Family and friends of a northwest B.C. man want to know why it took four hospital visits over a four-day span for doctors to finally confirm a stroke diagnosis and to provide specialized medical treatment.
Northern Health, which runs the hospitals in Hazelton and Terrace, B.C., told CBC News it has launched an internal investigation into Chuck Gray's care.
Gray, 38, was gillnet fishing with his wife, Tanya, at Gisgegas Canyon, north of Hazelton and east of the intersection of the Babine and Skeena Rivers, on Aug. 6. As they were getting ready to leave that Sunday afternoon, family friend Jacob Beaton showed up with his son.
"I didn't know what was wrong. [Gray] looked at me, and he was really — I could see in his eyes that something was wrong," said Beaton. "He looked really scared and all he could say was, 'Oh F,' you know, he just kept swearing."
Beaton said his longtime friend's demeanour was remarkably different from his usual jovial self, so he decided to drive them out of the backcountry. During the ride, he asked what happened.
"He started repeating Thursday ... so I asked if he'd gone to [the E.R.] on Thursday, and he nodded his head and said 'Yes.' Then he said 'Almost died — almost died on Thursday,'" said Beaton.
'Not life threatening'
Gray's wife then took over and drove to Wrinch Memorial Hospital and checked her husband in. Gray says her husband was given an EKG or ECG test to check his heart.
Shortly after, a doctor told her the situation wasn't an emergency.
"I said, 'It's not life threatening?' And I asked him, and I made him say it to me again. I said 'This isn't urgent?' And he said: 'No, there's nothing life threatening here happening.'"
Gray said she had no choice but to accept what she was told.
The next day, Monday Aug. 7, the Grays visited Beaton at his home to thank him for his help.
Beaton told CBC News he immediately noticed how droopy Gray's face was. He then called his uncle, a retired emergency room physician, for advice.
"I described his symptoms, and my uncle immediately said 'It sounds like a stroke ... time is of the essence. He should be in the hospital,'" said Beaton.
Beaton took Gray back to the hospital in Hazelton — now his third visit in as many days — and stayed by his side as an advocate.
After more tests, he asked about a potential stroke.
"I said 'Do you think Chuck had a stroke?' and she said, 'No.' She said 'Not likely,'" said Beaton.
CT scan available in Terrace, B.C.
Beaton said the doctor told him a CT scan could be performed at a hospital about an hour and 45 minutes away. He said an ambulance couldn't transport Gray because doctors didn't consider the situation urgent.
Gray was discharged, and Tanya Gray drove to Mills Memorial Hospital. After the scan, Tanya said the doctors confirmed her husband had had two strokes.
She says she felt helpless.
"You just think that these doctors know what they're doing. I should have been more persistent and argumentative and pushy."
Northern Health spokesperson Andrea Palmer told CBC News an internal investigation has been launched to look at Gray's interactions with doctors and nurses.
"We understand that this is upsetting to the patient, family and friends," said Palmer. "We have reached out ... to ensure that they are involved."
Gray is now in intensive care at Vancouver General Hospital after he was airlifted from Terrace.
With files from the CBC's George Baker.
For more stories from northern B.C., see Daybreak North.