Cecile Desjarlais is not a doctor, not a nurse and not a paramedic. But that didn't stop her from taking medical matters into her own hands after waiting seven hours for someone to help her suffering son.

"I don't know if I'm legally allowed to or not, but as his mother and as his caregiver…. I took it upon myself and said, 'If they're not going to do something about it, then I am,'" she said.


Cecile Desjarlais with her son, Troy, in a CBC report in January. (CBC)

It was mid-summer and her 19-year-old son, Troy, had been rushed to the Health Sciences Centre's emergency room in mid-seizure.

Cecile and her husband Lionel met him there, where he was with the paramedics and waiting to be seen by a doctor.

Seven hours later — and seven seizures later — Troy was still waiting.

"There was, you know, the body stiffening, the mouth was clacking, uh, the eyes were going rapidly back and forth," she said.

"Sometimes there was a lack of breathing, a lack of oxygen happening."

The paramedics stayed with them the entire time, checking Troy's vitals and monitoring his seizures.

"And they would go and report to the triage nurse, you know, 'He's in another seizure … this is whatever number at that time,'" Cecile Desjarlais said.

Not how it's meant to work

It was a welcome support, but it's not how it's supposed to work. Paramedics are supposed to be in and out of ER within an hour, so they can be freed up to respond to other calls.

In other words, the triage nurse is supposed to process the paramedic patients within an hour, regardless of how busy the ER is or how short-staffed they are.

If they don't, the city can fine the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) up to $113 an hour to cover the paramedics' overtime.

The WRHA has hoped these fines would provide an incentive for ER staff to move people through more quickly.

But that's a tall order if the ER is short-staffed or packed with more urgent cases. And on this shift, they were.

In fact, the paramedics were acting as a de facto version of the so-called "reassessment" nurse. That's the job function the WRHA has repeatedly re-introduced through the years, in which a second triage nurse would regularly monitor and advocate for patients in crisis waiting to see a doctor.

But the role of reassessment nurse is contingent upon how busy the ER is. So in reality, it doesn't happen often.

Desperate decision

Which is why, after watching her son through a sixth seizure, Cecile Desjarlais made an announcement to the paramedics: one more seizure and she would administer the medicine herself.

It was a desperate decision but one that she said she had to make.

"I'm going to try and stop these seizures from happening," she said. "I'm going to try and stop this stress from happening in his body and in his brain."

At that point, accompanied by the paramedics, Desjarlais administered the drug and at that point, a nurse rushed over to help monitor his blood pressure.

A short while later, Troy was finally seen by a doctor and ultimately discharged.

The ordeal has left Cecile and Lionel Desjarlais grateful to the paramedics and weary of the ER, but also sympathetic to the ER nurses.

"They're so tired, they're walking zombies, some of these people," Lionel Desjarlais said.

"It's a shame. Look what's happened. People are falling through the cracks."