Emer O’Toole’s baby boy is slowly recovering from a nasty bout of pneumonia. After six days of antibiotics, his breathing has improved, but he still coughs and has a runny nose.
O’Toole, though, is relieved he’s breathing at all. The 15-month-old’s path to getting treatment was a nightmare, she said.
“That gratitude for his health is undercut by a real fear of what will happen next time,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole’s ordeal started last week. Her baby suffers from asthma, and he’d developed a stubborn fever that wouldn’t go down for days. O’Toole was treating him with crushed-up bits of adult anti-fever medication because she couldn’t find any children’s medication.
Overnight her baby deteriorated, and he started suffering from respiratory distress. O’Toole rushed him to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. She waited an hour and a half without even being registered.
“It was totally full, there were no seats. The waiting room is apocalyptic. I was wandering around thinking I can’t stand with my baby for hours,” O’Toole said. “There were people sitting on the floor, people pacing and walking, and there were some very sick children there. Puking, crying, all the stuff you expect.”
She said she was dismayed to hear an announcement saying the average wait time was 20 hours.
“20 hours? 20! we had not even been registered,” she said. “My emotion was anger. I was like, how is this happening? These poor kids, these poor parents. This is really dangerous. How on earth is there no contingency plan to deal with this and what are the factors that have led up to this?”
Dismayed, O’Toole left, opting to treat her son at home with asthma and pain medications.
The next night though, he got worse. She went online and researched which Montreal hospital had the shortest wait time in an E.R. It was Jean-Talon hospital, which isn’t a pediatric hospital. She called them and asked if they would treat a baby, and she was told yes. So she headed to the hospital and waited.
She said she was triaged quickly, but then waited five hours before deciding to leave again.
“I just want to point out that usually an asthmatic baby in respiratory distress is one of the top triage categories. So the fact we are waiting five hours, it’s crazy, it’s crazy,” she said.
The next morning, she made an appointment at her local walk-in (sans rendez-vous) clinic.
“It’s not actually sans rendez-vous, you need an appointment and by 8 a.m., they go very quickly. Luckily we got one for the afternoon,” she said.
The attending doctor prescribed an x-ray. But unlike a hospital, the clinic had no facilities. She wasn’t able to find a clinic open that evening to get a scan, so she waited one more day for an x-ray. It finally confirmed what she had feared — her son had pneumonia, which can be very dangerous for babies, especially those with asthma.
Her doctor said she needed to start him on antibiotics immediately. But her local pharmacy said they had run out of the specific antibiotics prescribed to her son. They couldn’t find any pharmacies nearby that carried the medication. They finally found a small pharmacy on the other side of the island that could fill the prescription. So her husband rented a Communauto vehicle to go and pick up the prescription. When her son finally started taking the antibiotics, he stared getting better. The whole experience has left O’Toole bewildered and aghast at the state of Quebec’s medical system.“If this continues, kids are going to die here this winter. I believe that, I do believe that,” she said. “I have a vulnerable child who has asthma who has had three lung infections this fall. I need to be able to access urgent care, in a manner that is sufficient to the severity of the risk. And I can’t, and that is terrifying, and I am not by any means the worst off in this situa Add Polltion.”
The Montreal Children’s Hospital would not comment on O’Toole’s specific case.
But the hospital’s ER medical director says the system is under incredible strain as the flu season begins.
“We are significantly over capacity. We are seeing an unprecedented number of very sick children,” said Dr. Laurie Plotnick. “We feel terrible, this is not what we want for our families who are coming to our emergency room department, who are there because they are worried.”
Plotnick says nurses at the hospital use Canadian standardized guidelines for triaging children and assessing the urgency of the care required. She says the hospital is not discouraging families from going to the emergency room, but they should come prepared.
“If the child has signs of dehydration, a head injury, an injury to their body part that needs repairing or casting, of course there are reasons to come to the ER and they have to be seen,” Plotnick said. “They should not avoid the ER if they are worried, but they should come prepared. Bring chargers for their devices, food, medication, various ways to entertain their children.”
Plotnick says medical staff are working overtime and coming in to work extra hours to try and help ease the emergency room crisis. She says ultimately, the hospital needs more human resources, and more physical space to treat their patients. She says families who aren’t sure whether to go to the ER or not should consult 8-1-1. She says they should also access the government website Rendez-vous Santé (www.rvsq.gouv.qc.ca) to try and secure an appointment to see a doctor.
“We continue to do what needs to be done to care for our children,” Plotnick said.
As for O’Toole, she posted a lengthy series of tweets about her experience. They have garnered thousands of shares and likes.
“Based on my very limited experience, I am waving a red flag and I hope someone listens,” she said.