Making me wait

It should have been a day for celebration. The end of my anti-cancer program. Instead, I was driven to distraction by what I consider astonishing ineptitude at the Make-U-Wait Hospital.

An event that should have taken less than two hours took me over 5½ hours. The procedure itself took only one hour.

I am sharing my experience in case someone else has gone through a similar frustrating event; it wouldn’t surprise me to learn mine wasn’t an isolated case.

I also just want to express my irritation and convert it to something perhaps useful, so I can let the emotion go and leave a complete record of this tiresome journey.

I want things to be better all the time. And I tend to get angry about that. Books are an opportunity to vent.

Bill Bryson

The last medical procedure I needed to undergo in my program was to remove the portal catheter (aka portacath) that was installed last December under my skin on the upper right side of my chest to make the chemo and herceptin infusions so much easier. I had also thought the lab could use it to withdraw blood for my regular tests, but that didn’t happen; they did not train the lab technicians to use a port. SMH (shaking my head).

Even though I cut short the planned 17 herceptin infusions, I don’t regret having the port installed. To this day, the faint veins in my left hand don’t look like they would withstand an IV needle, not even a baby one. Calculating the final cost of insertion and removal, however, has given me pause, and it makes me wonder that no better (i.e., cheaper) alternatives to using my hand for the infusions were available or offered to me. Again, SMH.

You may have guessed that my oncologist was not too pleased with my decision to end the program. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, some weeks ago I asked him on Viber, “I suppose I can now have the portacath removed, right?” My question may have been silly, but his response removed any doubt of his disapproval: “yes that’ll be an option.” Again, SMH.

I must admit, I wasn’t eager to go under the knife again. I procrastinated for a couple of weeks more. Finally, the port began to irritate my chest, and that kicked me into action. I first contacted the assistant of a surgeon in the nearby hospital I had been referred to, the same one I had had my radiation treatments in. She didn’t know what a portacath was and ended up ghosting me. Probably just as well. Again, SMH.

Then I went back to the same surgeon who had installed the port and asked for details and cost. We decided on the day—Tuesday, a week ago—and then I waited for further instructions. None came beyond the need to fast for eight hours. Wanting to avoid any nasty surprises, I asked her to confirm that I needed no further tests for blood, heart, or covid-19.

Rather than just answering “no” on Viber (the actual answer), she suggested a phone conversation the next day. I was okay with that, but I wasn’t okay with the bill she then asked me to pay for our under-8-minute call! I wrote to her: “that phone consultation was YOUR idea and I consider having my questions answered was simply required pre-surgery information that you could have answered in Viber (not involving your professional opinion). That you are now asking for payment is not acceptable.” Responding with “ok” she seemed to have relented. But then my eyes popped to see the extra charge on my hospital bill after I had paid it! Where is the integrity in that? Again, SMH.

But none of those muddles put me in the tizzy I had on the day of the operation.

My first annoyance came with the admission procedure. It took an hour. That was with only one person ahead of me. It dismayed me to watch the admissions officer work in slow motion. But since I had enough time before my operation appointment, I stayed calm. Just SMH.

Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.

Guy Kawasaki

Once again, I was escorted to the pre-operating hall. I arrived at the scheduled time. After weighing and measuring my height, as expected, a nurse handed me a cotton-blend hospital gown; but she showed the wrong way for me to put it on, with the opening in the back instead of the front. I gently corrected her. SMH.

Then she asked me to lie down on a narrow trolley bed and covered me with a sheet. And asked me to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

For 2 and a half hours, I lay in a cold refrigerated room, waiting for my simple local anesthetic procedure to start.

I had my vital stats taken, the usual—temperature, blood pressure. When I complained about feeling cold, I was eventually given a blanket.

No one let me know how long I’d have to wait. I was only told once, about midway, that “the operating room is busy and we are delayed.

Patience is not simply the ability to wait—it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

I admit after about an hour I started to feel impatient and, toward the end of the 2½ hours of waiting, I was no longer shy to express my frustration to the occasional nurse who stuck her head into my curtained “stall” or to the doctor (not mine) who came in to ask me irrelevant questions about my medical history. My demeanor got snippy, but not ugly (although perhaps I should not be the judge of that). Admittedly, my snippiness was intensified by my anger with myself for forgetting to bring my Kindle to read.

