My Personal Cancer Journey — A Disturbing Policy

While we were in Florida, I ran out of my pain medication (Oxycodone). I was not particularly concerned at first since I have not been in any pain at all. However, the thought that if I suddenly should have pain and no pills motivated me to call my doctor at the Roger Williams Cancer Center. Unfortunately it was on a Saturday that I called, so I had to speak to the answering service.  Here is the exchange which took place on the phone.

Gary: “Hello, I am a patient of Doctor ___ and I have taken my last pain pill. I am taking Oxycodone. I am away from home and will be gone at least another week, and I would like to speak to my doctor to get a prescription to tide me over until I return home.”

Agent: “I cannot page or contact your doctor. We are not allowed to contact a physician if the request involves a narcotic.”

Gary: “Did you say you cannot tell my physician that I am out of my medication? Lady, I am a terminal lung cancer patient and I am 1,500 miles from home. My medication has run out.

Agent: “Our policy does not allow me to call a doctor when the issue is a narcotic. We have protocols in place.”

Gary: “Okay, then forget about the Oxycodone. I just need to speak with my oncologist.”

Agent: “No, I cannot page your doctor since I know what this is about and it is against our policy to call the physician.”

Gary: “You’ve got to be kidding!! You are refusing to allow a terminally ill cancer patient to speak with his physician? How can you do this? Let me speak to your supervisor.

Agent: “I am the supervisor and I will not call your doctor.”

I was much less kind with my language and my demeanor during the actual exchange, but this is the gist of the communication.

Thankfully, Lee rescued me by calling the Roger Williams Hospital directly and asking to speak with the Oncologist on duty, who then called my doctor and resolved the problem (I received my temporary prescription at a pharmacy in our next stop, Memphis).

When we returned home, I received a call from the Director of the Roger Williams Cancer Center. She apologized for my unfortunate experience, saying that it should never have happened. She also said that she was glad that it happened because, otherwise, they never would have known that this Answering Service did have a policy that prevented them from calling a physician in this situation. She has since eliminated the policy so no one else will experience the kind of roadblock that I had to deal with. In her words, “The job of the answering service is to relay messages, not to make judgments.”

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