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A woman’s chronic pain, and how she says the N.S. health system is failing her

Becca Veinot, 29, of Halifax says the health-care system in Nova Scotia is so slow that she's taking matters into her own hands and heading to a private clinic in Montreal for a gastroscopy to help get to the bottom of her chronic pain. Becca Veinot/Provided

About a year ago, Becca Veinot was vibrant, healthy young woman who was working as a trainer and helping her clients live similarly active lifestyles.

Then the pain began.

And it hasn’t stopped.

The 29-year-old from Halifax says it began as aches, then it hit her “like a brick wall” in February of this year – with intense and persistent pain stretching from her neck to her abdomen and her back.

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Over the past few months, she’s been to the ER nine times, only to be told there was nothing they could do.

The hardest part about the whole thing has been that you go to the ER for chronic for extreme pain and they’ll do, say, an MRI.  They get the results back. They tell me, ‘You look perfectly healthy.’ They send me on my way,” she says.

“I come back a week later, you know, I’m still in pain. They do a CAT scan, looks great. Send me home.”

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The scenario just kept playing out again and again, much to her frustration. She says one doctor told her he was “simply at a loss” as to what to do.

He said, ‘I wish I could help you. I wish I could get you into the hospital and help you. But the way the system is, it doesn’t allow me to because you don’t have cancer. You’re not clearly dying. So there’s nothing we can do. You just have to wait for your referrals,’” she recalls.

“It’s awful.”

Prior to becoming ill, Becca Veinot led an active and healthy lifestyle, and was a personal trainer. Becca Veinot/Provided

The pain has sidelined Veinot. She tearfully describes having to drop her clients, stop working as a trainer and move in back with her parents.

“I basically gave up my entire life and I lay in that bed about 90 per cent of my time.”

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Pandemic makes unbearable wait even longer

Veinot suspects she has endometriosis or perhaps a nervous system disorder. However, until she moves her way up the referral list and obtains a diagnosis, it’s not even possible to think about a course of treatment.

Like some 69,000 other Nova Scotians, Veinot doesn’t have a family doctor and has been on a waitlist for years.

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She believes that’s exacerbated her wait. That, and the pandemic.

Every single doctor that I’ve seen, which has been at least a dozen at this point, every single one of them has told me straight up, ‘Look, it’s going to be years waiting for simple scopes or to see a gynecologist,’” she says.

“Because they were already backed up. And then COVID has made them back up even further.”

In a statement, Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) spokesperson Brendan Elliott writes that “our ongoing response to COVID-19 has required us to make temporary changes to some services, including endoscopy (which includes colonoscopies and gastroscopies), procedures, and surgical care.”

Read more: Doctor shortages a key election issue in Nova Scotia

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He goes on to say that the NSHA “learned valuable lessons in the first wave” that have led to them adjusting their approach in future waves so that service reductions are more “phased and targeted.”

“Unfortunately, the prolonged pandemic response has had concerning impacts on our volumes, wait times for various procedures, and on our health care teams,” Elliott says.

“These issues have been compounded by recent high demands for emergency and inpatient care, along with staffing challenges associated with that.”

The NSHA offered their latest set of data, which compares endoscopy wait times in three health zones – Eastern, Western and Northern — in the first quarter of 2021-2022 and first quarter of 2019-2020. The data from Central Zone is not included because “not all endoscopy referrals are currently waitlisted into one information system.”

The data shows that the time between referral to consult, known as wait 1, was 67 days for both years in that quarter.

“So, it appears as though our wait 1, on average, has recovered from increases seen during COVID-19 slowdowns,” Elliott notes.

The average wait between decision for treatment and receiving treatment for completed endoscopy procedures was 111 days, compared to 80 days pre-COVID.

And the average wait between decision for treatment and receiving it for patients still waiting for endoscopy procedures was 250 days, compared to 187 days.

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“So, patients remaining on our endoscopy waitlist are waiting 2+ months (60 days) longer than they were pre-COVID, on average,” he writes.

Heading to a private clinic in Montreal

For Veinot, the wait has become unbearable.

She’s now booked to go to a private clinic in Quebec for a much-needed gastroscopy this month. She says her family sat down to weigh the options and the financial implications -– since the trip to Montreal and service will be out of pocket – and didn’t make the decision lightly.

I feel like I have to take my life in my own hands because the hospitals and the surgeons, it’s just too slow. I can’t wait any longer,” she says.

At the end of the day, I’m just in so much pain all the time that we decided it’s worth whatever trouble or debt we have to go through to get me better. It’s just agony.”

While researching her symptoms, Veinot says she may have to resort to leaving the country for timely treatment later on.

‘Nova Scotia is really, really desperate’

She knows her story isn’t an isolated case. Since sharing her experience and starting an online fundraiser for her medical treatment, she’s heard from strangers and friends alike about their involvement with the health-care system in Nova Scotia.

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Veinot admits it’s hard for people to truly understand the situation until they encounter it.

Improving the health-care system was a major provincial election issue last month, and she’s hopeful that the promises made are promises kept.

Read more: Nova Scotia health-care system under Liberals ‘complete failure’ - Tory leader

During the campaign, now-Premier Tim Houston called the system under the Liberal Party a “chain of failures” and vowed to bring in $430 million in new spending during the first year of his government’s mandate.

And with a fourth wave of COVID-19 all but imminent in the province, Veinot is worried the system will only become more strained.

I’m just hoping whoever is in there and working on this is going to put their whole heart into it and realize that Nova Scotia is really, really desperate,” she says.

“The more people I talk to you about this, it’s overwhelming the amount of people that have the exact same story as me, if not similar or worse. It’s horrible.”

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