October 12, 2012

WARNING: Patient, heal thyself.

I spent an evening with my mother this week. For 5 hours, while she was in pain and hoping to see a doctor. Where were we? In the new ER of Montreal's Sacre Coeur Hospital, recently renovated with millions of taxpayer dollars - the privilege of living in Canada's highest-taxed province. Oh, it's a beautiful new Emergency Room. Very tastefully designed. Nice use of colours. Big windows.

But no doctors.

Patients are greeted by a machine. When we entered, the screen had gone to sleep, as computer screens do. It looked blank and uninviting. My mother was puzzled. A quick touch re-activated it.

"Push here for a number" the screen commanded.  "Sit in a brown chair." After a short wait, a man's head popped out of a doorway. Look! A live person! We were so excited. so full of hope. Could a doctor be nearby? And accessible?

The next step was registration, where a woman sat behind a large Plexiglass plate. She grunted something about a Medicare card, which my mother dutifully fished out of her purse. We were told to sit in a blue chair.

"How long might the wait be?" I shouted through the Plexiglass (in French, of course, the hospital is notoriously unilingual, their web site doesn't even offer an English version). The woman shook her head violently. No answer required - in fact, you're not even supposed to ask. Hospital ER personnel are told not to respond to any questions about waiting times. Posters on the walls shout VERBAL ABUSE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. That speaks for itself, doesn't it?

There were 16 sparkly new examination rooms. All with big wooden doors. There could have been one doctor at work. Or none. I counted about 30 people waiting. Every once in a while, a loud squawk would pierce our eardrums.  What? Who? Where? We strained to listen. I got hungry and wandered through empty corridors, only to be stopped by a guard and told that the cafeteria was closed. Automated machines only. Go back! Sit down! Be quiet!

Not once did someone appear to see if anyone required assistance. An elderly gentleman lay with his head in a friend's lap. A child with a cut on her forehead ran around. A friend sat with his buddy in a wheelchair, holding crutches. The loud-speaker whined and people shuffled off. From one minute to the next, we waited. And waited. And waited. Hope springs eternal.

At 10 p.m., we gave up. I went back to Plexiglass Patty, to let her know we were leaving. She shrugged her shoulders. Who cares? This hospital has already been investigated for letting someone die. And this just adds to the horror stories from other parts of the country.

So here we are, in the midst of a broken public system. What's a gal in pain gotta do? Hospitals are telling people to stay away from the ER unless it's an emergency. Yet my mother's doctor told her to go to the ER if she was in pain, because it's now the best place to get access to the machines.

Yup. Machines that tell you where to sit. Machines that dispense numbers. Machines that sell stale food. Machines that take your money for 5 hours of parking. BLEEP.


  1. Nice try Lorrie. But I've been doing six hour stints on a regular basis, and for the longest of times. I remember once when I managed to pull off a nine hour piece. We had a couple of kiddies doing experimental jazz with nothing but their own voices. They must have been practicing at home - you could tell from those high pitched notes that they could keep up for an eternity. Even whith all that entertainment going on, some managed to fall asleep in their chairs. At least, I thought they were asleep. It was a memorable event that I will never forget. Especially the kiddies.
    I'm not an egocentric person by any means and I don't mean to brag, but I have started preparing for an all-nighter. Now, I don't know when it will happen but I have already gotten my lululemon things ready and waiting. I'm now looking for a pair of slippers. Nothing too fancy, as long as they are comfy ...


    1. Make sure you get a photo of yourself in your Lululemon things, George. And never mind the slippers, it's street shoes only in case the place gets raided by the disease police.

  2. I enjoyed reading this article....you should send it to the hospital ..our medical system is sad, so sad......

  3. Great blog. Everyone who has spent any time in the ER can relate to this story. So the question is, if so many of us have had to deal with this situation, why has it not changed. Because private care will soon become the norm and for those of us who cannot afford it, we have a 5-8 hour wait in a blue chair.


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