My Father Died Twice, and I Couldn’t Save Him Either Time: Part 2
My father died because of me.
My parents were born into poverty, and not the luxurious type of poverty whereby you are poor but have an abundance of social services, food banks, and free medical care to help with the forgotten basic needs of food, shelter and water.My parents were both born into third world poverty.On top of this they were subject to both direct and indirect, both mental and physical, both in the workplace and outside the workplace, racism and discrimination throughout their lives, some of which threatened their lives and the life of their family.
But their incredible resilience, their formidable tenacity, their insatiable work ethic, and their undying love for their family lifted and pushed them forward.
When my father returned from his first death, my mother and him were labelled "RAM TOUGH" by Camrose, ironic only because my father had never owned anything except a GM for 30 years. He came back from a developing country (previously designated as 'third world') whereby every major organ system had shut down and collapsed multiple times, and my Mom was able to advocate and fight for him within their healthcare system. And you know what the absolute crazy thing about it was?She was actually able to advocate for him, for her husband, for my father, in their healthcare system, and people listened to her and fought with her, side by side as a team, to save his life.
Isn't that just crazy?
Now they are back in Canada: a developed country, that even now tells us on a weekly basis in press conferences that we have one of the best health care systems in the world.
I can tell you without any doubt in my mind that my father suffered numerous setbacks over those next five years BECAUSE of our supposed excellent and top notch health care system.
We talk a big game in Canada: that we care about preventive health; that we are always looking out for the patient; that we provide team based care aimed at supporting people when they cannot take care of themselves. I think we can all agree that most of this fell ridiculously short in the last 20 months where we failed as a nation to adequately protect our most vulnerable, which does not only include the elderly, but also the ignorant. We have so many national and provincial experiments happening that Canadian scientists will be publishing top notch, population level research articles for the next 10 years. What does that mean? It simply means, for example, that most of the decisions around vaccines, the rollout, and opening plans are based on scientific evidence that can be backed by financial and economic decision making, NOT the other way around. Now don't get me wrong: the vaccines themselves have always been our endgame for this pandemic, and I have said that from the very beginning of this thing.But how the governments organized its procurement and delivery is a ridiculous disappointment. We are still in the pandemic. Let me say that in a different way so that even the ignorant might understand … people all over the world are still dying from a disease that now has a preventable treatment. But everybody has to get the full set of vaccinations. Otherwise, our number one health care system will be continually hit with these waves of overuse and overcapacity, by a virus that had a warmup session (SARS,) where we did quite well, so you would think that Canada wouldn't have done so shitty as a country. Do I think we will have more "waves"?God I hope not, but opening up so that anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers can have the best summer ever at Stampede… well ….
But I digress.
Over those next five years, my father had his leg amputated because his doctors didn't believe in accessibility and preventative care. For him (like many others) he was unable to see his family doctor for urgent concerns because his doctor did not have a process to deal with urgent patient issues. Afterwards, he was blamed for "not taking better care of yourself".
Over those next five years, my Father saw his renal function plummet because his doctors didn't listen to the signs and symptoms that him or my mother were trying to explain to them over multiple appointments. For him (like many others) he had a family doctor's clinic that did not provide comprehensive team based preventative care that allows patients to discuss multiple issues at once. Afterwards, he was blamed for "not taking better care of yourself".
Over those next five years, his memory declined because doctors refused to monitor him properly while he was admitted to the hospital. Let me emphasize again, he was f%^&ing admitted to the top hospital in Edmonton. My mother advocated and fought for better monitoring of his oxygen levels, and was at worst ignored, but more routinely labelled as a "difficult family member". It does not take very long for decreased oxygen to the brain to cause damage, a change that we saw overnight while he was being ignored continuously by his health care team. Afterwards, he was blamed for having too many health care problems and that "this is just something that can happen when you don't take better care of yourself".
Over those next five years, he was routinely made fun of and shamed by nursing when he was admitted to the hospital for asking for help in the night to go to the bathroom when my mother was not at his bedside. Afterwards, when he had accidents, they yelled at him, called him derogatory names, forced catheters and other measures upon him because nursing did not want to deal with him at night.
From the moment you mention you want to be a doctor, you are asked "why", and we are coached to ensure we discuss how altruistic, compassionate, and empathetic we are or want to be during our answer.
Do you want to know what my answer was?
I'm pissed off that my Father's health was treated better in a developing country than in Canada. Than in Alberta. There are so many ignorant and entitled health care professionals and health care leaders that can say the words "patient and family centric care", when what they really mean is "patient and family centric care that costs the least amount, bothers the least amount of health workers, and satisfies the lifestyle that nurses and doctors are accustomed to living". Seeing my Father's reaction every time his health got worse, and being told that it was basically his fault really fucking pissed me off. For so many doctors, social accountability means little to nothing. My Father was a proud man, so I did not hear about him being ridiculed by nursing for asking for help at night for a long long time, and h-o-l-y shit did I absolutely lose it when I was finally told.Too many times it is someone else's fault as to why we can't treat patients the way they should be treated, too many times was his health ignored by the very people getting paid a lot to do their job which was...drum roll please...to take care of his health and not shove catheters in him because they were too fucking lazy to get up off their ass to actually do their job and take care of their patient. But most of all, I'm pissed off that I didn't go into medicine sooner to become a physician so that I could have saved my Father's life.
Because you see, during those 5 years I had not started my medical journey yet. Truth be told, when my father died, he did not even know I had applied to medicine yet, which I did the month before his death, and found out I was a successful applicant 7 months after he died.
My father underwent a routine replacement of his ICD (implantable cardioverter-debribrillator), a day surgery procedure, whereby it is implanted, he is monitored for a while and then sent home. Over the next few days, he was more tired and fatigued, which he was told by three physicians was normal following such a procedure.
He started to cough up and vomit what could only be described as coffee grounds, which of course he had never ingested. He also had some odd stools during those days, mostly black.Both for which he was told by three physicians, including his family physician, to just monitor as it could have been something he ate and should resolve.
Oh! Whoa whoa whoa. Hold on. Fatigue. Tiredness. Coffee ground vomit. Black stools. Let me see what Dr Google tells me is a possible diagnosis:
Wow. Comes up in the first hit. At the time in medical school at the U of C, students learned about gastrointestinal bleeds within the first couple of weeks. And the very classic signs of coffee ground emesis (vomit) and melena (black tarry stools) are permanently implanted in their brains as red flags to never ignore.
Yet, my father was ignored by at least three physicians, as well as my partner at the time who was in medical school (needless to say that relationship did not last). After surviving multiple organ failures, multiple codes where he was essentially brought back to life in a developing/third world country's health system, he died because of complications from a routine procedure that was performed in one of the top hospitals in our country.
Do you think any of those health care professionals were sad that this medical error occurred?Do you think the hospital fessed up to lacking basic monitoring and education post-surgery which caused his death?Do I think that physicians should never miss things?
Do I wish that any service provider (be that physician, plumber, mechanic etc) in any industry should never make mistakes?Well of course I do! Who wouldn't want to have their car fixed at one appointment and never have recalls or never need to have multiple appointments to fix the same problem. But that's not realistic.
But, do I believe is that a "world class health care system" should have enough checks and balances so that someone listens to the patient's story, listens to their symptoms, and actually cares enough about the human being in front of them to disregard the statistics and associated financial costs to investigate for something that could be possible simply because they would do so if it was their father, their mother, their wife, their husband, their child?
Yes. 150% yes. My father went from "RAM TOUGH" to weak, disabled, and dead by our world class health care system.
My father died because I was not in medicine yet, because if I was, I would have known the absolute very basics about gastrointestinal bleeds, enough that I could have fought harder for his doctors to listen to his concerns and take his symptoms seriously.
My father died because I was not in medicine yet, and I put so much trust into our world class health care system, with its world class doctors and staff, that when they told my mother multiple times to just go home and it will just get better, we did that.
My father died because I was not in medicine yet, and I was too much of a coward to believe that there was something seriously wrong.
My father died because of me.
I am a physician so that I can advocate from within the system for my family and for my patients, and even then, you have no idea how ridiculously hard it is to convince the non-rural medical elite that we are not provided with enough funding support to do what the elite expects of us. At Riverside Medical, we are not perfect, but we give it 150% every day, and we will continue to find ways to be more efficient with our time and yours. Thank you letting us be a part of your health care team.