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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

Newsflash: patients have rights too.

by Tom Philip

I took an important stand last week.

Someone at my local hospital decided to arbitrarily change the date and time for my pre-operative consultation … and I said, “No!” Patients have rights too.

Surgery is the only option I have to kill the colorectal cancer that, if left unchecked, would undoubtedly kill me. My surgeon told me that. A specialist at my regional cancer centre confirmed it. The surgeon, as he put it, began “harassing the hospital for operating room time,” and a date was set.

An appointment for a Pre-Operative Consultation (pre-op) was booked at the same time. My cancer treatment universe was unfolding as it should, or so I thought at that particular moment.

The pre-op was set for last Friday morning. Because I have a job, and am responsible not only to my employer and office colleagues, but to the many members of the community who depend on our particular services, I made arrangements to be away from the office that day. I suspect, dear readers, that most of you would try to do the same thing. It’s a kind of quid pro quo; the hospital staff arranges consultation time for us, and we arrange time off for them.

On the Monday before my pre-op date, there was a voice message waiting for me at home when I returned from work. Too bad, so sad, Mr. Philip! “The anesthetist is no longer available to meet with you on Friday, so we’ve rebooked your pre-op for a week from Wednesday,” said a pleasant-voiced person named Arlene. “See you then!”

No discussion with me, the patient fighting cancer and worried about the upcoming major surgery. No consideration for my schedule, or how this one-sided decision could impact other people in my life. It was completely arbitrary. One member of their team was suddenly no longer available for the Friday chat, so it was assumed that I would simply go with the flow. Not on my watch, baby!

I phoned the hospital. It was now early Monday evening. Arlene and the folks in Ambulatory care (the department responsible for booking and keeping pre-op appointments) had gone for the day. I left a message of my own.

“Too bad, so sad,” suggested Mr. Philip. “A week from Wednesday doesn’t work for me. We need to talk.” I left my office number, and insisted that Arlene, or somebody else in authority call me first thing in the morning. Another disembodied voice on my home answering machine would not be acceptable. Patients have rights, damn it. And mine were in serious jeopardy of being trampled into the sparking clean floor tiles of Ambulatory Care!

Please let me make one thing absolutely clear right now. I’m a typical Canadian … most of the time. I generally follow the rules. I don’t make a habit of complaining. I believe that our medical and hospital systems are among the world’s best, and that they’re staffed with caring, competent people. I trust that they have my best interests in mind all the time.

I’m also a human being who is living with cancer at the moment. I’m scared. I need reassurance. And I sure as hell wasn’t getting that by being told that my priorities are less important than those of one member of the medical team.

Arlene and I had our chat the next day. She apologized for not consulting me about the schedule change, saying that hospital staff members are sometimes guilty of assuming that what’s good for them is also good for the patient. It’s a throw back to the paternalistic ‘doctor knows best’ days that should be behind us in 2005, she said. Arlene would “corner” the anesthetist at her earliest opportunity and get back to me. She did that less than 20 minutes later, and we booked a pre-op date that works for all of us.

My faith in the system, and in my rights as a patient, have been restored. Sometimes you just have to take a stand.

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