STATE OF EMERGENCY: Second opinion averts a death after stomach flu diagnosis

Sent home from the ARH ER with the 'stomach flu,' James Milne told by family doctor he would have died in three days.

A ruptured gall bladder had James Milne close to death when he asked his family doctor for a second opinion. He had been sent home from Abbotsford Regional Hospital's emergency room several days and told he had the 'stomach flu.'

This is part of a multi-story Special Report on Abbotsford Regional Hospital and its emergency department. For more stories, scroll to the bottom of the story or click here.

On Jan. 20, James Milne went to the Abbotsford emergency room in significant abdominal pain.

A blood test was done, and Milne was told he had the stomach flu and was sent home. The next day, he was throwing up constantly.

Six days later, with his symptoms continuing, he visited his old doctor’s office in White Rock for a scheduled vitamin shot. While there, he asked the nurse if the doctor might be available to see him.

“He took one look at me and put me into hospital,” Milne said. His gallbladder had ruptured and he was told to contact his kids.

Milne, 80, was released on Feb. 1. A tube was placed in his gut to drain his gallbladder. It will be there for the next six months.

“If I hadn’t gone to White Rock to see my doctor, I’d probably be dead now,” he told The News. Still, he said he hasn’t filed a complaint because he believes health officials would dismiss the incident as a one-off.

“‘It’s just an odd incident’: That’s what they’re saying on TV,” he said.

• • • • •

Fraser Health officials, though, say hearing from people who had an adverse experience is vital in order to improve health care.

“This is how you improve,” said Dr. Neil Barclay, an emergency physician and regional medical director for emergency medicine in Fraser Health. “You find out what you’re not doing as well as you should be.”

Barclay said the ARH emergency room doctors “are a responsive group [who] are really passionate about providing great, quality patient care.”

“If you go ask any one of those doctors about why they go to work, it’s because they want to help people.”

Deaths weigh heavily on staff, Barclay said. Physicians see one or two people every day who are classified as being in the highest level of danger, but the death of a young child, like that of three-year-old Nimrat Gill, is “very unusual.”

“When something bad happens … they feel terrible about it,” Barclay said. “And these are things they are really interested in looking at and trying to improve.”

He said he was surprised to see the Abbotsford’s emergency department become the centre of negative attention, given recent improvements in care.

“I’m a little bit shocked Abbotsford has come under the gun so much,” he said. “These are isolated incidents that are obviously tragic.”

Barclay said that any negative interaction with the health-care system should be reported, so physicians and nurses can learn from mistakes or bad interactions. That includes not only medical errors, but if patients feel the demeanor or behaviour of a doctor wasn’t appropriate.

“We’re in the business of customer service, so the way we interact with patients is very important.”

Health care researcher Dr. Eddy Lang echoed those thoughts.

“We don’t blame people,” he said. “We use that to fix what happens in the system.”

He said he hopes people feel like they want to come forward, but said, “I guess it’s possible” that a portion of those with serious concerns feel so mistreated by the system that they don’t want to re-engage.

• • • • •

For some who do complain, the dialogue following a near-miss can ease the anger felt following a stressful event.

The News spoke to one ARH patient who filed a complaint regarding his care in February.

In an email on Saturday, the patient, who doesn’t want his name used, wrote that “it is time to ‘drain the swamp’ ” at the hospital. By Tuesday, though, he had changed his mind after receiving a call from his physician. The doctor had apologized and asked what he could do better in the future.

“To me, that’s what makes a good doctor a great doctor: to say, ‘Hey, I screwed up. How can we make it better?’ “


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