The healthcare system in Newfoundland and Labrador continues to grapple with a number of problems, including not having enough healthcare professionals to keep some medical centres open. While the government has announced new funding and initiatives to combat the more significant concerns, patients continue to wait for care that is delayed for weeks, and in the event of an emergency, critical hours.
On Friday, Feb. 3, Laura Martin returned home from a routine appendectomy at the Health Sciences Centre, and when her son, Matt, who lives in Nova Scotia, spoke with her, she seemed in good spirits.
“She messaged me afterwards saying she was being released and was going to go home and start her recovery. Then I didn’t hear from her anymore that night. She ended up going back to emergency that night and I talked to her the next day. She never said anything about the surgery. She said it all went fine and she was just in recovery that same day.”
A few hours later, Laura woke up in severe pain, bleeding, and Matt said that his mother knew something wasn’t right.
“It was probably about four or five hours after she got home. She woke up in a pool of blood and in extreme pain, so they called the ambulance right away to come get her. They came down and rushed her right into the hospital,” said Martin. “They told her partner there was no sense in going to the hospital because she would be seen right away. She was triaged and passed over to the nurses there. There are some things we are concerned about how she was triaged. There are some things missing off her triage chart, and then they put her in a wheelchair in the waiting room.”
After five hours seated near the entrance in the emergency room at St. Clare’s, Laura Martin decided to call a taxi to take her home.
“She just waited for five hours, in pain, uncomfortable. I mean, she was recovering from surgery, and she was only in a nightdress. I can’t even imagine what she was going through.”
To make matters worse, Martin said his mother suffered from a condition known as cold urticaria. This is a skin reaction to cold where hives, swelling, and welts can appear on skin within minutes after cold exposure, meaning she would’ve been even more uncomfortable in the emergency room while waiting to be seen.
“She called a taxi to bring her home. I know I wouldn’t want to be sitting in emergency for that long, that uncomfortable either, so I get why she left. Plus they were after giving her fentanyl, ketamine and a bunch of other stuff that day, so she had to be absolutely drained as well as being in complete pain.”
Martin doesn’t understand why his mother would have been left waiting for so long, especially since she was showing signs of complications following her surgery.
“If you bring your car to a mechanic and when you drive out it is making noises and stuff, when you bring it back usually they would look at it right away to fix it. It’s not like she just came in off the street. She had surgery that day.”
Martin spoke with his mother the following day, and she seemed to be doing better, but thinking back on it, he believes she was putting on a brave face.
“She didn’t get home until 5:00 a.m. or something like that, so she slept for a good few hours. I talked to her that afternoon because it was her grandson’s birthday that day and we Facetimed her and she told us about it. She seemed to look better, but I also know she was probably just putting on, not letting him see her in pain and stuff. So she looked better, but was just trying to be strong for him I guess.”
No one could have prepared Matt for what would happen next.
“Monday night she was at home and her partner was there with her. She asked for two aspirin and when he went to give her the aspirin she just dropped back and he said that she seemed like she was pretty much gone then,” said Martin. “She had no pulse. He called the ambulance right away and gave her CPR for about a half hour, and then the paramedics came and were performing for about another half hour. Then they transferred her to the Health Sciences and she was pretty much hooked up to life support and they said it would pretty much be a miracle if she came out of it.”
Laura never made it back home.
“At that point, I think they were trying to keep her alive long enough for me to fly home, but I never made it back in time.”
Following an autopsy, the Martin family got some answers.
“The next day – I think it was the next day, it’s all blurry still – but the next evening the doctor called and said they’d performed an autopsy. We didn’t request it. They did it themselves, and he said her colon was perforated during her surgery.”
As a result of the perforation left untreated, Laura became septic, which is believed to be what led to her cardiac arrest.
“When the doctors had her into the Health Sciences they did a CAT scan and stuff, and they said they could see fluid in her abdomen, and they weren’t sure if it was blood, because sometimes when you perform CPR you break ribs and stuff, so they weren’t sure if it was that. I think they kind of knew it had something to do with her surgery, but at that point it was too late. If St. Clare’s had maybe thought of the same thing that night, it could’ve been different.”
Martin describes his mother as the kind of person who would do anything for anyone, and had an inspiring and beautiful zest for life.
“She was the life of the party for sure,” said Martin. “She was very outgoing and tried to make friends with everyone she ever came across. She was very compassionate, and she was a big advocate for healthcare, especially with the hoops she had to jump through. She lived for my son, her grandson, he was everything to her.”
Losing Laura in a way that could have possibly been prevented makes everything seem 100 times worse for the family.
“I don’t really know how we feel to be honest. Right now I am just waiting. Eastern Health is doing their own investigation, so I’m waiting to see what comes from that. It should only be another two weeks or so, hopefully. I’m hoping they can admit some fault, and if they don’t admit fault it will hit us even harder. We know they messed up, but will they admit they messed up? It just feels like there is no closure. Right now I’m looking for answers to my questions and I can’t really start processing or grieving until I have all that information and the answers that I need.”
Martin hopes that by sharing his mother’s story, it will help prevent other families from experiencing something similar.
“I want to bring awareness to how bad our healthcare system is right now. It’s actually scary because that’s a routine surgery. That’s very routine. I know accidents happen and mistakes happen, but obviously she knew something was wrong and she went back, and the healthcare system failed her, pretty much neglected to get her seen and checked out, and I’ve had so many other people that have shared similar stories with me, so it’s happening with a lot of people.”
In response to email inquiries, the Department of Health and Community Services made the following statement, highlighting the next steps the government is taking to ensure the healthcare system.
“The $196-billion federal agreement will include an immediate $27-million cash injection to alleviate pressure on emergency rooms and pediatric care in Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador is estimated to also see about $210 million over ten years based on increases to the Canada Health Transfer associated with a five per cent base increase guarantee over the next five years and a permanent funding increase thereafter. The new bilateral agreement includes an investment of $749 million for shared priorities.
Those shared priorities include:
1. Expanding access to family health services, including in rural and remote areas.
2. Supporting health workers and reducing backlogs.
3. Improving access to quality mental health and substance use services.
4. Modernizing the health-care system with standardized health data and digital tools.”
Eastern Health did not respond to inquiries in time for publication.
By Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 06, 2023