During my first week of placement at a forensic ward, I was cautioned to be careful of some patients whom the nurses had labelled as ‘difficult’. This was a perception I carried with me till the end of my placement, unfortunately. At one instance I was with a nurse in the office when Yosef, one of the ‘so-called’ difficult patients came to request for the patients phone to make a call. The nurse appeared to be very busy and ignored the patient. As the patient kept knocking at the window, I asked the nurse if I could facilitate the request, but I was told the patient had to wait because he has a habit of always making requests. Yosef walked away after waiting for a few more minutes without help. He was fuming and very upset. I looked at the nurse in despair as I really could not understand what he had to wait for in the first place since in my view, the request could have easily been facilitated. I felt a sense of guilt because at that moment I felt we had let down a service user as facilitators of service. I carried this guilt with me to my second placement which was a female acute admissions ward. I found that here too, the labelling of some patients as ‘difficult’ existed. Bridget, a 59 year old patient who presented as isolative, interacting minimally with peers and staff was also labelled as such. During a ‘plan of the day’ meeting which all patients and staff are expected to attend, Bridget was surprisingly very forthright. She spoke about staff negative attitudes towards patients during the ‘any other business session’. After lunch that day, I decided to have a conversation with her. I started by introducing myself and congratulated her for being outspoken at the meeting, empathising with her on some of the concerns she raised at the meeting. This was meant to make the prospect of engaging her more appealing to her. The conversation took off slowly, but I had to adopt emphatic listening which according to Wold (2004, p.73) is about the willingness to understand the other person and not just judging the person’s facts.
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