I were doing is probably one of the games described in Eric Berne's classic 1965 book about social interactions - Games People Play. The antidote to game interactions is authentic interactions - interactions in which we speak our truth to each other. We can also try to hear the emotional truth behind another's statement and respond to that.

What if I had tried for authentic interactions with Nurse Dreadful? What if I had just ignored the "naked as a jaybird" remark, which was probably spoken innocently and not meant to be disrespectful? What if, to the remark about the eighteen patients, I had replied, "It sounds like it's going to be a really hard and busy day for you. Thank you for trying to find the extra pillows for me"? What if, with the vein-search fiasco, I had said, "Please stop. I'm starting to get upset and irritated. I need a moment to calm down, and then I'd like to try again with someone else if you don't mind. Thank you for trying to get blood from me. I'm sorry my arm is so tense"?

SO - I find the game lens a very helpful lens in this situation. When viewed as a game, the whole interaction between Nurse Dreadful and me makes me laugh!

Laughter breaks the spell of any such game, removes judgment, and motivates change. Hey, look at this silly game I've been playing! I can toss this game aside! I'm ready for something more authentic!

The game lens is a playful way to see what's happening, and it expresses a deep truth. I think I'd like to read Eric Berne's Games People Play again!

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