Healthcare in Canada is top-of-mind for me having just gone through a laparoscopic surgery for appendicitis last week at a major downtown Toronto hospital. Thanks to the wonders of modern medical science, such a surgery is far less invasive than an open surgery and also drastically shortens the recovery time. I was discharged from the hospital in less than 12 hours after the operation.
Most of my friends consider this a minor surgery. When compared to two of my friends who are currently fighting cancer, my health crisis was really minor and I was thankful to the team of surgeons who took care of me in the Operating Room. But never at any stage did I consider my surgery minor, because it took a full hour for the operation to take place and I was put out the entire time. During this time, a micro-camera was inserted into my airwave down my throat to watch my heart during surgery and all my muscles were paralysed. Under such circumstances, anything could have gone wrong and I’m grateful that everything went smoothly due to the skills and professionalism of the surgeons.
But my experience in the hospital’s emergency room was absolutely nightmarish and I would not want that to ever happen to me again or to any of my friends! Having been diagnosed via an abdominal ultrasound by a private clinic that I might be suffering from acute appendicitis, I was advised by my family doctor and the radiologist to walk immediately across the street into the emergency room of a major hospital. Once I got in, I literally could never have imagined that I would be starved and dehydrated for more than 50 hours before I was given surgery. Even though I walked in with a detailed ultrasound report from the private clinic, the hospital’s emergency doctor insisted that I had to go through the hospital’s own abdominal ultrasound again to confirm the diagnosis. He then forgot to ask me whether I had any allergies to the dye they use for CT scans, and when wheeled into the CT imaging room, the technician refused to conduct the imaging due to the single hive I got from the scan last year.
To make a long story short, I had to spend an extra 24 hours in the emergency room and even stayed overnight because I had to be given steroids and antihistamines in preparation for the CT scan. I was lucky that because it was a very treacherous snowstorm day, I was given a bed to spend the night after a lot of pressure from me. In the meantime, they still could not give me food or drinks (except for the IV drip) in anticipation of a possible surgery. Once the CT scan confirmed that I was inflicted with acute appendicitis, it took four hours for a houseman surgeon to see and interview me. Seven hours after the diagnosis, another team of surgeons tried to talk me out of surgery by offering to give me antibiotics to stop the inflammation so that I could be discharged and return to the hospital at a later date for surgery. I had to insist on going through surgery because I told them there’s no way I would go through this ordeal again. Besides, if I went home and my appendix burst, a straightforward, uncomplicated condition would very rapidly have turned into a life-threatening, complicated one. Eventually, the surgeon in charge was convinced and agreed to perform the surgery immediately. Once I got into the Operating Room, everything immediately improved. I had full confidence in the team of surgeons and I was right – they did a beautiful job on me and the problem was fixed!
But why does anyone have to go through those long hours of inefficiency and backlogs in the emergency rooms? Most of the nurses and doctors on duty were overwhelmed with the number of cases they had to deal with and my experience was absolutely horrible. According to Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail, hospitals in Canada are routinely at overcapacity – meaning they have more patients admitted than they have beds. I witnessed the patients on stretchers in hallways during the best of times. During the winter flu season, the situation is even worse. As Mr. Picard said in his article, “What flu season does, more than anything else, is remind us that our health system is too often contemptuous of patients. The winter surge also shines a spotlight on some chronic administrative illnesses that we talk about incessantly, but do nothing to resolve.”
The Ontario government either needs to work with the Federal Government to look into a two-tier healthcare system so that the congestion in emergency rooms of hospitals could be relieved; or they should seriously look into improving the administrative inefficiency and reducing bureaucracy and start showing some compassion for patients instead of sending them home or asking them to stay away from the ER!
I do not want to sound ungrateful because ultimately, my acute health issue got fixed. But God forbid that I, or anybody else, has to be admitted into ER again, because the picture is not getting prettier! In my post-surgery check-up with my family doctor, she said that she is constantly in awe of how her patients have been nicely treated in the Toronto hospitals and how much value-for-money those healthcare services bring. This is what we public relations professionals would say – she’s drinking her own Kool-Aid! The waiting period inside and outside ERs should really be reduced as soon as possible. Canada’s universal healthcare is no longer a national pride – it’s fast becoming a major problem for us with an aging population and no immediate solution!