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LETTER: Patient observes collapse of health-care system


I finally got in for complex spinal surgery after a three-year wait. My surgery was delayed not due to the lack of a surgeon but due to a shortage of health-care staff, supplies, equipment and infrastructure. I observed this firsthand when I was in the hospital.

Staff shortages were obvious. There were several patients in the hall and the corridors seemed near impassable. When I was moved to the hall, my nurse was still required to care for me and all her other patients.

I observed equipment and supply shortages. For example, my cubicle had no table and my husband had to stand and hold the tray for me while I ate and then he put it on the floor. My adjustable bed only worked some of the time. There was one bathroom for all the patients in my unit and it had a broken TP dispenser and there was garbage on the floor and in the sink and other worn-out structures. I overheard staff looking for supplies and not finding them.

I observed families and patients lashing out at and blaming health-care workers. I was one of those people when I was told I had to move to the hallway! The response from staff was to comfort me and other upset people. Staff apologized for moving me to the hallway, even though they were blameless. The health-care workers I observed were kind and compassionate to patients and families even in this terrible work environment.

I asked to be discharged rather than stay in the hallway where I would neither sleep nor receive enough care. I have support from my husband at home but if I didn’t, I would still be in the hallway.

Because I’ve had many orthopedic surgeries, I knew to contact my family doctor before surgery to get a prescription for pain meds to use after surgery. And indeed, if I didn’t have pain meds at home, I would have been in the hallway, as my attending surgeon could not write a script for the only pain medication I can take without throwing up.

All health-care staff are heroes just for still working in this system.

I’m grateful that I’m able to advocate for myself, I have a supportive spouse at home who can help me, I understand the system, and I do not have dementia. What happens to patients who have none of these?

Diane Guthrie