Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There's a person in there

This one's for my mom, who at this moment is at home in Victoria crying after they delayed her hip-replacement surgery for two more months this morning because of her low iron count.
I'm sure it seemed like a perfectly logical decision in the mind of hematologist Dr. X, who has never met my mother. And it probably made sense to Dr. Y as well,  the orthopedic surgeon who has also never met my mother.
Unfortunately for her, the news was completely devastating. She was supposed to be having her surgery next week, and on Sunday we'd joked about how she only had 11 more sleeps.
I'm a guilt-ridden daughter at this distance when my 87-year-old  mother has a setback like this and the best I can do is buy more Claro minutes to make sure I can call her regularly. I have to take that into account when reflecting on how angry I am about how things are playing out for my mother, because it could just be that what's really troubling me is that I'm far away and can't really do a damn thing to help her.
Even allowing for that, however, I still think this turn of events highlights the huge divide that separates  people needing integrated medical care and the segmented, depersonalized system we've got that can't possibly provide it.
One of the doctors caring for my mother thinks it might be all the Advil she was taking for the pain that caused her iron to drop to a level that has now increased the risk of excessive bleeding during surgery.
Maybe. But they've known for the last 10 days that her iron levels were  low. Yet nobody did anything to change that, or counsel my mother as to why that might be so. This morning, the specialist's office phoned to cancel her surgery because of her low iron, but even now nobody is telling her anything about how she's supposed to correct that.
I'm a strong supporter of the Canadian public health care system. The fact that my old mom can have publicly funded hip-replacement surgery in her local hospital at her age is a testament to what is right about our system, even allowing for some long (and painful) waits for surgery.
But Mom's latest problem isn't about long wait lists. It's about the way we get divided into parts for the purposes of medical care, to the point that doctors start to forget there's a  human being tucked away in that medical file.
I'd like to meet the doctor who could have told my mom to her face that her surgery was being cancelled. She's been waiting and waiting, and has managed the intensifying pain these past few weeks only by focusing relentlessly on her coming surgery date.
No doctor could have looked into her pain-filled, hopeful eyes and told her sorry, she'd have to wait two more months because the pain-killers she'd been using to be able to hang in through the long wait for surgery had caused her iron levels to drop -  and that even though they'd known about that for 10 days, no one had taken the initiative to do something about that.
Alas, nobody had to look her in the eye and give her the bad news.. Nobody even had to meet her. She just got the news by phone, passed on by an empathetic but powerless woman who works for the surgeon. My mother is essentially a file number sent to various specialists with busy schedules, who have no clue of the impact of their decisions on the lives of those whose lives are hanging in the balance.
Mom told me she'd been crying all day when I called her tonight. But I know her well enough to expect that even by tomorrow, she'll have her chin up and be preparing to soldier through these next two months in whatever way she can. She's just that kind of person.
That doesn't make any of this right, though. Just because she can take it doesn't mean she should have to.
She's put in her time waiting. She did what good Canadians do: She looked after her health for many, many decades, and never complained when she learned she'd have to get in line for her hip surgery.
And this is where it gets her. In her time of greatest medical  need, my mother deserved better than to be shunted aside by strangers for whom she was no more than a set of  lab results.


Debbie said...

Your poor mom. If the advil causes blood thinning, is her doctor helping to provide an alternative for pain relief? It is hard to be far away when parents are unwell.

Anonymous said...

Very powerful post. I have been reading your blog with interest and enjoyment.

My daughter is out there near Santa Barbara working at a school and volunteering at an orphanage, with an organisation called Project Trust (UK). She's coming to Copan soon and I've told her to look up the orphanage where you are. I hope she does.