The Power Of A Caregiver's Tone Of Voice




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I bet you didn’t realize that everything you say matters...it does, to whoever hears it. As caregivers, our words are even more powerful than “regular” words, especially to those we are caring for at the time.

Here’s an example. Before I became pregnant, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I needed day-patient laparoscopy to “clear out the cobwebs,” so to speak (I know, this story borders on TMI, but I’m OK if you’re OK!). While the doctor ensured me that complications were “rare,” of course I had to be one of the rare few who ended up back in the emergency room that night because of my inability to urinate (thanks for an irritated urethra from the indwelling catheter during surgery). Let me tell you, those blocked Tom’s that we see, they are most certainly in pain…I know from personal experience! So I was admitted and catheterized, and put on some type of muscle relaxer, to get me “going” again.

That next night, I was frustrated. I had not been able to urinate much on my own still, so I had to get catheterized a couple of times. At 11 p.m., with my spirits low, the nurse came in to assess and determine if I needed catheterized again. I did.

It was bad enough dealing with the physical pain of the surgery recovery, the pain of not urinating, and then the pain of being catheterized, but none of that hurt near as much as what that nurse said and how she said it. It went something like, “If you can’t urinate, we’re going to have to send you home with a catheter!”.

Now if those words had been said by someone in a caring, understanding and sympathetic voice, it would have felt like this: “Oh dear, if you’re still having problems urinating, we may have to consider releasing you home with a catheter to keep you comfortable, while you heal more.” Instead, it felt like this: “I can’t believe it, you wimp, you STILL can’t urinate? This is ridiculous, and we’re not going to let you just sit here in the hospital trying to pee. We’ll send your butt home with a catheter and you’re on your own!”.

Needless to say, in my fragile state and all alone at the moment (visitors had long gone), I began to sob. It wasn’t bad enough that I was battling my own physical challenges, but now I felt I had to battle through having a nasty nurse in charge. I was just one patient to her, and I’m certain that I was the least sick. I was a nuisance to her already tough night, perhaps, but yet she was in a position where caring was the hallmark of the profession, and she did not seem to care about me.

What I learned? Every time you talk with a client, remember the power of your words. Check your tone of voice, and all your non-verbal communications, such as body language and eye contact, and be sure that the message you WANT to send is the message that indeed is getting communicated. Caring is the most important thing we do, and although our patients may not have the benefit of knowing our language, their human families are just as fragile if not more so than our patients at times. Words can wound, but words said gently can heal.

P.S. Between sobs that night, I called my partner, who came and joined me. It was the invention of the famous “Pee Pee Dance” that helped me relax and laugh, which ultimately made it possible to urinate!

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