An annoyed hospital patient in bed ringing a bell

Being An Annoying Cancer Patient

Last updated: January 2022

Being an annoying cancer patient. No one wants to be one. In fact, no one wants to be an annoying anything (despite what my old boss would have you believe). Unfortunately, when you are fighting for your life and both patience and time are in short supply, having to turn on the grump to get what you need from doctors, nurses, and medical staff, is sometimes necessary.

I've been on both sides of the equation

Anyone who has spent any prolonged amount of time in and around hospitals knows two things: one, that nurses are the people who get things done, and two, if you don’t want to end up at the bottom of the list, don’t piss off the staff, especially when you are an inpatient. It’s something that I have lots of experience with, so even if you haven’t spent time in medical facilities you can take my word for it. I would never lie to you. Promise.

The reason I learned this lesson so well is because I have been on the opposite side of the equation. At a different time in my life, I had someone close to me (unbeknownst to me) make the life of the hospital nurses and doctors who attended my ward pretty much a living Hell with demands, suggestions, and requests. Even when she, errr, I mean “this person,” wasn’t there, they would call the nurse’s station to complain. All the time I sat in my hospital room, wondering why my requests were being ignored or delayed and why all the medical staff who came in had a semi-scowl on their faces. It’s how I discovered that golden rule I mentioned above – don’t piss off the people in charge of changing your catheter. Really, don’t.

Our lives can depend on medical professionals

When you have cancer, you will inevitably be in a situation where your life is dependent on the medical professionals around you. Whether this entails a long hospital stay or just regular outpatient infusions, within a short time you will become acquainted with the nurses and PAs who are charged with your care. This happened to me during the three-month hospital stay I endured while they figured out exactly what kind of cancer I had. So when I wasn’t getting what I needed I had a decision to make – do I keep quiet or do I risk upsetting the apple cart and breaking the golden rule that had been so engrained in my psyche. Unfortunately, since being alive and not being in pain takes precedence over possibly pissing off some people, I decided I had to speak up.

This brings us back to being an annoying cancer patient. How much is too much and how do you go about demanding the things you need when they aren’t being delivered? Is there a way to do it where you get what you require and can avoid pissing off nurses and doctors? That’s the dream, folks, and while it’s certainly possible it’s not always realistic, but that doesn’t mean you have to start with the nuclear option either. No reason to come out of the gate guns blazing and pedal to the metal.

Who knew cancer was so painful?

An example that comes to mind is the pain management situation when I was suffering from my lymphoma. First of all, let me just ask, why didn’t anyone tell me that cancer was so painful??? It’s like, I knew there was pain associated with it, but holy cow, it’s painful, and I’m no stranger to pain. In fact, pain and I are so well acquainted that we were thinking of starting a podcast together called “Pain in the Dans.”

Pretty clever right? No? Whatever, you’re not our target demographic anyway – the point is that I know the discomfort and pain from my lymphoma was off the scale of that ridiculous 1-10 pain meter they use. Because of my years of opioid pain med therapy, I was going to need a pretty hefty dose to provide enough relief to sleep, and there’s the rub – getting pain meds is hard enough but getting it in the amounts I need is an impossible task suited to only the most intrepid and experienced annoying patients.

Calling pain management, and then calling again

In order to facilitate relief, pain management was called. Then the next day, they were called again. Finally, on the third day, we politely but forcefully told the nurse in charge that if pain management didn’t come down to see us that day, we’d have to make a visit to the hospital administrator (they don’t like when you get the head honchos involved). They said they’d, “do their best,” and lo and behold, miracle of miracles, someone from pain management showed up. Don’t start popping the champagne corks just yet though.

In an obvious attempt to pawn me off, pain management sent some 15-year-old first-year resident to “talk” with me and asked more questions about why I filled my last pain pill script a day before I was admitted to the hospital than how much pain I was in at that moment. It was my mother, this time, who couldn’t take it anymore and told the child that if she didn’t go back upstairs and send down someone who could authorize liquid morphine in a PCA (personal pain device) she would have a productive but assertive talk with their bosses. (Language edited for content). Finally, later that night, the big pain boss showed up and okayed a PCA and I finally got some relief. And some sleep. It didn’t last, but that’s a story for another post.

How do annoying do we have to be?

So just how annoying do you have to be when you have cancer to get what you want? As annoying as you have to be. As long as you try your best to be deferential and polite until it’s necessary to not be deferential and polite, then no one can fault you.

You’re fighting for your life, after all, and I’d rather be alive with a few regrets about harsh words than dead with, well, that’s it, just dead. Talk soon.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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