Why Are Hospital Wait Times in Canada So Outrageous?

My little brother is allergic to eggs. Since my family found out about the allergy when he was two—about six years ago—we’ve been very careful with all things food. Any egg product is forbidden in my house, and all “May Contain Eggs” products are out of my brother’s reach. To be honest, we don’t really know how severe his allergy actually is, but because my mom spent the first eleven years of my life protecting me from all things peanuts (which was undoubtedly a lethal allergy), we’ve treated Noah’s allergy with the same caution.

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago there was an incident in which Noah ate a cupcake that contained whole liquid egg. It happened at school when one of the other kids handed out cupcakes to the class and told Noah that they were egg-free, which is an understandable mistake given the child was only eight years old. Before the teacher knew what was happening, Noah had already eaten the cupcake (luckily, though, it was only a smaller one). Nevertheless, he immediately began to show symptoms of an allergic reaction: itching in the mouth and throat. By the time my mom was called to pick him up, the itching had passed and intense nausea took its place.

My mom brought Noah home and sat with him on the couch. Although Noah wasn’t showing any serious symptoms, my mom was still anxious and needed a second opinion, so she called TeleHealth. The nurse was concerned about his nausea and said that he needed to be taken to the hospital immediately to have a doctor look him over; so, off we went.

When we entered the children’s emerg at Victoria Hospital, it wasn’t overly busy. There were maybe a few families waiting to go through triage, and then another few waiting to see the doctor. The lady from TeleHealth faxed the hospital the paperwork regarding Noah’s situation, which allowed us to get through triage quickly. However, it was finally getting in to see an actual doctor that proved to be an issue; the wait time was estimated for three to four hours.

There were two families waiting that had been there since 1:00 p.m. and they were still sitting there when my family arrived at 4:00 p.m. By the time 6:30 p.m. rolled around, the waiting room was loud and busy, and the same two families were still waiting. Noah, who was suffering from an allergic reaction, was also still waiting at this point.

I understand that the emergency has to rank the level of severity for each case in order to determine when they can get in to see a doctor; however, I think it is completely unacceptable to have people waiting for five hours just to get the medical attention that they want or need. I watched as several people bypassed my brother to see a doctor, even though he had just consumed an egg-containing product and suffered from an allergic reaction. I don’t care how mild the reaction seems to be—it is so important, especially in the case of a child, for the person at risk to receive medical attention.

Did you know that a man—a retired doctor—died in the waiting room of a hospital in British Columbia, even though he was showing all signs of a heart attack? In response to his symptoms, the nurse gave him two aspirins and told him to take a seat to wait to see a doctor. As a result, the man went into cardiac arrest and died in his wife’s arms. Clearly, there is an issue with the medical care given in emergency rooms. While the BC example may be a more extreme one, this is an issue that should be addressed. People shouldn’t have to wait hours upon hours to get the help that they need.

In first year, during my really dark time, I went to the hospital out of fear of hurting myself if I didn’t see someone about how I was feeling and thinking. I waited over ten hours to see a psychiatrist, only for them to send me home and have them reschedule an appointment with a different psychiatrist. In those ten hours, I could have hurt myself or even taken my own life. As someone who really needed to feel as though my life was precious, the doctors didn’t do a very good job of helping.

Similarly, someone experiencing an allergic reaction could drop dead a few hours after the incident because they didn’t receive the appropriate medical care. The entire time I was at the hospital with my mom and brother, I kept looking over to ensure he was still breathing; for all I knew, he would keel over and die in mere seconds. But even though he was okay, it would have been nice to have a doctor look over him and tell us that from the moment we walked through the doors. Food allergies are not to be taken lightly.

The worst part is, most of the time when you finally get in to see a doctor they tell you you’re fine, prescribe some pills, and send you on your way—all in a matter of ten minutes. So you’ve wasted half of your day only to be told that you wasted your time. Or, if the issue ends up being serious, they find a way to turn things around and say you should’ve received medical help sooner. You just can’t win.

I talked to some of the ladies at Her Campus Western Ontario and they admit to having much better experiences at other hospitals, such as University Hospital and St. Joseph’s. Maybe it’s just some hospitals where the wait times are unacceptable, but either way, the Canadian medical system really needs to get their shit together and give people the medical help that they need without making them wait a whole day to receive it.