He was difficult, or perhaps he was lonely.

Shortly after he was moved to the nursing home, he became a very popular resident to the management team – the medical director, the director of nursing and the assistant director of nursing all had their share of talking to him about his various complaints. I too received a request to speak to him about his pharmacy bill – he was furious about the copay and why he couldn’t choose his own pharmacy.

He was difficult, no doubt.

I wasn’t looking forward to talking to him but I knew it needed to happen. There were few things to clarify and there was no other way but to speak to him directly.

He was a short gentleman with a bit of hunckback, wore glasses and connected to an oxygen tank. Yes, he had end stage COPD. He looked frail. Unlike many of his co-residents, he was “cognitively intact”, definitely no sign of dementia.

As I talked to him, he complained why he was forced to dispense his medications through our pharmacy. I explained we were mandated by the Ministry of Health requirements – ensuring all medications dispensed from one location to help streamline process, avoid confusion and improve medication safety. He wasn’t convinced. He told me he used to work as a paralegal and claimed we were violating the Canadian Chartered of Rights and Freedoms, wrote a letter to the local MP to complain about his concern.

As I was talking to him, I realized I had lost focus  of my discussion. He had overtaken the conversation and decided to focus on things that he was not happy about, many of which I was unable to change or improve. There was one thing I knew I needed to fix,  his invoice.  We didn’t normally waive any dispensing fees but we also had a policy that for people with financial hardship, we could review to waive them. I quickly offered to fix his invoice and we ended our conversation.

I updated the director of care of our decision to waive his fees and she was very relieved and happy. For the next several weeks, it seemed that everyone was walking on eggshells around him.   Then one day, I found out that he passed away. The nurse told me he deteriorated over the weekend and passed away. She said it was very sad. No one came to visit him during his final hours. They only came after he passed away to pick up his belongings. The nurse said he must have driven everyone away with his personality.

My heart sunk. He died alone. Yes he was difficult. I never learned about his life and how he came to be such a “difficult” person. It is easy for us to label people as “difficult” but beneath that “difficult” face is someone yearning to be understood, someone yearning to connect with another human being. He just went around the wrong way. He became lonely, sad and died alone.

Sometimes we become frustrated and in the moment of frustration, we may drive our loved ones insane if we manifest our frustration as anger, impatience and rudeness. Families will always be families. We should take care of each other as best as we can.


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My name is Cynthia Leung and I am a practicing pharmacist in Kingston Ontario, Canada. This blog is for me to share my ideas, opinions and perspectives on how medications are used in our health care system. Note that these posts are my own opinions and do not represent the opinions of my current or former employers and / or organizations that I may belong to. Any possible case scenarios described in my posts would be modified to maintain patient confidentiality. This blog is not a platform for professional advise for patients or health care providers and the content is not meant to support any clinical decisions or replace professional opinions. Also the images are either taken or created by the author, or adapted with permissions. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts!

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