Woke up this morning and saw this in my newsreader, the story of an elderly woman dying in a Quebec emergency department after (allegedly) waiting six hours to see a physician:
Last Tuesday, Therese de Repentigny’s daughter took her to the hospital after she began complaining of pain. De Repentigny, 78, was seen by a triage nurse and then told to wait.
De Repentigny’s daughter, Fernande Blais, says her mother got up from her hospital stretcher several times, asking to see a doctor. However, she was repeatedly told she would have to wait.
“No one came. The entire night was spent that way,” Blais told CTV Montreal.
Shortly before midnight, de Repentigny was scheduled for blood work and an ultrasound, but first she wanted to use the bathroom.
When she got up she grabbed the wall, telling her daughter she wasn’t feeling well before collapsing to the floor. Blais called for help, and eventually had to leave her mother’s side to find a doctor.
You get the impression from the story that this unfortunate woman was essentially left to rot by uncaring staff.* This may or may not be true: the hospital claims de Repentigny was actively receiving care. In fact, we are confounded in making sense of this story, by the lack of information. We don’t know the details of her presenting complaint, whether her vital signs were stable when she arrived, what nursing and medical care she received, and so on. We don’t know if her syncope in the toilet was related to her initial complaint, or if she went into cardiac arrest for reasons completely unrelated to her visit: this happens more often than the public might suppose.
There are reasons for this paucity of information. Reporters don’t have the knowledge — or dare I say it, the interest or time — to pick out the nuances in a case like this, and there are more than a few. It’s a quick win for them to link this incident with the case of Brian Sinclair, though the circumstances between the two appear to be much different. Hospitals cannot give out confidential information about patients, and in essence, the only account we have is from family members distraught by a grievous loss.
The point is, like most health care horror stories in the media, we aren’t given enough information to make any definitive conclusions at all and yet we are left at the end of the story with larger cultural memes validated. Our expectations are confirmed. We all know the story of The Nasty Nurse and the particularly Canadian motif of Our Failing Health Care System, don’t we?
*On the other hand, Jesus wept, if the incident recounted at the end of CTV’s story is true.
[UPDATE: inserted links I inexplicably forgot to put in.]