Urgent care crisis and the aftermath:
It was 6 o’clock in the evening when my friend, her family and I exhaustedly arrived at their house after gallivanting the entire day. My friend told her mom and me that she was experiencing a severe headache and was feeling nauseous. For this reason, I decided to stay for a while to look after her when she abruptly began to vomit. The heaving lasted for three hours until she could no longer withstand it. Her mom decided to bring her to a nearby hospital so she could be treated immediately.
As we rushed her into the urgent care department, I saw my friend crying silently on her wheelchair because she could no longer take the pain that this sudden illness has caused her. After conducting a patient interview as part of the triage (the process in which patients are prioritized based on severity of their condition), she was told to stay in the waiting area. She was promised assistance only if and when her name had been called. After that, perhaps after five minutes, she was called so they could take some blood samples from her. Then again we waited another 45 or more minutes until finally they called her name to be treated. But during my friend’s 45-minute or so of waiting she suffered far enough pain that even her parents could not imagine. In fact during this wait, she continued to vomit. Her parents even attempted to approach the nurse’s bench for assistance but they did not give her any. The nurses reasoned that without the results of her blood sample, they could not diagnose or treat her.
I saw how helpless my friend was. I also saw how her tears flowed involuntarily from her dreary eyes. I could only imagine how painful it was for her to be in that condition. I was surprised yet annoyed and infuriated that the nurse from the station forced my friend to answer all her redundant questions so as to show that she was fine and still able to handle herself.
Inside the urgent care room, my friend was assisted after approximately 20 minutes of stagnant “medical care.” We were led to a separate room partitioned by curtains. When the doctor finally arrived, she received her diagnosis right away. He had found some sort of virus inside her abdomen and prescribed an injection. Afterwards, the nurse arrived with the medication needed to treat my friend. Thereafter, her mom was half relieved to see her daughter at rest after her agonizing experience. Yet, while waiting for the medicine to take effect, the nurse in charge that night advised us to return home. However, we decided to stay to make sure my friend was really all right.
About an hour and a half later, this same nurse approached us, and my friend at her bedside. She hurried past the curtains and into our small private area to strongly and repeatedly kick the bottom of her metallic bed frame just to wake my friend up. We told the nurse that my friend had just received her medication and needed rest. But it was too late because my friend was already rudely awakened. I felt her queasiness as I watched her put up a strong front against the rude and unfriendly nurse who wanted her out of the facility right away. As a matter of fact, my friend will never forget how she was allowed to suffer in the midst of her pain; nor can I. The experience was painful, of course, but much more painful to those people who have died because of this system. The story seems all too common.
Recently in the city paper, I learned that a 45-year-old man died after waiting for about 34 hours in the waiting area of a local hospital. It was reported that he had not been seen or assessed by a nurse or a doctor. Moreover, on the evening news, I discovered also that an 82-year-old woman died after waiting for four hours because she was wrongly assessed by the nurse as stable or not in urgent need of care.
Why do we experience this? According to Rebecca Walberg, a Social Policy Analyst for Frontier Centre, the long waits experienced in Winnipeg Emergency Rooms (ER) are because of (1) the high volume of unnecessary visits and (2) the response from hospital management to these high demands. The lack of available family doctors plays a role in this equation because patients with non-urgent needs have little choice but to enter urgent care facilities to get treatment. Moreover, lack of hospital doctors and nurses as well as the lack of proper patient assessments can lengthen waiting times.
The insufficient number of doctors and nurses may not be remedied quickly, but as of now hospital management need strategies that will help lessen patient waiting times. In regards to that infamous health centre nurse we had the displeasure of encountering, I realize that there is nothing I can do about her attitude. All I can say is that treating or taking care of patients is not just a profession but also an extraordinary task given to outstanding individuals who must care for the health and physical well being of all. They should respond to this responsibility in a proper and respectful way.
Rebecca Walberg. 30 Sept. 2008. “ER Mismanagement Can Be Fatal” Frontier Centre for Public Policy. www.fcpp.org
Daphne Jalique is an Executive member of ANAK. She is currently a student at the University of Manitoba in Biochemistry. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org