Samantha Salerno, RN, BSN, needed to step in when her patient’s treatment was delayed simply because his doctors and nurses made assumptions based on his appearance.

The Guardian Nurses Mobile Care Coordinator describes the patient as a “younger guy, a dad, who looks a little bit rough around the edges, but is super kind once he opens his mouth. He also has many tattoos.”

Unfortunately, the patient was admitted to the hospital over the weekend with a painful infection in his arm near the site where he regularly injects prescribed human growth hormone. “As a nurse, if you looked at that abscess, you’d know that it needed to be drained,” Salerno says.

When she arrived at the hospital on Monday to check in on the patient, it was clear to Nurse Salerno that there had been some sort of miscommunication. The patient had only just received his first dose of pain medication and wasn’t yet scheduled for wound drainage and cleaning in the OR.

According to a nurse onsite, they were waiting on a drug screening because someone thought that the patient might be an IV drug user. The toxicology report came back negative for any drugs.

While waiting for the doctor to return, the patient’s pain got the better of him and he was uncharacteristically abrupt with a different nurse. When Nurse Salerno apologized to her, she said, “it’s ok, he’s detoxing.”

Even with the negative test, this nurse assumed that he was an IV drug user. Nurse Salerno set her straight.

Fortunately, once the patient had Nurse Salerno advocating for him, he soon received proper treatment in the OR and began to heal.

It should be noted that beyond the delay caused by the doctors’ and nurses’ false assumptions, the whole situation seemed odd to Nurse Salerno. Regardless of the result of the patient’s drug test, he still needed medical attention and the abscess “needed to be addressed the moment he walked through the door.” Hospitals can and do treat drug users.

Nurse Salerno’s advice: You have to assert yourself in these situations. No one should be discriminated against for their past, or for their present. Not for their hair, the color of their skin, their way of life, or how many tattoos they have. People don’t want to rock the boat, but you need to speak up to get the care you deserve. And if you feel you’re not being heard, there are patient relations employees at every hospital who can help you. If it’s the weekend, ask to speak to the nursing supervisor. (And if that doesn’t work, you can always call Guardian Nurses.)