I almost didn’t write this.
When I sat down to do so, I thought that it would simply come across as a litany of complaints against those who cared for me during a recent medical crisis. That is not my intention at all. If anything, it is the opposite. In the face of an increasingly broken health care system, in which health care professionals are being overrun and resources misused, I’d like to offer words of appreciation and support for them all.
For years, people - many more influential than me - have been protesting, frantically trying to get the message across that our health care system is on fire. Others, like me, simply don’t feel they can make a difference, and so remain silent.
But, as it’s been said, every little bit helps…so here goes.
A middle aged woman, divorced, empty-nester. I live quietly, in semi-retirement. I write; help my Mom, spoil my dogs.
Unremarkable. The only notable thing about me, really, is that, on any given day, I deal with a medical condition that would completely scare the crap out of the rest of you.
I’m not going to get into what that condition is all about. It’s not relevant to what I’m writing about. And, as with seemingly everything else in this world today, there is simply no time. Suffice it to say that it is an Arteriovenous Malformation (I name it only to raise awareness) - a brain lesion that, quite bluntly, can be stable one moment, and kill me the next.
I’ve adapted my lifestyle to accommodate this issue, and I’ve actually been coping and living quite happily despite it for the past five years or so.
That grace period ended a few weeks ago…
Short version? An ambulance ride. A few hours in an emergency department (ER). Admission to hospital. Discharge three days later. All standard stuff for someone with my past medical history. Given that I live with a chronic illness, and the fact that I was once a nurse, I’m well aware of how the system works.
So why is it, then, that I found myself sitting in the waiting room of another ER, shaking and babbling nonsense, seeking reassurance, and wasting emergency resources, not once, but twice, in the course of the following week after discharge?
Short answer? I was petrified.
Quick explanation? I was discharged, on the Saturday of a long weekend, without a driver’s license, and with instructions to follow up with my family doctor and neurosurgeon. I left without knowing what had caused, was continuing to cause, my symptoms. The only theory I was offered was that I MIGHT be experiencing a rare complication that MIGHT wreak further havoc on my poor brain at any moment.
Well, I challenge any of you to not take that and run with it…
I began researching, seeking an alternative reason for my weirdness. I perseverated over the result of an obscure, delayed lab value that I had convinced myself – wrongly - would solve everything.
Sunday…another ambulance, another ER, another scan, another discharge.
Tuesday morning, having gutted it through the long weekend, I called my doctor. She was away, and the practice had no other urgent openings with anyone else in the practice…for three days.
I called the neurosurgeon’s office, was told I wouldn’t be seeing him…for a month.
I called the hospital, seeking that stupid lab result I wrote about earlier. I was told that patients were not allowed to access doctors by phone…ever.
By Tuesday afternoon, I was back in an ER. I shouldn’t have been. But, by that time, I didn’t care. I just wanted to sit - to simply be - in a safe place.
I was there for more than six hours. And no, I shouldn’t have been…but really, how many of the others there in that ER waiting room with me that day should have been?
That kid with a mask on his face, running around, playing? No. That woman who kept getting up to ask the triage nurse what was taking so long? Perhaps. She didn’t die in the time she sat there with me, so perhaps not.
That guy who sat there for an hour and then got up and left in a huff? Probably not.
But where else were they to go?
Where else are we all to go?
The shortage of health care practitioners - of all sorts - in this province is no secret, and the band aid solutions (walk-in clinics, 811, virtual medicine) that have been created to compensate for it are, at best, stopgap, at worst, dangerous. Funding cuts to public health programs and prevention initiatives are not helping matters.
The health care system has become more reactive than proactive. More health professionals are needed - not policies and cuts and stressful working conditions that drive away and break those we already have. And please, make that flesh and blood practitioners - not screens and phones and apps (we need more humans and humanity, not less)- professionals who can talk to people, reassure, auscultate, palpate, listen, smell, and feel…doctors, nurse practitioners, support personnel who have time to form relationships with those who seek their help.
I mentioned that I was once a nurse. Give me strength and call me old….that was almost twenty years ago now.
While on my recent trip down the rabbit hole that our health care system has become, I listened. I observed. And I noticed many changes between how things were then and how things are now. Some of those things merely irritated my inner former nurse; others I felt were unsafe.
By far, the most dangerous change I noted, however, is that the relationship and trust between health care professionals and the public is crumbling. It is becoming adversarial.
It saddened me to see everyone’s stress; to hear the patients complain about the doctors and nurses in the lounges; to see doctors rolling their eyes in hallways.
Worse, it scared me.
Because…and call me old school…hospitals should be healing places, not battlefields. And healthcare professionals and patients should work together, not against one another.
Health care needs more, not less.
It’s really not that complicated.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope that things will change.
As long as health care funding and staffing is controlled by people who can’t see that cleaning up messes is more costly than preventing them, nothing will change.
And, and as long as health care policy is written by those who, as a perk of the lofty positions they hold, will never have to resort to going to a walk-in clinic, speak to a disembodied doctor head on a screen, sit for six hours in a germ infested ER, and/or wait a month to find out if their brain is dying, nothing ever will.
And that spooks me…because, if I ever (knock on wood ) have to go another round with this brain of mine, and things have not changed or, heaven forbid, have gotten worse - this health care system that we are all supposed to take such pride in may just, quite literally and quickly, scare me to death.