Is it possible that they didn’t know how far the operating schedule had slipped when I first arrived? I doubt it. So why didn’t they tell me then to come back in two hours and let me choose how to spend those two hours instead of having me lie there uselessly in the cold?

I suppose I should be grateful that, when the procedure finally happened, it did so without incident. And of course, I am. The portacath came out cleanly and without pain. As I said, that took one hour, almost to the minute.

But that wasn’t the end to the waiting. Insult was added to injury after the operation was over.

It took ONE hour to get my bill! That the hospital administration felt no qualms about making a person who had just undergone a medical procedure wait for an hour infuriated me. After about 45 minutes, I asked to speak to a manager, and was told none was on duty because it was past 6 pm.

By the time I had paid the bill, had the guard cut the hospital wristband meant to prevent walkouts (among other things), and could freely leave the hospital, I had been there nearly six hours. For a one-hour event.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t the one to drive home at this high-traffic time. I was nearly fit to be tied. My outrage with the anti-patient hospital system would have distracted me from driving safely.

So, by now, dear reader, you may be asking yourself, why did I work myself into a tizzy? Once I calmed back down, I asked myself that very question.

What is it about waiting that irks me so? Pushes my button?

Our job is unconditional love. The job of everyone else in our life is to push our buttons.

Byron Katie

I considered a few options.

The first is an intellectual one. One of the basic principles in my businesses has long been to be customer-focused. Over three decades, I’ve taught countless co-workers in various contexts to take this service approach, to focus our internal processes and external services on what matters most to our buyers/clients/customers and meeting them where they are.

And that has made me sensitive whenever I see or experience poor customer service. Which is shockingly often.

About a dozen years ago, I became interested in the human-centric solution-finding process called design-thinking. I remember a case study I then read in Tim Brown’s book, Change by Design, where IDEO was engaged to improve the emergency care at the Mayo Clinic by evaluating the intake experience from the patient’s perspective. The clinic changed many of its care SOPs to be more patient-friendly. You’d think other medical centers would have learned from that by now. Are you shaking your head now?

Systemic changes may be difficult, but they are not impossible.

But if the system is the problem, the truth is that there will not be satisfactory answers in the here and now for lots of people. That is one of the (painful) ways you know that the problem is systemic. Which means that either you build forward no matter what, or you lose. Period. 

Gar Alperovitz

Another possibility for the cause of my annoyance was the forced nature of the waiting.

It’s not that I’m incapable of doing nothing. But if I’m going to do nothing, it must be on my terms.

So, perhaps the button that got pushed is my potent anti-authoritarian nature. Entire books have been written about the anti-authoritarian personality, and I don’t plan to go into depth on the topic here. The person with this personality trait not only pushes back on authoritarian political power but also on blind obedience to any authority.

In brief, and this applies to me:

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Alex Budarin

Authority comes in many forms beyond political leaders or governments, such as educators or hospitals. Anyone or anyplace with rules, regulations, or protocols one is expected to follow.

And as readers of this online journal have amply seen, I question everyone and everything. Not disrespectfully. I just take very little without critical thinking. This post is certainly a stellar example.

Yet perhaps a more basic emotional button got pushed. When others make me wait (unreasonable lengths of time), I feel disrespected, unvalued at a basic human level.

I’m not suggesting the people involved—the nurses, doctors, and administrators—intentionally set out to show me disrespect. In fact, I know they’re not; they’re just following the system in place, albeit uncritically. It’s the system that is disdainful, not the people.

Although I failed to avoid, or even sufficiently reign in, my feelings of frustration on that day, I don’t think I took the callous system personally. I just disliked losing the time. I had better things to do.

That’s as far as I got in my analysis. Maybe there is some other, deeper, underlying cause for my buttons getting pushed when I’m made to wait by organizations that are supposed to serve, like an overly long lineup at the bank, like this day in the hospital. If there is, I haven’t tapped into it yet.

You start to realize connections between experiences and things that push your buttons, and things that have touched you in those vulnerable areas and what-have-you. And they form a little collection over time – at least I do – and as time progresses and new things are learned, you kind of sift through those things until they’re air or danceable, you know? But they start as this thing that’s either too hard or too soft to dance to.

