An man speaks angrily to a woman who is breathing in deeply to steady herself before responding.

The Impatient Patient

Last updated: October 2022

Today the world is filled with instant gratification. We satisfy our needs quickly and get what we want when we want it. When you “need” something quickly, you go to Amazon, do a quick search, and hit “Buy Now.” If you want a fully-prepared meal for dinner but don’t feel like doing the work, you dial a restaurant for delivery or call “Door Dash” and within minutes, your meal is waiting for you at the front door.

With almost everything within access to us whenever we want it, it’s easy to understand the frustration of a patient waiting for a cure, for a surgery, for an appointment, waiting to feel better and to be able to go back to “normal” life. And often, that frustration or impatience is taken out on whoever is available, usually the caregiver.

What can we do as caregivers when the patient’s impatience is directed at us?

Trying to be non-judgmental

As a caregiver, the first thing I try to do is be non-judgmental. How can I judge someone’s actions or attitude when I can’t fully understand what he’s going through? Sure, I know the cancer exists; I know the treatment can have horrific side effects. I know my husband doesn’t feel well, has pain, and has fears. I can see that he doesn’t feel well. It’s obvious.

But I can't know the extent of his pain, can’t fully grasp his fears, or comprehend his anger at what this disease has done to him and to his world. I’m not living and experiencing every part, every symptom, every aspect of his cancer world, and as hard as I try, I can't fully understand.

I’ve learned to listen with not only my ears, but with my heart. Sometimes impatient people just want to be heard. I may not be able to solve anything, but I can be there and listen with compassion. Sometimes my words aren’t even needed, but I just need to truly hear.

Giving my husband space

As a caregiver, I’ve learned when I need to separate myself. It may (and often does) feel like my husband's frustration is directed at me. But I‘m only a vehicle, an available target for his anger. It took me a long time to understand that his anger at his cancer was not directed toward me but toward the disease that was changing and controlling his life. I was just there to try and absorb some of his pain.

Give space. Stop and breathe and step back. I’m aware that I’ve often overextended my availability, my concern, my desire to help. Sometimes my husband just needs space. He’s told me so, and that can be hurtful if I don’t take that comment as it was intended. Like his frustration toward the disease, the need for space is not directed at me but the need to deal with the cancer in his own way, to gather and sort his thoughts in his own time, in his own space.

There are times, too, when I need space. I need to practice self-care and focus on my own well-being, too. If I don’t take care of myself, I likely won’t be well enough to take care of anyone else. That includes not only my physical care such as good nutrition, rest, exercise, but mental and spiritual care as well.

Controlling our response

There are a lot of things in this world we can’t control, but there are some things that are within our power. We may not be able to control our patient’s impatience. While it may not always be easy, we do have the power to control our response. Ephesians 4:2 is one of my go-to Bible verses: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

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