Really there isn’t much point in re-writing what happened next, when I did a pretty good job of it the first time around back in January. I did edit it a little, though.
You’ll note a touch of venom in the post, which is understandable. From my perspective it felt like this whole situation was an avoidable cock-up, and maybe it was. But it’s also unfair to react with hostility to people who are both doing their job and doing what they think is right. I still think our healthcare system needs some adjustments to it, and in lieu of a better idea, I stand by my thoughts about patients having professional advocates.
So this happened…
(Originally posted January 25th, 2012:)
So my uncle Dan is in the hospital. His liver is more or less shutting down and he required a LeVeen shunt to keep the fluid moving in his body. Weird little device that takes the backed up fluid from his abdomen and puts it into the superior vena cava, which is post-liver and therefore bypassing it entirely.
Dan’s situation is a comedy (or tragedy) of errors, most of which stem from a medical system that does not seem to believe in an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure. The shunt got infected (possibly from his mouth, possibly from the open wound from the operation that took two weeks to heal) and now has to be removed.
Getting him to the hospital was an ordeal. Dan lives on a mountain, and the infection hit right after the only major snowstorm BC has had all year. The roads hadn’t been cleared yet, my uncle Moe almost went over a cliff trying to drive up to his place. The ambulance couldn’t even reach him. He was hallucinating and in and out of consciousness when they finally got to him – by the time he was lucid again he was in the hospital in Abbotsford. It took days for them to get him to Vancouver General Hospital. They did so because they said they had a room for him, only when he got there he didn’t, and spent the night in Emergency.
I visited Dan there the other day. First thing he did was complement my choice of hat. Clearly his faculties and sense of good taste has been left intact.
His stomach was starting to swell again. He’s thin other than that, both arms heavily bruised from all the tubes stuck into him the last few days. His voice is strong, but barely sounds like the Dan I knew as a kid. But he’s there, you can see it in his eyes. Maybe his ears. They always were on the big side.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I saw was a hernia he has – I kid you not, it was the size of a baseball. It reminded me of Quatto from the movie Total Recall. I kept expecting it to grow arms and a face and say “Quaaaaaiddd… Remember…!” It’s a testament to Dan’s health that he could laugh at a joke like that, I wasn’t about to let such an obvious thing slip by without comment.
Though I only saw him in the emergency bed he’s able to get up and about on his own fine, it seems. He wanted to go to the cafeteria when I dropped by, but nurses and orderlies were puttering in and out with questions, taking tests, and looking for more veins to stick tubes into. He’d brought his new Amazon Kindle with him, something I think he’s still learning how to use. I took it home with me so I could upload a few mystery books I figured he’d like and plan to take it back with to him today. Against my better judgement, I included a Dan Brown book with them.
I learned that the shunt they used was – for some unfathomable reason – an outdated model. The doctors looking at it said it should never have been used in the first place. Which begs the question: why the hell did they? Did they have a bunch of army surplus shunts that they needed to use up first? Were the newer shunts being saved for younger people? Seriously, what gives?
But it’s all politics. No, not politics, bureaucracy. Politics is all about people using the system to screw the other party, and there’s nothing malicious about what happens in Canada’s health care system. The problem seems to me that the system in place has one overriding goal – to keep the system going. The rest is a secondary byproduct. It reminds me of the legal system that way. And the worst part is it feels like it’s geared towards putting off comparatively minor problems until they become huge life threatening problems. This is no way to run a ship.
Which gets me thinking. Why don’t patients have medical advocates? Someone with medical knowledge whose job it is to understand what their client needs, and how to best use the system to get it? The doctors themselves are supposed to do this, but they handle tons of patients all the time, and we see them prioritizing based on a different set of criteria – that same criteria that results in problems being ignored until they can’t be anymore. Putting things off because they’re not a priority is not a way to solve a problem – that’s bailing water while the hole is still flooding the ship.
I really want to believe in Canada’s health care system, but the way they’ve handled Dan’s case does not fill me with confidence.