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Posted 5 months ago
In-between heaving sobs, my daughter explained how she lost control of her bike and slammed into the blacktop. I saw a bit of dirt and maybe a tiny drop of blood on her knee. She pointed to her elbow, but it just looked red. Analytically, it didn’t look too bad, but before I could offer sage dad advice of "get back on your bike and ride," my wife turned on the Mom Empathy Machine.
She gently swept little Margaret into her arms. Next she said, "I bet that really hurts. Let’s make it better." Then fully attentive to Margaret, she scanned the wounds and asked for a careful replay of events. As the sobs dissipated into a soft whimper, she finished with, "I am going to help you feel better. Would you like some ice? How about a drink of water?" A few minutes later, the pain was gone and Margaret was ready to ride.
Have you ever said, “I understand how you are feeling” or “I know just what you are saying”? That is empathy, and understanding how a patient is feeling is a critical EMS skill.
Your willingness to provide pain management, especially pharmaceutical intervention, is a reflection of your ability to empathize with the patient. Too often I have heard paramedics explain that they were very stingy with pain medication administration until they had a kidney stone or low back strain. Both injuries can be extremely painful, but there is no outward sign of injury. No deformity, bleeding or bruising to justify the underlying agony to others.
You can certainly know a man better if you have walked a mile in his shoes. But empathy does not require us to have chronic back pain, limb loss or pancreatitis before we can intervene.
I know many of you are jaded from patients you felt were trying to game the system. Instead of starting your assessment as a skeptic, try understanding the patient’s pain as an empathetic advocate.
You can also borrow and adapt these phrases from the Mom Empathy Machine: