Anger, Fear and Stress: There is Something Wrong with Healthcare!

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Malaysia, 2011

Malaysia, 2011

I wanted to calm down and step back before writing this article. I wanted the experience to be over and behind us for good.

But I don’t know if it’s over and I’m still angry, so maybe writing will help, after all.

The beginning of every fairy tale is “once upon a time…”. At home, troubles start with “fuck, Mark is sick again”. It’s been a cold spring and we have been trading germs since we came back from our trip. For the past three months, at least one of us was more or less sick at any given time.

After I spent Mother’s Day cleaning various body fluids, it became clear that we weren’t sending Mark to daycare on Monday. We activated “survival mode”, i.e. trying to get Mark better at home without catching his virus and while dealing with our regular workload—ah, ah, good luck with that. We braced ourselves for a couple of tough days and hoped for the best.

But Mark was not getting better. We spent sleepless nights listening to him cough non-stop and he wasn’t keeping any food down. We gave him over-the-counter medicine and tried all the home remedies we knew.

Feng drove from one walk-in clinic to another: they were packed with a posted three- to four-hour wait-time. He turned around. The last few times we went to the doctor, the diagnosis had been “a simple virus” and the advice was invariably to “wait it out”. I can’t stress enough how exhausting it is to wait for hours to see a doctor and to be sent home after a five-minute exam. “Just come back next week if he’s still sick!” And then what? Wait for another four hours? How sick do you want him to be, exactly?

That Wednesday, we decided to take Mark to CHEO, the pediatric hospital. Nurses at triage listened to Mark’s lungs. He had a fever and he was very congested. I knew that. “Did you try Ventolin?” the nurse asked. The last time he had a similar cold, a doctor had prescribed Ventolin (i.e. asthma medication) and a cortisone-based inhaler. I shrugged. “Yes. But he doesn’t seem to work. I think there is an infection.” And I wasn’t too keen on the cortisone, considering it’s a steroid and that the box read “for kids 12 and older”.

As far as I know, Mark doesn’t have asthma. Of course, I’m not a doctor, but I know the symptoms (I had asthma when I was a kid) and I’ve known Mark since the second he came out of me. Mark never has trouble breathing… except when he is sick. Asthma-like breathing is the consequence of a virus or infection, not the cause. I’m not in denial: if Mark had asthma, we would treat it. But Ventolin here felt like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches.

The nurse handed me some Ventolin. “Here. Give him four puffs every twenty minutes until the doctor calls you.”

I wanted to scream STOP WITH THE FUCKING VENTOLIN ALREADY!

But of course, I didn’t. Every twenty minutes, I gave Mark Ventolin.

An hour later, a doctor came and listened to his lungs. I explained that we had all been sick with the same virus for weeks, that we couldn’t get rid of it. She shrugged. “There’s nothing to do, you have to wait it out.” I wanted to bang my head against the wall. “Okay, your son has trouble breathing. We are going to give him Ventolin and Cortisone.”

Oh my fucking God.

They put a mask on Mark and pumped Ventolin and Cortisone into him. Mark wasn’t happy with it and we tried to distract him. Every half an hour, a nurse came and added another dose into the machine. Mark was growing more and more tired and agitated. “Steroids make kids hyper,” she said.

I looked at the clock. We had been there for a few hours already.

“Does he want to eat something?”

“Probably not,” I replied. “He coughs so much that he can’t keep food down.”

“Oh… maybe he will want to order something from the menu tonight.”

Tonight?

“Wait… tonight?” I asked. “How long are we going to be here? And what’s the plan, exactly?”

“Oh, more Ventolin. We can’t let you go until he breathing is better. Maybe overnight.” She shrugged.

I took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry but I don’t want him to stay overnight unless there is a plan or an option other than Ventolin. And with all due respect, I have no idea what’s going on and I’d like to know. We came to CHEO because our son has been sick for a little while. I know he is coughing a lot and he is congested. The last time it happened, antibiotics cleared it up. I don’t understand why you are pumping him full of Ventolin.”

“Well, he has asthma…”

“No he doesn’t. The three of us have the same virus. My husband is coughing. I’m coughing. We don’t all have asthma! We need to treat the virus or infection, not the symptoms.”

I sounded more confrontational than I wanted but trust me, I remained polite. I was scared mostly. They had been pumping Ventolin into Mark for hours by then, he wasn’t any better and now he was hyper. We had seen the doctor for about five minutes. We were going nowhere.

“It’s not safe for you to go until his breathing is better. But fine, I’ll get the doctor to talk to you.”

The nurse left and we waited for the doctor. And waited.

And suddenly Mark started coughing again and he threw up on the floor. Feng and I cleaned him up, cleaned us up.

No one came. And trust me, we were loud enough in the exam room. I think I even shouted “oh fuck!” when Mark threw up.

We waited again… and Feng and I looked at each other. “Let’s go.”

So we grabbed Mark and left CHEO. No one asked us anything, no one came over, no one called. I’m not proud of leaving like that… but I was terrified. I didn’t feel I could trust the hospital.

I realize I sound completely paranoid and maybe irrational. I’m not usually like that, I trust health care professionals. But not being taken seriously and not being listened to is a terrifying feeling.

We went home and monitored Marl closely. I wasn’t sure what to expect after that much Ventolin. He napped and seemed better afterwards. Luckily, we are close to the Civic Hospital, so I figured we would rush there if needed.

Mark wasn’t doing any better the rest of the week. Finally, on Friday, Feng tried another walk-in clinic again.

“He has pneumonia,” the doctor diagnosed after two minutes. “Why didn’t you come earlier?”

“We went to see doctors! We went to CHEO!” Feng protested. “They told us he had asthma and that we had to wait it out!”

The doctor prescribed a chest x-ray and… yes, a five-day course of antibiotics.

We had the x-ray done on the Monday. The results we sent back to the doctor who called to confirm it was pneumonia. “I’m worried, “I admitted. “He is still coughing…” The doctor cut me off. “I can’t give you more than five days of antibiotics. Get another x-ray done in a month to make sure it’s gone. Bye.”

And that was it. This is where we are at now. Mark finished the antibiotics. Feng and I are completely paranoid now. Is he better? He is still coughing a bit. We get up in the middle of the night to see if he has fever. We worry the virus isn’t gone. Feng is sick too and of course, he wasn’t prescribed antibiotics. He was told to “wait it out”.

All these years I have always defended our healthcare system. “Sure, it’s hard to access it, but the quality of care is good.”

I don’t think so, now.  I no longer trust the healthcare system.

Feng and I keep on wondering how we could have handled things better. There is always a lesson to learn, right? Except this time, I think we did everything we were supposed to. We kept Mark home, gave him over-the-counter medicine, sought help when it wasn’t working. Help wasn’t provided.

Two weeks of hell, stress and worries. A small financial disaster as well, since we can’t really work “normally” while having Mark and at home but of course, we still pay the regular daycare fees.

The feeling that absolutely no one is listening to us is awful. We are decent people. We aren’t confrontational, we trust professionals. we listen. But no one listens to us. When you spend hours waiting to see a doctor and that said doctor spends five minutes top with you and tells you that “it’s just a virus” and recommends aspirin or paracetamol, there is something wrong with the system. The result? We all walk around sick, spread it around and we never get better.

“Antibiotics” are becoming the new f-word here. Getting a prescription is harder than scoring illegal drugs. I never wanted Mark to take antibiotics, much like I never wanted him to ever eat fast food, cry, get bloody knees and be disappointed. But there’s theory and practice. Antibiotics work and no, you can’t treat pneumonia with aspirin… or fucking Ventolin.

I can be a mother, a writer, an entertainer, a maid, a cook… but I can’t be Mark’s doctor. This is not my job. Yet, I feel I can no longer trust doctors here.

I’m still angry and I don’t know what to do.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

27 Comments

  1. FOR FUCK SAKE!!!
    A pneumonia!!!!!!!!!!
    It makes me so mad. Soooo mad.
    Ne pas être pris au sérieux par le personnel médical est la pire chose qu’il puisse arriver, et celle qui me rend le plus en colère. Ça m’est arrivé des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, la différence étant qu’en France tu as un tas de plan B, et un médecin généraliste que tu as choisis, qui te connait, et qui est bien formé.
    Une putain de pneumonie. C’est hallucinant…

    • J’ai les boules, vraiment. Le pire, c’est que je savais ce qu’il avait, enfin à peu près, je sentais que “ça tombait sur les bronches” comme on dit chez moi. Mais tu te heurtes à des murs. Je ne sais plus quoi penser… c’est juste tellement frustrant quand les visites sont chronométrées et que personne ne t’écoute. Je ne suis pas le parent chiant qui regarde les symptômes en ligne et qui sait mieux que le docteur, mais par contre, je sais décrire ce que je vois. Et personne ne nous a écouté.

  2. I’m so sorry you went through all that, how scary! It happened to me in Scotland and I nearly died of an allergic reaction (the doctor told me to steam my face…). Thank god Jamie was there to take me to hospital.
    I can’t believe the doctors repeatedly ignored you and treated you so badly. Do you have a GP? Maybe you could find a different family doctor? If you can I mean. I’m not sure how hard it is where you are…
    I hope little Mark gets much better soon as well as Feng.
    And you’re so right to be angry!
    Also, now I feel selfish to have bothered you with my stuff when you clearly had a lot on your plate

    • Nan mais tu ne m’as pas dérangé du tout hein, ça va, j’ai quelques minutes quand même 😆 Franchement…!

      In theory we have a GP, well, Mark and I share the same GP. Problem is, she is very paternalistic and is also anti antibiotics and we have issues communicating. More prosaically, the last two times I tried to get an appointment, I was told to go to the walk-in clinic because she wasn’t available anyway.

      • I don’t know how hard it would be but I ended up getting a new GP after a couple of years here since I didn’t like mine (well I didn’t like him dealing with my lady parts, I was used to a gyno).
        Since yours is not available when needed it might be an idea

        • The problem is the shortage of GP in Ontario. Took me… seven years to find a GP and officially, I’m still on the provincial list for a match. Crazy.

  3. You have my sympathy. My daughter who is of the same age as Mark felt sick last December. She had lung infection. We were given 7 days of ventolin (2x daily) and 10 days of antibiotics. I was questioning the doctor why giving 10 days and she explained it is small dose daily but since she’s young, that’s the standard treatment in France for kids with pneumonia. A treatment of 5 days is not effective. And we did an X-ray to confirm the diagnostic to begin the treatment of antibiotics and another X-ray 1 month later. It’s true that after 10 days of antibiotics, she continue to cough for another week or two but it is less severe. So, don’t panic, it’s normal that kids will continue to cough for another week. As long as there’s no fever, he’s fine. I bought her bronchokid which is an over counter medicine to fluidify the phlegm so that it’s easier for her to cough out what fell into the lungs. Cross your finger that 5 days is enough for him. The doctor may have given a stronger dose with a shorter treatment period. I wish I can send you the remaining of her antibiotics , antibiotics is also the new f-word in France for a certain doctors. I’m lucky with my family doctor.

    • I’m sorry your daughter had it too! Bronchitis and respiratory infections seem to be very common among young children and it’s hard to see them sick, coughing so much! Was it completely gone on the second x-ray? I feel like an idiot now because the doctor told us to get another x-ray in a month but guess what… we don’t have a prescription for it! He wrote the first one and since it’s a walk-in clinic doctor, it’s unlikely we will ever meet him again.

      I don’t understand why antibiotics are so taboo now. I understand the risk to develop “super germs” but at the same time, antibiotics CURE stuff so it’s all about balance. There are age ranges where antibiotics are more common, including among young kids when they start school and maybe for weaker people or elderly people. I took antibiotics when I was a kid and I haven’t taken any in the past… many years because (at least before Mark) I wasn’t as exposed to germs.

  4. Chiruza Canadiense on

    May I ask you which drug was he prescribed ? What’s the name of it ?

    In Argentina, we use a drug called Azitromizina…you take it from three to five days in case of bronchitis (I have no idea if for phneumonia it’s the exact same drug). I totally love it….I might be throwing my lungs out everytime I caugh, but with Azitromizina down my veins, the world seems better. And yes….you can buy it without a prescription. Actually, you can buy almost any medicin without a prescription in Argentina.

    I think that the lesson learned is….never EVER take him again to CHEO ! Shame on them !

    I’ve heard that some Canadians, taking advantage of how close they are to The States, decide to buy private health insurance there and, is sth happens, they just drive to The States in order to see a doctor. Have you considered doing so ? Is that too crazy ?

    Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you…..I don’t even want to navigate the healthcare system here in Canada. Yes, I applied to l’assurance maladie and all, but still not planning to use it. My “brillant” plan so far is to eat well, try to stay as healthy as I can….and make a 2-week trip every year to Argentina to have my health checked there. 🙁

    • At one point, I was so frustrated that I did suggest crossing the border. I may have done it if we had been close to a big city, but the closest place, Ogdensburg, doesn’t have much. Plus it’s not fun nor practical to travel with a sick kid :-/

      I’ll check the antibiotics and write down the name of yours! Too lazy to go check right now.

      The problem is with the “health check at home” method is that you often have to see a doctor at one point when you are sick, can’t really plan that.

  5. Oh wow, I’m really surprised about your experience at CHEO… I totally can relate to your frustration about the Canadian Health care system though! Been there!

    I think you need to write CHEO and let them know they missed a pneumonia diagnosis. Worse, they gave Ventolin to a kid with a fever, a clear sign of infection. I’m no doctor either mind you, but it seems that a nurse should not have made that call. They’re always looking for feedback, so they might actually like to know.

    Anyway, sounds like you need a good family doctor. So far, mine has been great, let me know if you want to give him a try . The walk-in clinic system is a total sham, you can’t rely on it…

  6. OMG, I held my breath while reading this! Agree with @Chiruza, is it possible for you to cross the border?
    here, some middle class people also fly to Singapore or Penang (Malaysia) to have second option. Their medic team treat us better.
    get well soon, cute boy!

    • Medical tourism is a thing on this continent too and I’m starting to understand why. Americans cross here for cheap healthcare, we cross over there for specialists. Seems like a crazy thing to do just for a common virus/infection though, a bit drastic.

  7. How frustrating!! You’re supposed to be able to trust professionals. Like you said, you can fill many roles but you can only take Dr. Mom so far without having studied medicine. Yet in this case your instincts, observation, and knowledge of Mark were of the utmost importance. Terrible that you have to be so vigilant to make sure Mark gets a proper diagnosis and care. Hope you all feel better soon!

    • I think in a way we were (are?) “lucky” to have the same virus/infection as him. It was pretty obvious that he hadn’t caught a rare and mysterious illness, it was just commonsense, he was sick and so were we. That’s also why I kind of dismiss the “asthma” thing. Feng doesn’t have asthma yet he had the same symptoms. Yet, it’s very uncomfortable to play doctor… I don’t want to.

  8. Aww, I understand your anger … I think that the fact a child is sick makes it worst than if it was an adult!

    I’m in no way trying to excuse our healthcare and its inexcusable delays but I find that even in France where access is easy (but not always cheap in Paris) MD’s tend to make patients feel guilty (either you’re too sick or not sick enough) and are not very good listeners. They “know” what you have and you can’t change their minds. I was told for the last three years that the pain in my arm was only in my head … until it got to the point that I was too handicapped to work. And still my doctor told me to wait it out and go back to work because “it would not get worst”!! I was so angry with him that I have since switched GP.

    We are lucky that as educated people we can kind of figure out what’s going on and follow-up with care. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people without the tools to comprehend what’s going on.

