March 24, 2013
Our medical system is broken. My husband and life partner is trapped in it. So are the medical professionals who just want to help people. They didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t expect it.
We aren’t strangers to the medical system. My husband has an ongoing disease he has battled for 40 plus years. I joined his journey over 30 years ago.
We have arrived at hospitals via car and ambulance. Some of the trips resulted in surgeries; others helped us access treatments to manage his illness. The last one put it into remission for over 10 years. But this time it’s different.
As a caregiver you have to advocate for your loved ones. I get that. I’ve been doing it. It’s draining, but it must be done for the ones you love. This time is different because the system itself is terribly sick. I saw it for myself and hear it from those on the front lines.
Day 1: March 20, 2013
This is our second visit to emergency in just over a week. He came here on March 11th. He was admitted, treated and released a week later with several follow-up appointments to see various specialists. They didn’t make a mistake sending him home. We all thought he was o.k. But we are here again. And this time it’s different.
An ambulance ride to the hospital had my husband on a gurney in a drafty hallway for over an hour. The paramedics who brought us here are frustrated. They tell me the system is broken. But what does that mean?
They share their stories and frustrations with me, saying that it doesn’t matter who calls or why, they are obligated to bring them to the hospital. If they want a ride to the hospital because they don’t have money for cab fare we can’t question it, one tells me. If they have a hangnail we still have to take them. He points out that all Ontarians receive a bill for the ambulance ride, but not if they are on social assistance.
We pick up the same drunks three times a day sometimes, another paramedic tells me. They get a warm gurney to sleep on and a hot meal, then they’re back on the street. I see several in the hallway over the course of the next three days to confirm this.
All of these calls and waiting in hospital halls means there aren’t enough paramedics to deal with some life-threatening 911 emergencies. Response times are compromised and so are the lives of the patients who need urgent care.
My husband’s gurney slowly moves up in the queue but there are still several ahead of us, plus others who come in with as more emergent and he is bumped back in the queue. He came in with pain that couldn’t be controlled at home. The pain has been dealt with for now. He is no longer a top priority.
The first time he came here he was admitted to a bed the same night. This time it’s different. His room is covered by well-worn curtains – not a room at all. This will be where he stays for almost three days.
Nurses who are trained to deal with front-line trauma are tending to patients who should be admitted to a bed upstairs, but there are no beds available. We are told by one doctor that the Gastro Intestinal (GI) service (my husband’s medical team) is only allotted a certain number of patient beds and they have already used up their quota, and then some. No one knows when, or if, my husband will get a bed.
A nurse confides that they just released a woman who had been in emergency for over five days. I ask what happened. She tells me she thinks the patient was treated enough to go home. Nurses in emergency aren’t told details of care. They are not really assigned to specific patients to give care. They deal with each emergency as it arrives and keep tabs on patients who are stable.
My husband is on steroids in an attempt to lessen his pain and other symptoms, though they are not working and he has other complications that make it difficult for doctors to treat his pain until the mystery of complications can be unraveled. He is in a tenuous position where treating him further may do more harm than good, and test results are inconclusive, so the doctors are trying to buy some time. He has spent two nights in the curtained area.
Day 2 & 3: March 21-22, 2013
The first 24 hours they administer pain medications by syringe and he remains in a drug-induced state. I confer with the doctor and we agree that he needs to ask for the pain killers so they can monitor how quickly the pain comes on and the intensity (what brought us here) before giving him painkillers. I know that they will say he’s fine to release unless they see what I see firsthand.
I stay late each night and call him in the morning to let him know I’m coming up. After the second night he tells me, I didn’t get any sleep. It’s too noisy. I need to come home. He is agitated, partly because of the drugs and the noise and lack of sleep.
I rush to the hospital and speak to his emerg nurse, who I’ve never met before. She agrees with me; he should be upstairs, but she has no power to do anything. She says she will page the doctor who has been assigned to my husband’s case; the same one who treated him last week. The doctor and his team arrive. They agree my husband needs to be admitted. They make the request, but they too have no authority when it comes to who gets a bed, and who doesn’t.
After their visit I talk to the nurse, as she looks at the computer screen next to her. It just popped up, she says. He will have a room, but I don’t know when.
That evening I decide to go to the cafeteria and find something halfway decent that I can share with my husband. We both need to eat. While I’m there he sends me a text message with his room number. I rush to emergency and his cubicle is being cleaned. I rush up to his room and find him changing in the washroom. He collapses on a real bed, lays back and says he could stay there no problem. It’s music to my ears. The nurse comes in to get his history and leaves for a moment. Then it happens. The thing that brought us here rears its horrible head tenfold.
He suddenly becomes pale and starts shaking. I ask him what level his pain is (we go with 1 – not much, to 10 – intense) he starts with a five, then six, then eight and retches. There is nothing to catch his vomit. I rush to another patient’s bed and grab a small container. It fills up in less than a second. I rush to empty it and barely make it back in time. I hand it to him and lean on the nurse call button. A voice answers and I yell for them to come quickly. They arrive immediately, but I have already dumped the small container three times.
Someone hands me a huge bowl, wet cloths then he’s injected with a pain killer. He still retches but there’s nothing left. His pyjamas and bed are drenched. We change him and he lies back in a drug-induced state. He’s o.k., for now, I think…