Let me begin by saying that I am alive and writing this report today, November 18, 2010, because Jewish General Hospital oncologist, Dr. Francois Patenaude listened to me on April 1, 2009, and took the right actions immediately after emergency room doctor Jerome Stasiak - without speaking to me or examining me - told me there was nothing wrong with me and ordered me to go home immediately. It took only one blood test to reveal that I had bone cancer.
I will also make it clear that I believe without a shadow of a doubt that the events I will report here from my own experiences are but the tip of a Titanic iceberg and that such horrible experiences happen all the time in hospital but remain unreported, Silenced. Because patients are afraid to offend hospital authorities.
I also have no doubt that, while almost all the events I will speak of occurred over the years in the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, such nightmare experiences happen in hospitals everywhere and are covered up to protect the hospitals from being sued or disgraced.
I have reported these experiences to the proper authorities - without a satisfactory outcome.
At the same time, I proclaim that lives are saved every minute of the day and night at the Jewish General Hospital, and I do not hesitate to express my heartfelt gratitude to those doctors who do excellent work with great care. Everyone makes mistakes. My report is not about human error. It is about systemic negligence and cover up.
Rosemary Steinberg, Ombudsman for the Jewish General Hospital is a very nice woman,. As I understand it, she is supposed to represent the interests of the patients. I believe, however, that her job is primarily to smooth over complaints to protect the hospital.
The Jewish General Hospital is a truly fine hospital and I owe my life to doctors there. But I have also experienced and observed many serious - even life-threatening problems there - as a patient and as a patients' advocate.
Some problems - like wheelchair access to the toilets in the emergency department, have been dealt with - but really serious problems have been dismissed with the insult that I am just very sensitive. I could write a book, but it is more expedient to write emails to Rosemary Steinberg with copies to my blog and to members of governments and the media.
Here are the most outstanding examples of my own experience.
The colonoscopy from hell - without anaesthetic ! Dr. Vasilevsky is an excellent doctor and a charming woman. I really like her - and I trusted her until she performed a colonoscopy on me, botching the anaesthetic. When I shrieked in unspeakable agony, I was told to shut up because I was scaring the other patients. Afterward, I was left alone in a hallway retching up foamy yellow fluid, until I started to faint.
Nurses told me to get my clothes on and go home because the clinic was closing and they were leaving to pick up their children from school. I couldn't stop retching even though there was nothing left in me but cramps. Finally they shifted me to an observation area somewhere in the hospital where nurses argued about me taking up space.
I lodged a formal complaint. Dr. Joseph Portnoy, Chief of Staff of the JGH, wrote me a letter saying I was just too sensitive. Blame the patient for suffering too much. He has done this more than once.
Years earlier, after a very pleasant doctor named Doctor Sweet performed a test on me for vertigo, I was left sitting in a small waiting area, retching up my last drop of foamy yellow fluid until I almost passed out. Hospital staff passed me by without paying the least attention. It seemed hours before someone took me down to the emergency department for an intra venous treatment to stop the nausea and vomiting. The years pass, but the painful memories remain all too vivid and disturbing.
In a hospital in Ontario, following breast cancer surgery to remove lymph nodes, a doctor in training was sent in to remove the pump that was suctioning fluid from my armpit. He said it was a simple procedure and would be over in a minute. Then he ripped the device out. The searing pain shot through me like a hot knife. I shrieked. I saw black. "Morphine!" He cried. In an instant, I was gone.
When my child was born, I trusted my doctor completely. He was very kind and I considered him a precious friend, even as I do now half a century later. But he made a very serious mistake too. He performed an episiotomy - and I was not frozen. It took decades until I stopped hearing my scream. I still feel dread when I remember the indescribable searing pain. My scream seemed to travel around the world. I was cut open alive ! When I spoke to him about it months afterward, he still believed I had been frozen. Perhaps he needed to believe it.
My husband, Cliff Carter - age 89 - 1991-92 - JGH Emergency Dept. - on the blood thinner Coumadin - he was left with blood pouring from his arm on to the floor after a nurse yanked out an intra venous line and walked away. If I had not been there, no one would have known. Cliff was quiet and polite and he didn't even see that his blood was quickly pouring out into a small deep red pool on the floor. If I had not been right by his side, he would likely have bled to death there and then. No one was paying any attention until I started screaming.
Perhaps of lesser concern to others, but not to me, is the fact that while Cliff was in the emergency department of the JGH he was left lying in his wet bed for hours while I pleaded with the staff again and again to help me change him. I was completely burned out. I could hardly breathe. Cliff was left there wet - for hours. Finally, I had to be taken into emergency myself for a blood gas test because the doctor thought I was having a heart attack. So while I worried about Cliff, he was worrying about me. And for the very first time in the almost twenty years I was with Cliff, he had an injury - a painful, ugly bedsore. And still, he never uttered a word of complaint.
Cliff - Age 89 - March, 1992 - left bleeding in the corridor of the JGH Emergency Dept. for eleven days and nights after the doctors pressured me to allow them to remove a loose wisdom tooth. They said he might choke on it if it fell out. I expressed my grave concerns about the blood thinners, but haematologist Dr. Archie Rosenberg assured me that after Cliff had been off the Coumadin for three days, he was in no danger of bleeding.
My beloved husband bled to death. My immune system was worn out. Within one year of Cliff's death, I had breast cancer.
I am not saying that all these doctors are bad or uncaring. I am saying they make mistakes - serious mistakes - and those mistakes are covered up. Sometimes the mistakes are due to overwork or distraction. Sometimes due to carelessness. Sometimes due to arrogance. The problem is that doctors are not held responsible for their actions or their negligence. Everything is covered up. And patients and their families are afraid to complain, afraid of the doctors, afraid of the system, afraid they will be neglected, rejected, disliked - even killed.
In the 1970's my friend, Alma Mia Kotsos believed that if she tried to press her doctors to start her cancer radiation treatments more quickly, they would just give her a pill and she would die. The treatment was delayed and delayed. And she did die.
It is my duty, my great responsibility, to report these facts. Doctors are burying their mistakes and the living are afraid and grieving.
Stop blaming the victims ! The cover-ups must stop ! Who is responsible ?
Here are some articles I have written on this subject.
CRIMINAL ASSAULT IN A MONTREAL HOSPTAL - 2009
HOW WE MIGHT DIE IN HOSPITAL - LEGARE LOBBY BLUES
Cancer Patient Sent Home Without Medication
THE HEALTH CARE TERROR-GO-ROUND
SICK IN JULY, YOU MIGHT DIE