Waiting – Oft Told Stories of the ER (et al)

My friend Cyndi has a problem.

She is in severe pain. She hurt her back a few weeks ago. She has a requisition for an MRI or CT scan to ascertain her injury so that with a diagnosis, appropriate treatment may be started.

She was getting nowhere with the assessments in our health care system, and out of utter desperation summoned help from family members to cover the costs ($900) to obtain an MRI from a private clinic. Almost immediately after she disclosed these facts on a Facebook post, the CT clinic called, they had an opening, would she like the appointment? Coincidence? I dunno, but the point of all this is yet to come….

If we have private clinics doing the work of our health care system, specifically an MRI clinic – that tells us there is a need for such a clinic. Therefore, based on our Health Care mandate there is a need to have more MRI clinics in the system. No one is supposed to have to seek private health care here.



Why doesn’t the Government look into the model used by the private clinic to see how they might try to compare in the level of service. How much does an MRI machine cost? And technicians to operate them? And diagnostics professionals to assess the results? If a private clinic has enough business to cover these costs – it is either super cheap, or super necessary. I suspect the latter.

Meanwhile, my friend Cyndi, in these many weeks of pain and suffering has experienced much in the way our health care system is functioning – or actually, not functioning. First, she was told to go to an ER and that would push her into a scan or MRI immediately. She was put in a room with a man, and then interviewed in that room with a man lying next to her, having to answer incredibly specific and personal questions. She felt extremely uncomfortable, embarrassed and hurt to be in that position. Hours into her visit, she was desperate for a washroom and requested help. A male nurse was (most likely due to stress) less than appreciative of her discomfort, from her back pain, her experience in answering such personal questions with an audience and her poor bladder. He was most likely the biggest disappointment during this ER visit. She felt intimidated by him.


Halifax Infirmary ~ News 95.7

The ER visit alone raises many serious concerns. Cyndi checked into triage around 2:45 pm and shortly after she was placed inside the ER corridor doors where there were some chairs and benches but there were so many patients waiting to be seen that there actually weren’t enough seats and as Cyndi sat there listening to people saying how they had been sitting in that same hallway for 7-8 hours and had yet to see a doctor. A family member of another patient, who was lucky enough to be in a private room, stuck her head out to tell a nurse that they wanted to go home but they were instructed to wait another half hour for test results, 3 hours ago. The nurse was very apologetic and said she would look into it for them. It turned out that the ER doctors were just too busy to get back in there to tell them they could indeed go home. During her 5 hours in the corridor, at times Cyndi looked around and wondered was she actually in Canada or was this some third world country? She saw sick people asleep on benches, others sitting on the floor and heard patients say they had been left in that same hallway for 7-8 hours without food or water, but were too ill to go buy something and terrified they would miss their name being called if they did step out for something to eat.

Pain Train

After 4 hours, when Cyndi was finally escorted to a room, she was mortified to realize she was sharing an ER room with a male patient, as she knew the medical staff were going to ask her questions of a very sensitive and personal nature (think rectal exam). She had no choice but to answer those questions because Cyndi was desperate for help & relief. Cyndi felt that her dignity was compromised because the ER was so clearly overwhelmed with too many sick people and not enough space or staff. She better not complain or she might jeopardize getting the treatment she needed. But the last straw for her was when she was told she had to exit her room on the side where the male patient was, in order to get to the bathroom. Cyndi refused, telling a male nurse that she was far too embarrassed after the private conversation that patient had overheard when Cyndi was questioned by the doctor. The male nurse replied to her pleas for an alternate route to the bathroom by saying no, he couldn’t take her through the nurse’s station and that her situation was not unique. He told her that circumstances were the same in all NS hospitals. Cyndi kindly told him, that fact doesn’t make it ok.

Cyndi has told me she felt like the ER was in a crisis. To me, they would have a plan for a crisis. This experience is a symptom of an understaffed and overloaded system. For a patient to wait hours in a room for a doctor to have a chance to review test results and send someone home, is well beyond an unexpected volume.

Can you imagine if this ER were closed for a weekend or a day? Imagine that someone else in Cape Breton, where ERs are closing every weekend, were Cyndi. What if an ER was not even an option for you, since it is closed until tomorrow?

So Cyndi is getting her assessment, and she will eventually get a treatment straightened out, but in the meantime, she is on narcotics for pain. Cyndi is usually a bouncy and active girl, the mom of two teenage boys, and works with little children in the school system. She is funny and fun and wears her heart on her sleeve. Smart and engaged in her community. And now, Cyndi is depressed and scared and hurt. She has lost weight over these last weeks, and her family want the old Cyndi back.Pain-killer-pill

With the known dependency issues in Nova Scotia, Cyndi’s most profound observation about her situation and her great concern is the extended use of pain medication she has had to turn to while waiting for the health care system to help her. She is terrified that the longer she is on these drugs, the more likely a dependency could develop. For Cyndi, she is a prime example of the health care system shooting themselves in the foot. Her wait will create more serious harm to her injured back or create a drug addiction. She is concerned she will become a bigger and more expensive problem to solve.

The health care crisis in Nova Scotia is only going to get worse, especially if something doesn’t change immediately and in a big way. Is our government trying to cause us harm? On top of the already overwhelming overcrowding of our ERs, our Premier has chosen to pick a  fight with the nurses, the doctors, and has refused to explain the reason, doctors and specialists are not being hired. Morale is low, stress is high, and people won’t stop getting sick or injuring themselves.  Are our ERs going to be closed more and more, leave the sickest and the hurt in grave and unrelenting danger? How is anyone so blind and stubborn to not feel some level of responsibility to do everything necessary to fix this? There is no denying we are in a real bind here.

I am praying for my friend, Cyndi. And everyone else in this province, that we make it through this.

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1 Response to Waiting – Oft Told Stories of the ER (et al)

  1. Theresa Zukauskas says:

    I am going through the same situation with my 75 year old husband who has Parkinson Disease, a supra public catheter, severe hypo stasis. ( try 53/35)
    and hallucinations. . Losing my family doctor this week who is leaving the province and told to go to a walk in clinic. I’ve held a news conference, call the health ministers office 2x a week and still no help. So I guess I am now the medical practitioner for my husband. I was a junior high teacher. I’m a smart lady. But I am not a doctor.


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