I always abide by the be kind to others, you don’t know what they’re going through rule. In my day job, I work on the frontlines in healthcare and the patients I see are often going through health struggles I can’t even imagine. If I can make the process easier for them, I strive to do so.
However, my field is not absent of nasty, angry patients and reminding myself to remain kind and not go on the defensive can be difficult.
Recently, I had an interaction with a difficult patient that stretched me thin and stayed on my mind for weeks afterward. Today, she returned and reinforced my belief that kindness is always the answer, no matter how another person treats you.
It started like this.
My shift was nearly over. It had been a pleasant day, productive and satisfying. I was excited to go home.
I could see one of my younger co-workers looking uncomfortable and a little harried in her interaction with a customer. When she said the magic words, “I’ll see if someone else is able to help you.” I stepped in.
The patient was not happy. She was asking for help on a matter we are not trained in, something we can not provide. My co-worker had already tried to tell her this but I know that sometimes it needs to be heard from more than one person before it is accepted as truth.
I reiterated that unfortunately, her problem was not our area of expertise and told her of some places where she’d be able to get the help she needed. She didn’t want to hear this; she looked tired and I imagined she’d been searching for what she needed all day.
That was when she turned especially nasty. She said that we were young girls who clearly had no idea what we were doing, in a much more aggressive fashion with some expletives thrown in for some added bite. She demanded to speak to someone more experienced, despite not knowing the years we both had under our belts.
Maintaining my smile was difficult but I acquiesced.
She spoke to our boss, who gave her the same advice we had.
I try not to take interactions like this personally but it happens. I am not immune to unkind words, even after all these years, and I finished my shift that night feeling deflated and worn.
It stayed with me for weeks, making me question my own competence, something I’m normally confident in. Did I not communicate effectively enough? Does my kind nature and my youth make people struggle to take me seriously? Should I have been more firm, more blunt?
But that’s not me. I was trying to think of how I caused such an aggressive reaction from her but it had nothing to do with me. I gave her the best care I could with the knowledge I had and my boss gave her the same advice. I maintained my brightness no matter her own darkness.
I did everything I could.
That thought should have been enough for me to let it go, but I still couldn’t shake it off entirely.
Today, I encountered that patient again.
I almost thought I was imagining her at first, that my subconscious was materialising this issue for me because I couldn’t seem to forget it.
But there she was.
She was quiet, almost subdued. When she approached the counter, I saw the recognition in her eyes as she spotted me.
Nothing was said about our previous meeting as I helped her with a simple problem. She didn’t apologize and I didn’t expect her to. I maintained my lighthearted demeanor nonetheless.
Towards the end of our transaction, I was feeling a little better. Clearly her aggressive tirade from weeks before had been out of character for her, an emotional outburst after a long day.
Then, as parting words, she said, “Thank you for your smile.”
With that, she was gone.
And my belief that being kind, no matter someone’s actions towards you, was restored.