This week, my family had the misfortune to have to deal with Canada’s health care system. It was a very mixed experience. It began on Sunday evening, when my lovely wife tipped the pasta pot and poured boiling water over her hand and forearm. She was scalded quite severely, and although we quickly got it under cold water, there was some blistering. She was in a lot of pain so we headed to the ER at the new South Calgary Health Centre. It wasn’t busy at all, and we were very quickly seen by a triage nurse and rushed into treatment. A nurse and doctor were quickly on the scene and immersed her arm in cold water and then assessed the burn. They were friendly, helpful and showed genuine concern. They dressed the injury with some silver-impregnated sponges to prevent infection and wrapped up her hand and arm to protect the injury. They indicated that due to the extent and severity they wanted us to see the experts at the Burn Unit at the Foothills Hospital.
Monday, the burn unit called and we headed there to get it redressed and to assess the extent of damage and whether she might need physiotherapy to prevent scarring, particularly on the hand. However, the service at the Burn Unit Rehabilitation section was much less pleasant. After checking in, we had to wait some time after the appointment time, and a woman came to get us and rather grumpily called my wife’s name. She then led us back through the rehab clinic at a very slow pace. Once in a treatment area, she starting cutting the old dressing from my wife’s arm without even telling us who she was. When asked if she was a nurse or was the person we had the appointment with, she rather rudely said “No, I’m Lidia and we don’t have nurses here”. My wife looked at me with a face that said “is the janitor changing my dressing?” We inquired further and she said she was a physiotherapist. She cleaned my wife’s arm and then said she would get the other therapist we were scheduled to see. That therapist showed up and did assess and redress the injury – when she placed the silver-laced sponge pad, my wife told her the ER had used more of that material to cover the wound that she was doing – she said “We don’t do that because this stuff is expensive”. My wife asked where we could buy it if the health care system was going to be cheap. The therapist then used some cream on my wife’s arm that she said would help it heal.
Two days later, my wife’s arm was sore and red so we went back to the South Calgary ER. Again, it was quiet – the wait time screen said it was 1:15 to be seen, which seemed reasonable, even though the waiting room was nearly empty. At a desk as you enter the ER waiting room there were two Alberta Health Services staff – young women dressed in scrubs who may have been nurses – but we didn’t inquire. They seemed bored and no doing anything. There is a lot of signage directing visitors to Triage and Admitting, so we went where we needed to be. We asked the Triage nurse what those women were doing there and were told “that is the information desk”. It seemed odd to us that in a quiet ER with clear signage that you would need TWO people to sit and answer questions from no one.
To close the medical story, we were quickly seen by a doctor and medical student. They assessed the injury and thought perhaps it was an allergic reaction. They washed the arm and gave my wife an antihistamine, and then redressed the wound. This seemed to work nicely and she is now well on her way to healing.
In both of our visits to the South Calgary ER we were in and out in under an hour. Best time ever in an ER. But the Foothills burn unit was unpleasant. You would think that in a place where many patients are suffering from severe injuries the staff would at least TRY to put on a friendly face rather than being grumpy and unpleasant.
And it is funny to me that someone in the burn unit is worried about spending money on a medical supply than might cost a few dollars while AHS spends money on TWO medical staff sitting at an information desk when there is almost no one around asking questions… Clearly the message about money isn’t hitting at all levels.