My trip to a Winnipeg hospital turned into a medical ‘gong show’

This First Person column is the experience of Winnipegger Jo Davies. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

You know things are going off the rails with Manitoba’s health care when it feels like the average emergency room wait time equals a round of golf. 

I experienced such a wait after I woke up one day last month with arms in so much pain, I was screaming. The walk-in clinic doctor I saw sent me to Victoria Hospital urgent care.

Six hours later, no one had taken my temperature, let alone given me any diagnostic tests. In all, I waited for 38½ hours there. (These sort of wait times aren’t unheard of in Manitoba. In January, the Manitoba Nurses Union said some ER wait times exceeded 30 hours.) 

For nearly two days I didn’t eat, because no one could decide if I would be getting emergency shoulder surgery or not. The one doctor I managed to corral told me the X-rays they’d taken of my shoulders had been sent to Health Sciences Centre’s orthopedic team, and revealed fractures that only a seizure could have caused.

To be clear: I’d never had a seizure. I had, however, reluctantly started taking a specific medication at the insistence of my family doctor. It wasn’t until later that I discovered one of its side-effects, although rare, was seizures. Lucky me. 

A woman with long blond hair stares into the camera.
Davies says ‘devoted yet overburdened’ nurses did their best to provide care. ‘How they keep working in these conditions is a mystery,’ she says. (Submitted by Jo Davies)

I was then packed into an ambulance to HSC with what turned out to be two broken shoulders and a dislocated left arm — all of it, according to the doctors, caused by seizures.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience pure chaos, try the HSC emergency department at midnight. From people suffering mental crises or drug overdoses, to police officers trying to wrangle folks with anger management issues, to a veritable buffet of bloody wounds waiting to be triaged, they’ve got it all. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. 

An attendant rolled me through this hellscape and into another room where I was introduced to two surgical residents who’d been asked to set my arm. Had I heard of ketamine? Propofol? They ran through the uses of each and before I knew it, I’d been given both drugs, while the doctors-in-training set about pretzelling my dislocated left shoulder back into place. 

The nursing staff was working flat out just to get everyone toileted, medicated and vitals charted.

By 3 a.m, I was on my way to a sixth floor ward to share a room — with three grown men. Now I’m as open-minded as the next gal, but this arrangement seemed just a tad much. At least maybe now I’d get something to eat and a shower? 

Food eventually appeared, but it was obvious to me that the nursing staff was working flat out just to get everyone toileted, medicated and vitals charted.

I didn’t have the heart to ask for help cleaning up. Off I hobbled to the shower room. I flung some soap at myself and huddled under the running water and called it a night. 

A ‘profoundly broken’ system

For the next eight days I sat in that hospital bed, waiting for someone to tell me what was going to happen. Would I have a joint replacement? Would I be sent home to wait? Would I die of sleep deprivation, considering one of my roommates snored like a freight train? No one could say. 

Finally, my surgery was scheduled, despite not having had a consultation with my surgeon. He only appeared 15 minutes before my surgery, looking distracted and to me, anyway, it felt like he was reluctant to answer my many questions. Could I get my test results? See my X-rays?

He told me to make an appointment the following week to see him. How kind.

A sign reads "Victoria General Hospital Urgent Care."
‘Our health-care system is profoundly broken,’ says Davies. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

He did ask what I thought was the reason for the delay of surgery. When I told him I’d been taking anti-seizure meds since my first day there (at whose orders, I didn’t know), he shrugged and didn’t respond.

I was speechless. I prayed that my surgery would go as expected. Not that I had a clue what to expect.

I won’t bore you with the rest. Suffice to say I left the hospital less than two days after my surgery, as I couldn’t stand one more second there. The pain from my broken shoulders paled in comparison to the mental anguish caused by the gong show that was my interaction with our health-care system. 

The precious few times in those 10 days I felt cared for or comforted came at the hands of the devoted yet overburdened nursing staff. How they keep working in these conditions is a mystery.  

To be clear, our health-care system is profoundly broken. It seems as if patients have been abandoned. Not by people who don’t care, but by a system that seems to have forgotten its purpose. 

This column is part of  CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ. 

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