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  • Writer's pictureGetrude Orodo

Dealing with Patient's Relatives

Its been a while since I wrote anything. Like they say, life happened.

Since then and now, I have mostly been at work, I have completed mentorship for my first cohort (which was a success), I have vacationed in the famous Cornwall and finally I have traveled back to Africa, not in the best of circumstances; but home is home.

As a nurse, especially a new nurse, dealing with patients’ relatives on top of everyone else can be a nightmare. The past few weeks have seen me cross over to the other side giving me “insider” information on what goes on in the mind of a relative or friend of a patient. I have keenly observed my family and friends going through the same process.

I have also observed different nurses reacting differently to different demands. All the while I keep asking myself how I would feel and how I would react in similar situations. Most of the days though, I am more of the relative than the nurse and only become the nurse once my concern has be addressed.

Before I get down to the tips of dealing with relatives, let me first share the types of relatives:

The emotional one

This is the type of relative who will cry anytime they are in the hospital, and justifiably so. After a few cliches like “we are doing all we can”, “keep hoping for the best”, “one day at a time” , you may find yourself running out of words to comfort them.

The angry one

This especially happens when things are not going right. Some may become verbally abusive or demand to see doctors that are not around. This kind may make you very anxious because in the worst cases, they can become physically violent.

The know-it-all

Probably the most annoying of them all. (By default, most days I am in this Category). The patients needs mouth care, or to be propped up, the urine is too dark and so on. Some of the relatives may be medics through Google and feel they know everything that should be done for their family member and will not hesitate to give instructions. These type of relatives have also read the Constitution and understand the bill of rights.

The quiet one

I will also call them “the observers”. They are the ones who will hardly talk unless talked too. However, many times, they will be watching everything you do like a hawk. Most of the times they are not a problem but you will feel their eyes following you are around. Can make you stumble.

The talkative (too friendly) one

Just like when sitting in an Uber, sometimes you just want to be left alone with your thoughts, and then you happen to have a talkative driver who insist on a conversation. Because you are good person, you engage them but deep down you are boiling with rage. This type of relative knows all the doctors and nurses and everyone else working in the ward. They talk about the patient with anyone who cares to listen. From time to time, the conversations moves beyond the hospital setup to politics, cars, family and any other topic. This type are good on some days and really annoying on some. Don’t be fooled though. They are also the ones likely to put in a complaint with the administration once the patient has been discharged.

Interestingly, one person can be all these people depending on the side of bed they woke up in or the position of the moon.

As established above, you will come across different types of relatives with each new day. Here are my five universal tips for dealing with all patients’ relatives:


Listening goes a long way. Sometimes the relative may just need someone to listen to them. To be specific, a professional who understand what is happening. Listen keenly and actively to what they are saying. Giving them attention makes them feel understood and may offer them calm momentarily, allowing you to continue with your work.

As a relative, nothing is more annoying than speaking to a nurse who shows little to no interest in what you are saying. In fact, you may just create the angry one when you don’t listen. One of the days, I asked one nurse a simple questions and she answered while walking a way. The friendly one quickly morphed to the angry one and know-it-all all at once.


Empathy is a whole concept in nursing. Empathizing with patients forms the foundation when building the therapeutic relationship. I want to believe the same goes when dealing with patients’ relatives. Empathy is often described as “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.

Before dealing with any relative, understand where the relative is coming from. Ask yourself how you would feel if it was your loved one on that bed. Let this be the basis of all your reaction and interaction with them. I know moving forward, it will be for me.

Excuse Yourself

Let me explain. It is visiting hours in the ward. You’ve met the relatives and updated them on the patient’s condition. Now it is time to give due medication, or do oral care or do any other procedure that is due. If the presence of the relatives will make you nervous or give you any negative energy, ask them to leave and call them back when you have finished.

Here is where your communication skills come in handy. How you approach the matter will determine how the relatives will react. Can I also just point it out here that in nursing, how you communicate is very crucial.

Don’t Take it to Heart

Its not personal. Most times, the relatives don’t know you as a person and have nothing personal against you. So when they complain, don’t take it to heart. Otherwise your heart will wear and tear before you finish three years in the profession. Use the tips above and below to address the said concern and when the shift is over, go home, have a hot shower and sip some wine.

Offer a Physical Touch

In my workplace, a cup of tea always suffices when dealing with relatives; we all know the British love their tea. In other cases, its water. Sometimes tissue is all the relative needs. Can you imagine crying and you have no tissue or handkerchief. To digress a bit, I’ve never understood why the nose feels the need to flow when the eyes are flowing.

Finally, a rub in the back or a hug can help comfort a relative in distress. Just be careful that they are open to it. You don’t want a lawsuit in the list of your problems.

As I conclude, I must say that nurses should not tolerate violence in the name of empathy. When a relatives becomes too abusive, whether verbally or physically, please report to the administration or security. At the end of the day, we are human too.

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