In the ICU, many patients are either incapacitated, heavily sedated, or have a breathing tube so they can’t talk. Sadly, that’s the part many ICU nurses enjoy about their jobs. They can “get their work done” without having to answer call bells all the time. In fact, when a patient is feeling well enough to complain, that’s when the nurses know it’s about time to move him or her out of the ICU to the floor!
Invariably, even in the ICU, there is always a “bell ringer.” A needy, fearful patient who uses every excuse to get a nurse to come into the room. “Can you dim my light?” “Can you pull my covers up?” “I can’t get comfortable.” And my personal favorite: “Can you bend my straw?”
Since I only worked part time, I was low-man on the totem pole and got assigned these patients often. No sooner had I sat down to do some paperwork, the bell would ring. “Can I get something for pain?” I’d go in the room with the pain medicine, make sure the patient was okay, and then go sit back down. Now where was I? RRRING. “Can I get another pillow?”
Eventually, I learned two little tricks.
1. Anticipate needs.
If the patient was prescribed pain medicine “as needed,” I would check with the patient a little before the last dose would be wearing off. Before he had a chance to call me, I would offer it. I’d try to come in with the juice or a snack, an extra pillow and a warm blanket, before my patients asked.
2. A little phrase.
Instead of giving the patient his requested item, standing there impatiently while he took it, then rushing out of the room, I learned to wait for a few seconds. I would stand facing the patient, pretending I had all the time in the world (body language is everything!), and say a short little sentence:
“What else can I do for you?”
Sometimes, especially if the patient was particularly needy, she’d have a laundry list of items she was saving, ready to dole out one at a time, calling me every five minutes over the next twelve hours. But most of the time, the patient would be so surprised. When actually asked what they needed, most patients felt heard. “Uh, no, I can’t think of anything,” they’d say. I’d go back to my other patients and be able to get “my” work done, with fewer interruptions. It was a win-win situation.
I’m a little convicted as I write this, because I find myself falling into the “get my work done” mentality so often at home, where my children are neither incapacitated nor heavily sedated, and I suppose it's a little unethical to put something down their throats to keep them from talking! I get focused on all the things that go into running a home without remembering who all this work is for! My little ones, especially, hang on me, interrupt me, whine and cry, usually when I’ve just sat down to answer email or pay bills. But even my big kids bicker and get into trouble when I seem most preoccupied with my own agenda.
There are lots of ways we can anticipate needs as wives and mothers.
Regularly scheduled meals and snacks seem so mundane, but honestly, when I offer a snack before my children ask, it is more likely to be healthy, and they are less likely to whine about being hungry right in the middle of folding laundry, or 30 minutes before dinner's ready. I don't know why I am so often "surprised" that everyone's hungry around suppertime. I amaze even myself!
The need for sleep is something else we can anticipate. My younger two have had to be extremely flexible because of our older children’s schedules, but occasionally I bow out of some activities to make sure they have a somewhat regular bedtime. And we've done the same thing for the big kids. What about a child's need for a hug, a good laugh or a favorite meal every now and then? What about their need for help?
A few minutes of one-on-one time every day with each child is probably the hardest thing for me to anticipate. They need us to look into their eyes so we can tell them how important they are to us. But bad behavior often ends up being what gets my attention, and it is a huge time-sucker. If I ever added it up, I’m quite sure dealing with discipline issues takes more time than if I would have just said, “Hey, let’s sit down and talk (read a book/play a game) for a few minutes!”
With our husbands, we know they have certain needs. What if we anticipated this, and, rather than grudgingly waiting until they
asked hinted, we offered it freely?
I think the fear is, “If I give an inch, they’ll take a mile.” If I give them attention, they’ll just want more and more of it.
But just like my patients, I’ve noticed that the opposite is true: the less I want to give, the more unreasonable their demands! I end up with an entire family of "bell ringers."
When my children know that I’m tuned into their needs - that they will be taken care of – they are more secure, whine less, and can wait more patiently for me. Not always, but generally speaking. And with my husband, well, let's just say that when I came to the point of freely giving, it revolutionized our marriage.
Robert Lewis calls this the Paradox Principle: We must die to live. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is true. It worked in my ICU, and it works with my family.
- Do you have a "bell ringer" in your family?
- When was the last time you asked your husband or your child, “What else can I do for you?”
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:8, NIV