Saul Williams

Life is messy (one of my newer mantras), and we all have good days and bad days. I mark this down as a less good day for me, but it’s over, and now that I’ve shared this with you, I can let it go. Onward!

Let me know whether any of this sounds familiar to you. What pushes your buttons? How do you deal with your emotions?

PS. Now that I have completed my anti-cancer program, I may write less often. If you haven’t already, I invite you to sign up to be notified when I post (top right on the menu).


  • You were being treated disrespectfully, kind of like a number, not a living thing, Not a good situation. Why do humans do these types of things? There is a complexity to every situation, I am sure, but if humans could think for themselves and through a caring lense, it might alleviate the frustration that their targets/connections feel. The actual circumstance/situation may not change, but the resulting emotions and reactions may change. I don’t understand mindless obedience.

  • This! “ Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.” (Guy Kawasaki)

    Years ago I did five+ years of my career in performance management. I learned activity based costing as one approach to system analysis: but of course there are endless ways to work on that. Kanban, human-centred design and so on as ways to affect the results of infrastructure and cultures are also things I care about and studied/applied since then. In all cases, I learned patience! There are so many yardsticks to apply – you point out the distinction between our incidental experiences of a system and the system’s own concerns: as Sidney points out, systems are people. They’re the Möbius strips of endless edges. Those edges are conflicts in values, needs, infrastructures…like communication and monitoring!

    Your training and coaching of people in systems will have done a lot: had one attendant brought you warmed towels through that long wait you’d have forgiven a lot… had the billing clerk thought to explain or apologize about the long wait…

    I had tests done yesterday at the local hospital- for allergies. There was the Doctor and two further interviews with a med student and resident. Then their discussions outside the room. I had another appointment so these protocols for their learning seemed endlessly protracted as they walked through my history and talked through each question. But it was my poor planning for contingencies (at a teaching hospital) that made me 10 minutes late to the accountant. 😣

    That quote really said it: and all those methods for improving system effectiveness and efficiency exist for doing something about our frustrations: maybe they serve to make us all the more impatient about the gaps…

    I too am so happy you’re on this side of alllll that!!

  • “It’s the system that is disdainful, not the people.” I disagree. People are responsible for the system.
    Germans (and I guess we can include a few other nationalities) are well organised, methodical and technically knowledgeable. What do you expect here in the Philippines?

    The day that I decided to live here I knew I had to accept PURE chaos in my life. (It has also its advantages).
    For sure after my past experiences here and abroad I will ALWAYS try to get an operation abroad and preferably in Germany. I am not biased in favour of Germans. It is based on facts. Germany’s “pünktlichkeit” and professionalism.

    It seems unlike me but I learned to be mindful and live in the moment. I now understand much better that only the present counts and getting upset doesn’t help at all. You only torture yourself. The others involved just don’t care. In those unfortunate moments (and alas there are too many here) you just need to go with the flow.
    Very difficult for Westerners but the only way to survive in the Philippines.

    How do you think the hospital workers/doctors will judge you? Probably as a “mayabang” foreigner who complains for nothing. As long as people don’t understand the concept of time, service and professionalism it will never change. That is why most customer services here sucks.

    Now giving the choice to live here or in Germany I still choose to live in the Philippines.

    Glad you reached the end of your therapy and I wish you health going forward.

  • Hi Francisca,

    Numerous SMH incidents aside, so happy that you reached the tail end of your journey with your health back and your appreciation of life’s complexities aka messiness intact 😍 Here’s to happiness and good health!


  • Hospitals routinely treat patients like commodities–as bureaucracies tend to treat all people like commodities. It is not acceptable. File a complaint with Asian. Such a long wait in such uncomfortable conditions is unacceptable without a good reason. It is disrespectful.
    Your onco was a cold fish from the get-go. Hopefully you will never need an onco again–but certainly never use or recommend him.
    Lack of respect tends to push our buttons.
    What does “SMH” mean?

    • Can’t disagree with any of that, Jill. I was still thinking of complaining to the hospital. SMH is spelled out the first time I use it = shaking my head >>> one of those annoying “internet slang initialism used to convey disappointment, disapproval, frustration, or impatience.” Thanks for reading. 🌸💜🌸

  • Wishing you a great preponderance of good days in this messy, messy universe. 💜

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