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What I Wish My Provider Had Done Before Physically Restraining Me

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Recently I was in a situation where the health care professionals taking care of me decided that the way they were going to deal with my intense fear and anxiety was to physically restrain me in an attempt to finish the procedure. It was traumatic, painful, and unsuccessful as I “got away,” and the appointment was not completed. I know I could have done what needed to be done had I been treated differently from the beginning.

Here are a few ways that I believe could have actually been effective in getting me to finish the appointment and get the treatment I needed, instead of the providers jumping straight to physically holding me down. Bear in mind I am an adult woman in my mid-20s, so restraint was never something I thought was an option for someone in my situation until it happened to me.

1. Take a step back rather than a step towards the person you are trying to help.

A literal and figurative step away. Show the patient that you do listen to what they say. Show them that you understand they are overwhelmed and that you are willing to take breaks to give them time to breathe.

2. Give step-by-step instructions.

Let the person know what is going to happen before it happens. Do this in a calm way, but also be honest so they are not surprised by anything during the appointment. This also increases trust between patient and provider.

3. Speak in a calm and slow way.

Don’t lose your temper because someone is being “uncooperative.” In these appointments, I am so overstimulated that every impatient and loud, angry voice will just push me further and further until it leads to a full panic attack. Just changing the tone of voice and the volume will help keep me calmer. Shouting and saying that the patient is wasting everyone’s time is probably the worst thing you can do as a provider.

4. Allow me to have comfort people or items with me.

It is often underestimated how much relief a comfort item, or even better a person, can bring to a terrified patient. If things are taken at a reasonable pace there is time for the patient to retrieve the comfort item they had brought and/or sit with my support person where they are able to have contact, even if it is just by the person holding their hand or foot. That can reassure the person that they are safe in that situation. If physically holding someone down becomes absolutely necessary, it might be helpful to them to have their support person or family member be involved rather than lots of strangers touching them.

5. Actually verbalize to the patient that they are safe.

The procedure or appointment might not be physically comfortable at all times, however, in my PTSD brain I think the situation is genuinely dangerous and that makes me panic. It is important that the provider or the support person, but preferably both, can assure the patient in a non-patronizing way that they are safe in that room and safe in their hands and they are working for a positive outcome. Although not every step will be comfortable, they are not dangerous and are really there to help you. In my most difficult medical moments I believe the opposite and that creates an environment where I see the provider as the enemy. Then it is only natural that I will start to fight them because I believe they are out to hurt me.

6. Understand how becoming physical only serves to increase anxiety and anger in the patient.

Please know that as little touch as possible is often the best way to proceed.

7. Listen and don’t rush patients into things.

Acknowledge the patient’s previous trauma or reasons why they are fighting back. Most often it is because of fear. Understand the reasons so that the next things you offer or say can be in response to those reasons rather than a general statement that makes the patient feel like they’re not being heard.

Being physically restrained in a medical setting was one of the most upsetting things I have experienced in my time being chronically ill. I know that in some situations certain actions are necessary to save a patient or stop them from hurting themselves or others. Not every situation is one in the same. However, after personally experiencing restraint when none of these factors were a risk, I was simply upset and scared. Had any of these tactics been used by the team in the situation, it would likely have have had a better outcome.

Originally published: March 21, 2024
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