Addressing Verbal Abuse of a Stranger Has Consequences

October 26, 2023 Cheryl Wozny

Recently, I witnessed verbal abuse of a stranger during my hospital stay that made me angry. Because I've been the target of verbal abuse, I know how hurtful words can make someone feel. I wanted to ensure that no one would have to feel like I did because of verbal abuse. To get a clear picture of the situation, the verbal abuse of a stranger started in a hospital setting. It came from a healthcare aide who didn't want to deal with an elderly woman in a long-term care bed who needed help.

Listening to Verbal Abuse of a Stranger Happening and I Couldn't Do Anything

I live in an area of the world with limited doctors and nurses. Our hospitals are, indeed, overcrowded, and healthcare staff are overworked and underpaid. I have friends who are doctors and nurses, and I empathize with them. Our local government considers them expendable and often sidesteps their contract negotiations, so I understand where they come from. However, these elements do not give anyone an excuse to treat a cancer patient with verbal abuse at any time. 

This awful circumstance happened to my roommate while I was hospitalized for a medical procedure. We were staying in the cancer ward since patients like us have unique care needs. I was in my bed, only separated by a fabric curtain from the other bed in the room. My roommate was an elderly woman in palliative care, approximately 80 to 90 years old.

A healthcare aide on the ward was called to help this patient. Unfortunately, she was not eager to provide the assistance the patient needed. As my roommate pleaded with her to help her with a personal task, the healthcare aid stood by her bed and refused, telling her she would not, leaving the patient helpless.

At one time during this encounter, my roommate told the healthcare aide she couldn't find her call button for the nurses and to help her find it. Angrily, the healthcare aide told the patient she didn't know what she did to it, and it was her responsibility to find it. 

How I Tried to Advocate Against Verbal Abuse of a Stranger

As an advocate for eliminating verbal abuse, I was determined to say something and change how this person behaved toward their patients. My roommate had a social worker at the hospital visit her daily and check in on her. During that time, I overheard my roommate describe the day's events and how awful the healthcare aide treated her. I felt if I confirmed her claims, it would possibly help how this healthcare aide would handle patients in the future. 

The social worker was quite upset when I described how my roommate was treated and how her healthcare aide ignored her pleas for help. I hoped there would be some change and my roommate would receive better care. Unfortunately, I think I made the situation worse for her, and it was definitely worse for me. 

I Was the Next Target of Verbal Abuse on the Cancer Ward

Once I spoke up about the wrongful treatment of my roommate, things quickly changed on the ward where I was recovering from surgery. Within 20 minutes of my complaint, the nurses moved me from my semi-private room to a storage space without a bathroom as a makeshift room. A nurse told me this move was due to overcrowding and them expecting more patients on the ward. 

After speaking up on behalf of my roommate, I had a different team of nurses and went from three or four nurses checking in on me daily to only one. All others began to ignore my requests for scheduled pain medication. They would forget to check the dressing on my incision and even walked away from me when I requested help. Once, I asked a nurse why I couldn't get assistance, and she said, "This is what you get."

When I tried to clarify what she meant, she shrugged her shoulders and walked away. 

Although I pleaded with them that I needed a room with a bathroom (I had bowel reconstruction surgery), I was ignored. At one point, I was trying to convince a nurse of my bathroom being a necessity and explaining I have to use facilities every 60 minutes or so; she replied back in jest, "Do you really go to the bathroom that much?"

It wasn't until, after spending two days in the storage space, I collapsed after walking down the hall to reach a bathroom and needed immediate medical attention. There was an open bed in a nearby room at this time, but I was refused the move, even after pleading with the head nurse on the ward due to my condition. 

I Fought Hard in the Face of Verbal Abuse Against a Stranger and Me

On my best days, I can be a terrific advocate for those who experience verbal abuse. But, when I am sick or in pain, I find I don't have the same inner strength. So, I had to dig deep and remember I was worthy of proper care. I started to make my needs known and got others involved by calling friends and family to advocate on my behalf. Eventually, the nurses moved to a room with a bathroom for the remainder of my hospital stay. 

I don't regret speaking up about the verbal abuse I witnessed against my roommate. Although it resulted in me facing some bullying, I hope she received better care because of my complaint. I am also filing a formal complaint for myself and her against the ward. No one should have to experience the neglect and verbal abuse that I had while trying to recover from cancer surgery. 

Remember that the more you talk about verbal abuse and speak up, the more awareness you will bring to others. We can help make the world a better place by speaking up when there is verbal abuse of others.

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2023, October 26). Addressing Verbal Abuse of a Stranger Has Consequences, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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