Nova Scotia

Hospital ER 'like hell,' says woman waiting 4 days for shoulder surgery

Pamela Hartlin has been waiting since Monday for surgery on her shoulder, which is broken in three places.

Pamela Hartlin has been waiting since Monday for surgery on her shoulder, which is broken in 3 places

Pamela Hartlin has been waiting since Monday to get surgery on her broken shoulder. (Angela Hartlin)

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman who has been waiting for four days for surgery on her broken shoulder says her case is evidence of a broken health-care system.

Pamela Hartlin, 59, was walking on a pathway near the Dartmouth Curling Club on Monday when she slipped on some ice and fell in a deep puddle. Some passersby helped her up and brought her home, and she went to the Dartmouth General Hospital later that afternoon.

Hartlin said she waited from about 4:30 p.m. until 7 p.m., when she got an X-ray, and then waited again until 11 p.m., when staff told her she wouldn't be getting surgery that day and should go home.

She had been told she shouldn't eat before surgery or take her diabetes medication, so she fasted during the whole wait.

The next morning, she got a CT scan and again waited at the emergency department for hours, fasting all the while. On Wednesday and Thursday, she waited and fasted at home until the early afternoon, when she was told that, once again, she wouldn't get in for surgery.

"I've just been in so much pain," Hartlin said.

Finally, on Friday morning, Hartlin was told her surgery would take place at 3 p.m.

a grey building is behind a green and yellow sign that says "emergency"
Hartlin said the emergency room at the Dartmouth General Hospital was packed no matter what day or time she was there this week. (Robert Short/CBC)

Hartlin said while she's angry about the long wait, she understands that staff are doing the best they can.

"It's like hell down there at the Dartmouth General," she said. "They are packed. They're overloaded."

She said no matter what time she was there this week, the emergency room was crowded.

"The nurses are overworked. So I mean when you get nurses that are trying to pick up the slack and they have too many patients, mistakes are going to be made and people are going to fall through the cracks and I think that's what's happening.

"I don't know where the problem is or how they can fix it," she said.

We need to have a whole system overhaul.Angela Hartlin, Pamela Hartlin's daughter

Hartlin's daughter, Angela Hartlin, said the situation is even more difficult because her mother looks after her father, who is partially paralyzed.

"Between them, they only have two arms that work," said Angela Hartlin.

"We need a system change. We need to have a whole system overhaul that makes sure that everybody does receive adequate health care."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said in a statement on Friday that the Dartmouth General and Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre have had difficulty accommodating urgent trauma cases this week.

"Emergency and the most urgent cases must be prioritized and unfortunately that increases the waits for others whose care needs, while urgent, are not triaged as highly," wrote a spokesperson in an emailed statement.

"We regret these delays and the discomfort experienced by patients. We also acknowledge the challenge our patients face with respect to fasting when we are unable to provide a concrete time for their surgical procedure."

The spokesperson said when surgery is not going to take place, the health authority communicates with patients as soon as possible so they can break their fast.