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Negligence? Incompetence? or Even Soviet Russia did it better


Quick rant on Alberta health care. It SUCKS.  Over the years we’ve had evidence aplenty to witness delays and incompetence on an unimaginable scale, but the consequences of those events has always been mild.  Like the time my cousin broke his thumb, went and spent 7 hours waiting for an x-ray in the emergency room, was sent home and told he’s fine.  THREE DAYS later he received a call, telling him his thumb is in fact broken, they read the wrong x-ray and would he please come back for a splint?  Needless to say, by then, he was splinted up by his parents who did not trust the initial ‘go home you’re fine’, and with good cause.  Or the time my elderly grandma with a broken wrist had her ankles meticulously x-rayed. Or the time my father was given wrong medication. Thankfully none of those mishaps resulted in anything going wrong, it just made for some good anecdotes and head shaking.


This time however, the consequences came perilously close to tragedy. Yesterday morning my brother complained of abdominal pain. By ten AM it was bad enough to go to the hospital with. We all suspected appendicitis, since many in my family had theirs out.  He was given morphine for the pain and kept waiting for many hours until they finally operated. He was wheeled into surgery around eleven hours later.  His appendix was found ruptured, he had peritonitis, and was in real danger of sepsis (blood poisoning).  Now he’s on antibiotics and we only hope he’ll be okay.


Contrast this with my appendix removal which happened when I was six, and in the Soviet Union, no less. I got the sharp pain, within an hour a doctor made a house call. He rolled me over on my left side, gently pressed the abdomen, sharply released, and when I squealed he pronounced ‘appendicitis – get this girl into surgery’.  Within two hours I was blood-sampled, prepped and going under. My appedix was removed intact, and my recovery was painful but easy.


The facts are that some people die from appendicitis or related complications each year.  Some of them in Calgary. While the mortality rates are only 1-2 per million cases, Calgary hospitals manage a rate that seems much higher, with deaths every few years. 


Here’s an excerpt from

“The overall complication rate of appendectomy depends upon the status of the appendix at the time it is removed. If the appendix has not ruptured, the complication rate is only about 3%. However, if the appendix has ruptured, the complication rate rises to almost 59%. Wound infections do occur and are more common if the appendicitis was severe, far advanced, or ruptured. An abscess may also form in the abdomen as a complication of appendicitis.

Occasionally, an appendix will rupture prior to its removal, spilling its contents into the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis or a generalized infection in the abdomen will occur. Treatment of peritonitis as a result of a ruptured appendix includes removal of what remains of the appendix, insertion of drains (rubber tubes that promote the flow of infection inside the abdomen to outside of the body), and antibiotics. Fistula formation (an abnormal connection between the cecum and the skin) rarely occurs. It is only seen if the appendix has a broad attachment to the cecum and the appendicitis is far advanced, causing destruction of the cecum itself.

The complications associated with undiagnosed, misdiagnosised, or delayed diagnosis of appendicitis are very significant. This has led surgeons to perform an appendectomy any time that they feel appendicitis is the diagnosis. Most surgeons feel that in approximately 20% of their patients, a normal appendix will be removed. Rates much lower than this would seem to indicate that the diagnosis of appendicitis was being frequently missed.”

Now note some recent local deaths from a condition that no one in the first world twenty first century should die from:
Jordan Johanson who died from complications following surgery (for which he had to wait 12 hours).  Apparently some changes were to be made to the medical system after his death. Seems to me like they shaved off one hour – congrats!
Savannah Chanthyvong who died at nine, from septic shock following surgery. I cannot imagine.
Vince Motta who died at 23 – several years before Jordan, also at a Calgary hospital:
Seven-month-old Chad Gemoto died Aug. 11, 2000, from a heart attack triggered by shock from appendicitis.
A Court of Queen’s Bench Justice ruled if the boy had been properly cared for he would have survived his appendicitis.
All these tragedies could have been avoided by treating appendicitis as the emergency that it is.  That is one case where waiting even a few hours can mean the difference between life and death.  So unless the local Health Board gets off their duff and really makes some changes, we will continue to see senseless deaths. I have no problems with dying, but dying for no reason at all, from preventable problems  really pisses me off.
This is also why I fully support the two-tier health care system, and free-markets in general. Given the amount of taxes I pay each year, I could have and would have rather hired a pay-per-visit hospital where I could be assured of prompt and COMPETENT care.  Where my brothers life would not be in danger from potentially deadly and fully avoidable complications.  Where the standard of competency and care would be assured, otherwise no one would pay to go there.  
This is not aimed at the many excellent nurses and doctors that work within a broken system paid for by us.  I guess I believe in paying for quality, and when I don’t see any, I’d rather opt out.