    I guess that even though you must be tired and anxious, the best thing for you is to see yet another doctor. Maybe a Pediatrician would be more caring with Mark (I know they are not easy to find!). I have read in La Presse that some hospitals now allow children to bypass the general emergency and go directly to the pediatrics floor.

    In any case, I hope that Mark gets better soon … and that you won’t have to stress to much to find proper care for him.

    • Thank you!

      I’ve heard that the French system changed a lot in the past ten years and I don’t think it would be wise for me to claim that it’s better in France. I can only compare to my experience as a kid until my late teens, where we had a good GP who did home visits in the afternoon and where you never waited more than… an hour maybe? Specialists are a different story. I’ve heard that you can wait months for a gynecologist or an ophthalmologist.

      I had high hopes for CHEO because it is a pediatric hospital 🙁

  9. I really appreciate this post. I also had a very unhelpful visit to CHEO this winter with my son and after consulting many professionals locally and NO results finally I found a medical expert in another country and we are being monitored by him. With the co-operation of my family doctor and this expert, we finally got some results. I believe in accessing the world medical system when need be. Private health care is essential to have alongside our public system.

    • I’m really sorry to hear you had a bad experience at CHEO. If you don’t mind, can you share how you manage to get an expert from a different country? I’m curious about the “logistic”. And I hope your son was able to get treatment and help!

  10. I can sympathize with the fact that Mark had a pneumonia. H. had one when he was 18 months and the guilt that I felt. It was in freaking August! He had had a cold for some time and one night we picked him up from day care and he was wheezing. So we went to the children’s hospital and thankfully he was correctly diagnosed from the start but we learnt that we had one lung that had completely shut down. Thankfully the antibiotics helped him and he got the all clear afterwards but the Guilt stayed for some time. As parents we do are best but as you say we are not doctors. It’s is only normal that we should not expect the worse when our kids are sick. I hope you will all be better soon. It sucks when you go through the sickness phase and cannot get out of it!

    • Thank you for your compassion! Did you do a second x-ray after a month?

      Yes, like you say, guilt and frustration… I mean, kids get sick, it’s not fun in the first place, but it’s a necessary phase. The key is to deal with it efficiently.

  11. That’s awful! I really hope Mark’s better.

    It’s unbelievable and very scary, and CHEO being so candid and unprofessional; isn’t there a complaint procedure, where such carelessness could be reported or escalated. I wonder if this is a top down approach or just the staff and doctors being buggers

    I hope you guys get better and soon.

    • I don’t really see a way or a reason to complain to be honest. Proper procedures were followed… the local way. I think the issue rest with the entire system :-/

  12. Ici nous avons un hôpital pour enfants et j’ai aussi repéré, outre son médecin habituel, un sans rdv pour les enfants où je suis déjà allée qqfois. T’es tu fait donner qq adresses du genre? Quand j’ai emmené B. à l’hôpital pour la gastro, on m’a dirigé vers la deuxième salle d’attente sans passer par le triage, en m’expliquant que c’était normal, on avait compris le problème juste en nous voyant (en gros). Moi j’attendais après le triage pour avoir des tylenol pr elle car la fièvre revenait mais je n’avais rien osé redonner pour qu’ils prennent la juste mesure de sa température. J’ai avisé une pancarte qui disait “si l’état de votre enfant empire, revenez nous voir au triage”. Elle gémissait sans cesse alors qu bout de 30 minutes j’ai pris mon courage à deux mains (je suis très timide) et j’ai frappé à la porte comme on se lance dans une bataille. Finalement j’ai rapidement obtenu gain de cause, et devant l’air de la petite, l’infirmière l’a passée en “urgent”. Mais tu vois, juste en la regardant, la réception avait décidé que son cas pouvait attendre…

      • Du soluté de réhydratation en bâtons glacés, ça a fait des miracles chez nous. Mais par pitié protege toi à fond et lave tout… J’étais sûre que ça s’attrapait pas facilement et résultat… Et pour la toux donne lui de la propolis, ça peut pas lui faire de mal. Ou l’oignon coupé. Ca a l’air d’être des trucs de granos, mais ça marche super bien chez nous

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