The Health Care System in Freefall: A Week Observing an Emergency Ward (Part I)

Twice in two years, I was hospitalized at the emergency ward for lung problems. Same problems, same hospital, same treatment.

I’ve decided to paint a portrait of the differences in care over that two-year gap.

By Raymond Viger

My 2013 hospitalization went like a breeze. I will always retain good memories of that hospital stay.

My story begins before dawn, around 5 a.m. on November 9th, 2015.

I can’t hold on any longer.

Incapable of drawing a full breath.

Out of breath after taking only two steps.

I have to admit defeat.

Impossible to face a full day’s work.

I give up and call a taxi to take me to emergency at the hospital.

When I ask the cab driver to take me to the Santa Cabrini Hospital, he answers without hesitation: “To the emergency ward?”

I nod my head.

I’m almost lying down in the back seat. Because the air can’t get into my lungs in the seated position. Completely horizontal is almost worse. Invaded by secretions, I gag. With the little lung capacity I have left, I can’t make a passageway for air to get into the lungs.

My rapid breathing and shortness of breath clearly demonstrate that breathing itself is no longer an acquired right but a privilege that I could lose at any moment.

Without hesitation, the cabbie puts his foot on the gas and drives to our destination. I think he’s afraid I’ll finish my days in his vehicle.

Arriving at emergency, the few steps between the taxi and the triage unit seem like a marathon. I am forced to pause every three or four steps.

I can’t sit upright on a chair because it cuts off my breath. But a standing posture is also difficult to maintain, as it requires too much energy.

At triage, they determine it’s not necessary for me to register and lose time in the waiting room. They bring me directly into the emergency ward, passing by all the folks waiting. I am immediately given a bed.

The first thing they notice is that my blood oxygen level is low, so they hook me up with oxygen.

My lung capacity test gives a result of 48% of the capacity of a man my age. Not 48% of a young athlete. But 48% of normal for a man my age. That means I have the equivalent of less than one lung for a 57-year-old man!

No need for me to disguise myself as a “fake patient” for this week of observation in the emergency ward.

First seen on Raymond Viger’s blog, December 11th, 2015

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