Treating a patient with a chronic wound requires sensitivity and compassion. For most people, it’s hard to imagine the pain of broken skin that doesn’t heal predictably. But wound care nurses see this pain everyday—and they know it’s more than just skin deep.
Sadly, the emotional and psychological distress that often accompany a chronic wound are all too real. In addition to physically hurting (sometimes to the point of agony), serious wounds can cause symptoms that lead to severe embarrassment.
If you’re a nurse who cares for patients with chronic wounds, you know what we’re talking about. Strong odours. Excessive drainage. Physical characteristics that may look gruesome to the untrained eye.
These symptoms often arouse negative emotions that have a serious impact on quality of life. And although nurses want to reassure patients, there are times when finding the right balance of empathy and professionalism is a challenge.
In this post, we’ll look at some tips to help those who treat wounds reduce patient embarrassment and shame.
Be well prepared to deal with odour
Anyone who’s treated a lot of wounds is acquainted with the foul odours they can emit. Even so, generalist nurses and wound care specialists can be taken aback when they encounter them. Whether it’s unintentional facial grimaces or gagging, involuntary responses can happen. And they’re bound to make patients feel terrible.
If you’re a nurse, the idea of making somebody in a vulnerable position feel worse probably sounds like a nightmare. But you’re only human. The possibility of offending a patient with a hurtful physical reaction exists. That said, it’s important to do everything in your power to prevent it.
The say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And when it comes to symptoms that can cause patients embarrassment, the old adage holds true.
Of course, proper cleansing and hygiene are crucial. Ensuring that the patient is given every opportunity to do his part can go a long way.
Wound care nurses can also help with odour prevention and management by keeping up with new treatments and breakthrough technologies. Under what circumstances should you use topical solutions or odour-control dressings? Making or influencing these decisions with as much information as possible may just be the key to reducing an embarrassing symptom.
But what about if odour already exists? Whether you’re a nurse with little wound care experience or a seasoned specialist, you may find that a mask provides relief. Applying a scent to the inside of the mask (such as peppermint) may further reduce involuntary gagging and other responses.
Above all, be aware of your facial and bodily expressions. Wound care experts who coach home care nurses should be sure that they take this lesson to heart.
2) Acknowledge and celebrate progress toward wound-related goals
Life with a chronic wound can be difficult. In addition to pain and mobility issues, wound care patients deal with a constant physical reminder of their health conditions.
The fact that these reminders may seep, smell, and look unpleasant can cause a great deal of embarrassment. When symptoms persist, so do the negative feelings associated with them. Embarrassment can turn to shame. Shame can lead to depression, suppressed healing, and diminished quality of life.
Patients who don’t see obvious progress may start to wonder if their wounds will ever heal. Those with non-healing wounds may question whether there’s any point to working toward their health care goals. In short, things can start to seem hopeless.
One way to reduce negative feelings is to illustrate any progress that the patient is making. If you work regularly with wounds, you know that the improvements aren’t always easy to spot. But when healing is occurring, evidence can help strengthen patient resolve.
When treating wound care patients directly, specialists can call attention to subtle improvements visible in their photographic documentation. Nurses who provide direct treatment under the remote guidance of wound care experts should know how best to take, store, and share these photographs appropriately.
Even in cases where wounds aren’t healing (or won’t ever heal), patients may take a lot of comfort in other types of progress. This is where patient-centred care planning comes in. Whether it’s pain reduction or increased mobility, wound-related goals can help instil optimism.
Engaging patients and accentuating the positive are surefire ways to downplay feelings of shame. When a nurse encourages self care and celebrates progress with his patients, he sends a message that there’s no reason to be embarrassed.
3) Discourage Isolation
Because chronic wounds can lead to depression and deep embarrassment, many patients avoid family, friends, and the outside world. Unfortunately, social isolation can worsen negative feelings. And as any nurse knows, poor psychological health isn’t good for a patient’s overall condition.
Think of it this way. It’s generally accepted that attitude and physical health are linked. Consider how many times you’ve seen a demonstration of the power of optimism in your practice. Now ask yourself, how can a patient have an positive outlook if she feels bad about herself?
Physical reminders of a chronic wound—such as odour and appearance—can reinforce a patient’s idea that she’s a burden. In turn, she may become socially avoidant, shutting out those closest to her. The result is often deeper shame, worsened depression, and impaired wound healing.
Luckily, there are ways to ward off this vicious cycle. By encouraging patients to engage in social behaviour, health care practitioners can help.
It goes without saying that social connectedness can have a positive impact on self-esteem. And now, more than ever before, there’s evidence that regular social interactions is beneficial to health.
Nurses can help patients with wounds by suggesting social activities they’re likely to enjoy—keeping in mind possible physical limitations. When appropriate, discuss sources of embarrassment and potentially helpful responses with family and friends.
Anything a practitioner can do to strengthen and facilitate positive relationships can help patients break free of shame and isolation. In many cases, a qualified counsellor or other mental health professional is helpful.
If family caregivers are in the picture, let them know how important it is to simply enjoy the company of their loved one. It’s all about letting patients know how much they’re valued. After all, a wound doesn’t define a person.
Feature image courtesy of Sarebear:)