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Friday, January 23, 2009

Politics do not belong in the patient's room

There's this old saying that you should never discuss politics with people you are not familiar with. No place does this hold more true than when you are working in a hospital around sick patients.

This brings me to two more RT Cave rules:

RT Cave Rule #32: You can talk about anything with the patient so long as the patient approves of it. In a sense, you will want to baby your patients. A stressed patient heals slower.

RT Cave Rule #33: Never talk politics within earshot of your patients unless you know the patient will not be offended by opposing views. Or, if you don't know the patient, keep your mouth shut. This is especially true of naive and stubborn patients.

It shouldn't' take a genius to figure this out, but a patient's room is his pseudo home. It should be as friendly and safe an environment as if the patient were in his own home. If she is never exposed to an opposing viewpoint at home, she should not be exposed to one in the health care setting.

And, since you have no clue what the setting of her home is, and what kind of people she associates with, you should just keep your mouth shut.

This was a lesson I learned within the first week I was working at Shoreline. We had a nurses assistant named Larry. I watched as he rushed out of a room that I was about to enter. As soon as I entered the room, the patient said, "Do not ever let that man in my room again!"

"What did he do?"

"He's a republican! I hate republicans!" He looked at me with intense eyes. "You aren't a republican are you?"

"Absolutely not." If I was, he would never know.

I might say vague things like, "Yeah, I believe that people are smarter and more capable of solving problems than government. However there may be rare occasions the government may need to step in."

Which is funny, because last night I broke this rule and I was talking politics with the nurses at the nurses station. What I wasn't paying attention to was that the patient in the room by the station were both awake and listening.

The call light went on. The patient said, "I heard what you were saying. Do you like Obama?"

Gulp! "Umm," I said. I was hoping maybe the patient would fall asleep or something as I paused, but he continued staring expressionless. "Well, you can't really judge a person before he ever does anything."

I was impressed with my extemporaneous response there. I did not know this patient, so I certainly didn't want to express like nor dislike for the president.

Then the patient said something totally off the wall, at which time I suspected he was out to lunch. However one never knows for sure what one is capable of thinking.

This is not to say I have never had a great political discussion with a patient before, because I have had many. Yet I suppose I have common sense enough to know how to pick my spots, and how not to tick off a patient.

And, hence, RT cave Rule #'s 32 and 33 come in handy.

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