Speaking of Speaking
Do you notice how we talk differently to our patients depending on the age and sex of the patient?
Take the 70-year-old woman who comes in for a sleep study. I find myself always calling her Ms. Smith and will chat with her about the sleep study, and what to expect. It is all very formal.
You turn off the lights and the only time she will call you is to go to the bathroom in the morning she will inform me that the mask pinched her nose all night but she did not want to be a bother so she did not tell me.
Now the 70-year-old man I will address as Mr. Smith will either deny that there is anything wrong and no way will he wear that silly thing.
Now take your 30-year-old woman: if you got her to come in you are pretty talented because she is the busiest person on the face of the earth and never has time for herself.
I usually end up addressing her by her first name because she does not enjoy formality or maybe it is because at least her she is called by her first name and not Sam's mom, or Jake's wife or some other title she has earned like the cookie lady because she has sold girl scout cookies in front of Wal-Mart the last two week.
Now in addition to chatting about the test and the possibility of a second study, I get to hear everything that is going on in her life that is causing her sleep problems. This will include the husband who snores like a freight train, the kids, work, and the container of Chunky Monkey she consumes every Friday night as a reward for getting through the week. By the time we are done with the set up we are best friends.
But my favorite is any man under the age of 60 who comes in for a sleep study. He is here for 1 reason and 1 reason only: His significant other has sent him because she can not stand listening to him snore for one more day and has sent him to sleep on the couch.
He is willing to admit maybe he snores a little bit but what he wants most is to be able to sleep in his own bed. Of course he does not want to wear that mask under any circumstances but he is willing to take the test and prove his wife wrong.
While you are setting him up he is not talking to you he is watching Monday night football or Cops. He will insist he never goes to bed before midnight and there is no way he will sleep with all these wires. Then you walk out of the room to set up your next patient and you hear him snoring though the walls.
If he comes back for the second study you will go through the same routine again only when the morning comes you are now his best friend because you just gave him the best night's sleep he has ever had and you did not even have to sleep with him.
Here are some tips to make communication less stressful. It will help put both you and your patients at ease while caring for them.
1. Always use the formal until you are invited to do otherwise. People who prefer less formality will always tell you, but people who prefer formality will go to your supervisor
2. Ask questions. People expect you to ask questions about their condition. They want to know you understand and in many cases that what they are experiencing is not unusual. Let's face it, woman usually think going to the bathroom three times a night is normal, it's nice to hear maybe we can cut the visits down to one.
3. Remember that almost no lab is soundproof, so be careful what you say because you never ever know who is listening. Trust me your patient or co-worker will hold last night's bar experience against you.