Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Day at Toronto Western Hospital

Ontario Healthcare is Still an Issue

Not quite a local politics thing, but local enough to me.

About a month ago I had a slip and fall accident in my apartment because of a wet floor. It was extremely painful as I did a cartoonish split in my narrow basement apartment hallway. Of course it had to be on the weekend too. Not wanting to burden the system by calling an ambulance or even going into to the hospital for the dreaded hours long wait to be seen, I instead hoped for the best and waited 2 days to see if it healed.

With massive brusing, pain and still limping on Monday, I called my family doctor who happens to be in a Family Clinic at another downtown hospital (Mount Sinai) and made an appointment. I still thought I was making sure I was not abusing Ontario's overburdened healthcare system. I should mention 'family doctor' is a stretch, as it is a teaching hospital with a rapidly revolving door of what I call 'baby doctors' - those learning. So pretty much every time I need medical services, I start from scratch with a new trainee.

So - I see the rookie doctor (mine was on leave somewhere else), who takes 10 minutes to talk to and examine me.... then he sends me to Emergency anyways, saying they could do nothing there.
After about 4 hours, most spent waiting to be shuffled from one room and person to another, I am told that it is a torn hamstring that will just take months to heal and it's not even worth getting an xray on. Sent home with a prescription for some pain meds (which I could have used 3 days ago), I am also told to buy a cane, since OHIP doesn't cover crutches or other useful things for my injury. When I later ran out of pain meds, I called and was told I would have to come in for an appointment again to get them as they don't phone them in anymore. No thanks. I just stocked up on super large aspirins that I took frequently.

I should mention I am already on disability for mental health issues (depression) and thus am on a very low income, below the poverty line. Fortunately, I later found a cheap $30 cane at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Not the end of the story....
Today (Valentine's day), thanks to a persistent every spring thaw water leak that happens in my cheapish basement apartment, I had yet another slip and fall in the same hallway. Similar doing the splits and amazing pain.

This time, I go straight to Toronto Western Hospital emergency where I am greeted by a bored looking security guard who asks why I'm there. The grimace on my face and the pronounced limp wasn't enough I guess. He tells me to sit down in the "Triage Area" (a set of broken down chairs) and wait. Only 3 people are ahead of me. The wait is extended by a few more patients brought in by EMS paramedics on stretchers who are always seen first, no matter their condition. (Likely to free up expensive ambulances).... next time, I tell myself to hell with it, I'll call an ambulance!
After about 45 minutes waiting - during which time no one gives me a second look or checks even to see that I am breathing - I see a bored administrative person who is ensconced behind a security glass enclosure. She takes my healthcard (the standard Ontario green provincial one, and for some silly reason a separate TWH blue card... why does every hospital have to have its own cards?), checks my blood pressure and temperature asks why I am there.... then tells me to wait in a second waiting area.

This time I realize I can hardly stand, so limp rather awkwardly over to the other area.  After about another 30 minute wait, I am called to the 'Registration Desk', where they simply want to confirm my address yet again and give me a paper wrist band. The pain index I am feeling is at least 7 out of 10 and I can move about 3 feet a minute. Then I am sent back to sit and wait again.

During the next 30 minute or so wait, I notice that on this Monday morning suddenly there are 20 people waiting in the Triage Area! I notice a couple come in and hear the man say to the security man/greeter, my partner's on welfare and needs to see her social worker upstairs, can we go through here? The guard tells them no, they have to walk around (even though the hallway clearly connects to the main lobby). Then I am called in to see a real nurse.... limping very poorly, until she finally decides maybe a wheelcahir is in order.

Then I wait another 15-20 minutes to see a nurse who asks a few questions, tells me to put on a hospital gown and wait again. Within a relatively quick 5-10 minutes wait to see a real doctor, I hear a fed up nurse explain to other ER staff that she is the only one on duty and can't 'do everything by herself'.

The doctor comes in, very briskly examines me and explains I will have to come back tomorrow for an ultrasound as they are too busy today. She-  finally! - gives me some pain meds and a prescription. So, about two hours later and I still have to come back tomorrow.

I am told I need 2 crutches and a leg brace that looks like something police swat teams would wear - BUT - it is not covered by OHIP and would cost about $70. Finally they say they could send me a bill to sort out later (I hope to get my landlord to pay it, and the $26 cab fare there and back). Years ago, I remember when you 'rented' crutches and got your money back when you returned them.
While waiting, I overheard what sounded like students? or some healthcare group discussing how the admissions procedures needed to change. Exactly my point is raised by one of them who says that while waiting someone could literally stop breathing and not be noticed until the 'first in first out' queue reached them.

I recall several years ago (20?) when a much younger me had a torn ligament. I went to emergency where I was seen by a nurse the moment I walked in the door and my vital signs were checked. I waited perhaps 20 minutes to see a doctor and get treated promptly. Surgery was booked that day for within 2 weeks and I was in and out.
So, when I hear all the press about the Ontario government doing so much to reduce wait times and improved the healthcare system... forgive me if I believe it is all a crock of you know what.

Our vaunted Ontario Healthcare System is in critical condition!

* Update: Next day I spent another 3 1/2 hours getting an ultrasound and X-Ray that tells me I have damaged soft tissue. Good news: No surgery, Bad News: Will take a few months to heal. Thankfully I have a decent landlord who paid for my crutches and cab fare to/from hospital. The water leak? Cannot be fixed until spring and snow is gone. I'll just have to hope for not too many sudden thaws.

Side note: There was only one doctor specialist on duty at the hospital, when I left there were 40 people waiting to see him. Lots of angry people who thought appointments meant appointments and found out it was a rough idea, meaning 3-4 hour waits.

* Update: Feb 16 McGuinty Says More to be Done to Help Crowded Hospitals "Premier Dalton McGuinty says there's "more to be done" to help hospitals in a Liberal stronghold that are so crowded officials have declared a crisis."