Mom prevails after son's surgery delayed

A Saskatchewan woman is extolling the virtues of persistence after surgery to remove her paralyzed son's gall bladder was cancelled earlier this month. She complained to hospital staff, and her son's procedure was done the next day.

In health care, sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

A Saskatchewan woman is extolling the virtues of persistence after surgery to remove her paralyzed son's gall bladder was postponed earlier this month.

Norah Janzen, 71, who lives in Yorkton and gives round-the-clock care to her son, Michael, said she was disappointed when hospital staff at Regina General Hospital cancelled the surgery on July 7, shortly before the scheduled operation time.

Janzen and her son had travelled two hours the night before from Yorkton, staying overnight in Regina. But when they arrived the next day, staff told them there were not enough beds.

Janzen told the hospital she would not be moving her son.

Dug in heels

"I said, 'You drag people down here, they come from hundreds of kilometres and people have to take a day off work to come with their family members,'" Janzen, a former nurse, told CBC News on Wednesday.

Janzen said her son had been placed on a priority list seven months before to remove his gall bladder, which was causing him serious pain due to complications from a spinal cord injury following a car accident six years ago.

Janzen said other surgeries for her son had been cancelled in the past.

She said that after she spoke with a hospital supervisor and threatened to go to local news media, the hospital agreed to perform the procedure the next day.

"If I was writing a newspaper headline, it would be 'Refuse to be cancelled,'" Janzen said in offering advice to other patients.

Delays not unusual

According to the Regina-Qu'Appelle Health Region, surgery cancellations are not unusual. And on July 7 there was extremely high demand for beds at the General Hospital, partly because of a busy emergency room.

"This person, frankly, got caught up in an extraordinary day," Trent Truscott, executive director of surgery with the health region, told CBC News.

Truscott said the hospital had to accommodate a dozen emergency surgeries on July 7, which caused four scheduled surgeries to be cancelled. However, Truscott said hospital staff were called in to keep several beds open, which meant Michael Janzen could be admitted and cared for.

"I think most people would be quite upset and might perceive themselves as the squeaky wheel, and then the squeaky wheel getting the grease," said Truscott. "I don't know that that's the case [for Janzen]."

Truscott said there have been improvements in avoiding surgery cancellations, especially for day procedures.

According to the health agency, 118 surgeries were cancelled at the two hospitals in Regina in 2007-2008 because of a lack of beds, versus 67 cancellations the next year.

"There's obviously some blips," said Truscott. "And July 7 is one of them."

Truscott said patients who are upset or confused by a cancellation can call "patient advocates" employed by the health region, who will make the necessary calls to administrators.

"They follow up with individual cases and help them navigate the system."

Son doing better

Michael Janzen, meanwhile, said he is proud of his mother for taking a stand at the hospital.

"That was kind of the final straw," he said.

Michael Janzen said that since his surgery, he has been feeling much better but is worried about how much time it will take to get his next surgery done — to fix a deviated septum in his nose.

"The waiting list, I think, is up to two years for that."