My elderly father recently had cataract surgery on one eye and the experience of that appointment and those before and after it were a sobering confirmation of the sad state of health care and our treatment of the elderly.
My father lives in Ontario in a seniors residence that allows him some independence while still under the watchful eye of fellow residents who look out for each other. I live in another province halfway across the country so it falls on my sister to attend to any needs my father has outside his home, and it’s a lucky thing she’s there because the medical system makes no allowances for the elderly. In fact, it seems they go out of their way to make it difficult for them. Maybe it’s an attempt to confuse and frustrate them to the extent that they simply forgo any medical treatment because it’s too hard.
The days leading up to this minor laser surgery were riddled with various appointments; one to ‘measure his eye’, another to test his heart, a third to do routine blood work, not to mention the routine eye exams performed in the weeks leading up to the day by countless staff, (each billing the medical system for their share ) just to make sure everyone was ‘on the same page’. No single appointment was conveniently located; rather each was to be held at various departments within a couple of downtown hospitals, where parking is at a premium, if you can find it at all, and the appointments offered were at peak rush hour, 7am or 5pm (for seniors, really?). My father was lucky (my sister not so much) because he had my sister to drive him. Other seniors were forced to take public transit or taxi’s, if they could afford them. And no appointment was less than 2-4 hours late so you had to plan to spend the day.
The day of surgery my father was instructed to be at the hospital by 6:00 in the morning and it’s a good thing he was on time because he only had to wait 41/2 hours to be seen. In the interim he was herded from waiting room to waiting room where seemingly busy administrative staff assured him the ‘doctor would be in to see him shortly’. The hospital is large, like a city unto itself, and each new waiting area they were ushered to was a good walk. My father is 88 years old and in frail health so by late afternoon he was exhausted and limping, but he was not alone because each waiting room was full of seniors like himself (who else needs cataract surgery if not seniors?) and many had no one to advocate for them. They made their way in walkers and with canes; some got confused and went to the wrong waiting areas. Several were booked for the same appointment time with the same doctor (ok, how does that work?) At the end of the day, my fathers surgery was complete and he was released into my sisters care, a mere 13 hours after they arrived. At least by then his limp was so visible he was offered a wheel chair to take him to the front door where he was unceremoniously deposited with a bag of medication and a list of follow up appointments.
One of the three follow up appointments was last week and I planned to attend while visiting. We picked my father up at noon for his 1:00 appointment – it was just up the road but he is unable to walk any distance so we drove. We arrived at 12:20. The waiting area had dozens of chairs and there was only a handful of people waiting. As I approached the reception area to check in a young woman looked up and asked if we were there for an afternoon appointment (no hello, just a hasty question) I said yes and before I could continue she replied, “We’re closed for lunch until 1:00. You’ll have to go somewhere” and she literally ushered us out into the hallway and closed the door behind us. (so I guess letting an old man sit while he waited was too much to ask)
Remembering I’d seen a sign in the lobby for a restaurant we decided to take my father there for tea and a snack to kill some time. At ten minutes to one we went back up and when the elevator opened we were greeted with a line up of seniors, all waiting for the office to open, all standing, not easily. Conversation started up and we discovered there was at least two other people with the same appointment time as us – so much for getting in and out in under four hours.
By five minutes after one and seeing some of these elderly were having trouble standing for long periods my sister pounded on the door. It was opened by the same jolly greeter I had previously encountered, and she said nothing, simply opened the door and stepped aside. While my sister waited to register my father I saw a middle aged man rapidly approach the receptionist. He said, “I’ll be back in a while”. She smiled, nodded, and returned to registering the patients at the counter. Now this minor encounter would be of no significance were it not for the fact this same middle aged man was in fact the doctor. It was 1:05. He had a waiting room full of very elderly patients, many with the same 1:00 appointment booking, and he was leaving. He returned 45 minutes later with a Starbucks coffee and a healthy glow that suggested fresh air.
In that 45 minute period we were herded from room to room and attended to by a variety of support staff. One checked the spelling of my fathers name and birthdate to confirm it was really him. (yeah, cause I bet there’s a host of seniors lining up to impersonate him) Another directed him into a semi dark room where he quickly tested the pressure in his eye, then ushered him hastily back out to another waiting area. A third, a young woman, led him into a cubicle where she instructed him to sit in an awkward chair, then turned her back to him for several minutes while she typed away on a computer. She then spun around, looked into his eye with some sort of lens, declared him healing nicely, and asked him to return to the waiting room to await the doctor (the one with the healthy glow and fresh coffee) This really was a meat market.
After another 30 minutes, we were finally ushered into a room where the doctor eventually showed up. (yes, we had to wait, again, cause nothing spells inconsiderate like a tardy doctor) He looked into my fathers eye, without any equipment, just a look, asked if he’d been administering the drops prescribed, to which my father replied in the affirmative, then said, Good, I’ll see you in three weeks”, then rose to leave, dismissing us with a wave of his hand. (Now there are those who might forgive the arrogance of this kind of delicate genius citing they are a cut above the rest of us because they possess a higher education that entitles them to look down at others; after all an arrogant person is only smart around those who are made to feel stupid. Some might even label these insensitive louts as justified for their shoddy treatment of others. I prefer to label them ‘arseholes’.)
I can appreciate that doctors, nurses, and technicians are highly skilled. They are in demand, perhaps too much, I get that. We are a growing population, the elderly in particular comprise a larger number of those requiring health care because we are living longer, but that does not give anyone, not even Doctor Specialist the right to treat people this way. Society has a need, these people have the skills. Too bad they don’t have any compassion. I realize we can’t paint every medical professional with the same brush but the experience above is not unique. Twenty years ago when I needed minor surgery I recall this process of herding people like cattle. I remember endless wait times, double bookings, and disinterested support staff. What ever happened to the Hippocratic Oath? In addition to the stipulation of upholding specific ethical standards, there is the provision for Duty of Care (defined simply as a legal obligation to always act in the best interest of others) Surely that includes compassion, if nothing else, how about common courtesy? Oh, and here’s a thought, how about respecting our elders?
There are wonderful caring and compassionate professionals in the medical industry, of that I’ve no doubt. My own family doctor is amazing, sincere and dedicated. Unfortunately there’s also too many arrogant, self-serving, egotistical arseholes (for lack of a more fitting description) out there, who have lost sight of what it truly means to uphold the office of a medical professional. They overbook, double bill, and sadly overlook how their callous treatment of people affects society. In short, they do not respect others.
If you truly went into this profession for the healing of mankind, good for you. If you went into it for the money and prestige it brings, shame on you. I can only hope you are one day on the receiving end of the heartless treatment you’ve subjected these elderly to. Get over yourself.