The other day EMS brought in a 58-year-old man to a certain Toronto-area hospital. His chief complaint? He had broken a toe nail. Left great toe, to be exact.
Now, I have a ten-dollar bill that says you think you know where I’m going with this: stupid ambulance-calling patient abusing the system, har-har, look at the dummy. Right?
One of my spies tells me there is a nurse at this hospital who posts tales of triage on her public Facebook page. She nailed — she thought — this particular patient just after Christmas, and didn’t bother to change the details of the chief complaint much to protect confidentiality.* Nor did she much conceal her contempt for this particular patient.
The detail the nurse neglected to mention on Facebook was this patient’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. He was just beginning to have some very serious cognitive problems; he called EMS when his toe began to bleed, then became quite agitated. His wife thought there was something seriously wrong.
Maybe not so funny now, right? Maybe more a case for social work and home care intervention than public ridicule?
I know there is a veritable cottage industry out there devoted to silly emergency department stories. Patients, in truth, do some very strange and funny things, and sometimes their appearance at the triage desk are for reasons less than credible. Hell, I’ve spun more than a few stories on this blog myself. I hope at the end of it I’ve respected both the patients and their confidentiality. But clearly the nurse above crossed a line. To me it feels abusive and frankly, rotten. There’s a huge confidentiality issue. The context was deliberately left out: it’s not funny at all if you know the circumstances. The patient and family are in a particularly vulnerable situation.
But the question I have to ask is, where exactly is that line, and how do we know when we’ve crossed it?
*I have, however.