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Battling Incompetence, Not the Disease

Tina Akouris is a web editor for a pretty large Chicago media company and a reformed sportswriter. She likes to read The New Yorker in her spare time and hang out at the gym. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 43 and a month ago her doctors declared her two years cancer free.

I don’t like being told what to do.

And I don’t like doctors.

So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 I figured, “This isn’t going to end well.”

I was a crank from the beginning. When the radiologist told me that they found a tumor and it was “definitely cancer,” I accused him of having a bad bedside manner. And during my biopsy the following week, I ripped him a new one behind his back to the nurses and doctor performing the procedure.

It felt so good.

When I met my surgeon I tried to “break” him right away, by cracking stupid jokes and trying to make him laugh. It didn’t really work, so I reverted back to being a jerk.

Having some kind of power — any kind of power, real or imaginary — at least made me feel like I was in control of something, since I had to cede so much of it over to doctors and bow down to a regimented treatment schedule.

But perhaps the best use of my newfound “power” was with the radiation oncology department at the hospital where I was being treated.

(In order to protect the innocent, and those who suffered from the venom spewing from my big mouth, I will keep said medical institution anonymous.)

Now, mind you, before all this happened I was a pretty meek individual. I wouldn’t so much as raise my voice if Starbucks made me a latte with only two espresso shots instead of my usual four. My middle name should have been Doormat.

But I had just about enough of these people.

Trying to schedule my radiation treatments was like applying for a security clearance to the CIA. It’s not that hard, I thought, to block out 15 minutes, five days a week for zapping.

Apparently it was.

I work nights, but apparently this sentence: “I can’t have treatments at night because I work until 10 p.m.” totally confused these people.

“OK, great!” they said. “You’re scheduled to have treatments five nights a week at 7:30.”

How could I possibly have lost you?

But they wouldn’t and couldn’t understand. They kept giving me appointments at night, which I kept refusing to take. Since when does anyone in the medical profession not understand working second shift?

Apparently they did.

I continued to fight — not the disease, but the ineptitude of these schedulers and the radiation oncology staff. Doormat no more, I contacted the hospital’s patient relations department and left a detailed message as to what happened.

I threatened to go to the head of the department. I chewed out my radiation/oncology doctor to the point where she rushed out of the room so she wouldn’t have to deal with me, and then I yelled at her nurse and almost made her cry.

I have to say, it was a nice, sadistic switch to make them feel bad and push them to tears after all the crying I had done since my diagnosis.

But eventually, the staff actually listened and my complaint was heard. I kind of got the time I needed at 7 a.m., but the damage was done. It got to the point where every little stink-eye from the radiology techs to the receptionist had me on the phone with patient relations. I think at one point they stopped returning my calls, and I went to my treatments wearing a veil of paranoia.

My temper had gotten the best of me, and now I was worried that they’d sabotage my treatments or make me wait on purpose.

Until, that is, one of the techs apologized for snapping at me the day before — after I had snapped at her first.

And then I started to bond with another tech who noticed that I had lost a little bit of weight after I gave up sugar.

And before I knew it, the 33 days were over and I didn’t have to worry about getting the stink-eye from pissed off radiology techs anymore.

But I still give that place the finger every time I drive by.

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