Interacting with a Patient’s Family Members can be Exhausting



Steve Berry | From the August 2013 Issue | Thursday, July 18, 2013

They embrace our patients. They are concerned for their well-being. They seek uncompromised satisfaction. They see our patients as an essential asset to their self-worth. They depend on them fiscally.

I’m speaking, of course, of ACLs (Ambulance Chasing Lawyers). No, wait. I meant ACLs, as in, Allied Coterie Lineages—Kinfolk for short.

When EMS responds to the sick or injured, we will more than likely also engage with a family member of that patient. And, for the most part, this familial tie plays an essential role in advocating for their DNR (Dearest & Nearest Relative). The presence of a relative establishes a vital psychological resource of stability and support for the patient and their recovery. But not always.

Family Folk: What took you so long to get here?!
Medic: Well, Ma’am, we just …

FF: Hey! I called for an ambulance well over five minutes ago.
M: Sorry Ma’am for the inconvenience. You don’t look so well. How can we help you?

FF: I’m not the patient $#@ it! It’s him. He’s outta his oxygen again.
M: Who is?

FF: My husband. I forgot to call the oxygen tank man. Stupid hangovers will do that.
M: Is your husband having trouble breathing?

FF: Well, ya! Why else would his lips be blue?
M: May we see your husband?

FF: He’s in the back room behind the big-screen TV and the litter box. And don’t mind the dog. He only bites if you don’t let him smell ya first. Oh, and don’t wake the kids. It’s three in the morning after all.
M: Ma’am, would you mind putting your cigarette out?

FF: I will if you first let that cute partner of yours check out the mole on my back. I think it’s getting bigger.
M: Will you be wanting your husband to be seen in an ER? 

FF: Yeah, I guess. Can you bring him back though, seeing as I have no gas in the car? Oh, and can you pick up my prescription meds along the way? But not too early. I like to sleep in late.

And this, before you’ve even made actual patient contact.

Then there are those tribal DNA constituents on the other extreme side of the coin. I call them Triple A’s—Adhering Antagonistic Advocates. They’re often the patient’s primary care provider and know more about the patient’s condition than the patient themselves. Though they have the patient’s best interest at heart, they can at times come across as overwhelmingly demanding, rude, clingy, critical, disgruntled, skeptical, abusive, loud, opinionated and disrespectful during your attempt to care for their loved one. So much so, that if you closed your eyes you would think you were at a managerial recruitment seminar.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s a reasonable expectation to find family members feeling distraught, fearful, anxious, helpless and even guilty. I try to involve them in some way because I know people feel better when they are helping. Still, this doesn’t preclude me from setting limits of PITA (Pain In The …) intrusiveness—especially when they hover over me like a hawk with relentless nit-picking WebMD surveillance.

Fortunately, genealogical customer abuse is a rare occurrence … unless you work in my county … in my district … on my shift … or in my ambulance.

These are the times when prehospital care providers seek rapid patient extrication from the scrutinizing scene into the restricted zone of an ambulance, where only the patient and EMS provider may reside. This secludes them from conversations like:

“I need to ride in the back with you so I can see what you’re doing.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but you’ll have to ride up front with my partner for safety reasons.”

This is a polite retort in which the word “safety” actually implies, “Sit back here and I will give you a BONITA (Big Ole Needle In The …).

I remember one particular frontline patient family member who once, though forced to sit up front, ceaselessly continued to text my patient in the back of my rig for minute-by-minute updates regarding care.

The only family members I usually allow to co-exist with my patient and I in the back of my rig consist of parents of young children (unless they are crying more than the patient), interpreters (speaking “Dude” not included), hospice family members, and those who are more familiar with the patient’s chronic medical technological needs than I am (PEZ dispensers excluded).

Those patient clan members prone to immediate ambulance eradication include those who tell the patient to go ahead and urinate on the cot while in transit to the hospital—seeing as cleaning it up is part of the ambulance driver’s job anyway.

Until next time, remember a patient’s family member of annoyance is often the best tutor of patience. 

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Health and Safety

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Related Topics: Health And Safety, Steve Berry, patient family, patience, kinfolk, family, ems humor, ems frustration, Jems Lighter Side

Author Thumb

Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He's the author of the cartoon book series I'm Not An Ambulance Driver. Visit his Web site at to purchase his books or CDs.


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