Don’t get me wrong, there is a VERY real opioid crisis in this province and I certainly don’t want to take away from that; however, there is another very big problem that people suffering with substance abuse and mental health are also subjected to, and consequently dying from. Medical neglect.
My dad passed away suddenly in his “unclean apartment” (the first line of his autopsy report because that’s so relevant to his passing) on May 2nd, 2017. 6 weeks prior to his death, he fell outside and suffered an injury to his left leg. His leg became infected, was swollen to almost twice the size and purple in colour. I took my dad to his doctor who prescribed him “rest and over the counter pain medication.” She had suggested in her infinite wisdom that he did not require an antibiotic.
A few weeks before his death, I took him to a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario where they also provided him the resource to “follow up with his family doctor”. A doctor that is a 45 min drive from his home. To a person with no income, no vehicle, a physical disability for which he has been on ODSP for years and the inability to walk long distances due to said injury.
A week before his death, my dad called and complained of a migraine. A migraine so bad that he couldn’t lift his head or open his eyes. He told me the pain in his leg was excruciating and that he could not bare any weight on it. I told him to call an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived, they told my dad that this circumstance was “not an emergency” (despite his long and recent history of infection and sudden increase in symptoms) and was informed that if he wanted to go to the hospital, he could “walk there himself.” My dad was found dead in his apartment a few days later. He had been vomiting up a black tarry substance the night before as reported by his spouse “but didn’t want to bother anyone again.” He didn’t call back, he didn’t reach out and he didn’t wake up.
My dad was no angel. Like many oppressed people, he didn’t always present himself well. His hair was shabby, his facial hair scruffy, heck, he was even missing teeth. He didn’t always explain himself well and that could lead to frustration or lashing out. But that didn’t make him a bad person. In fact, he was probably one of the sweetest and most genuine people in the world. He certainly didn’t deserve to die because of it.
His autopsy report wasn’t overly conclusive. It identified he had a higher than normal quantity of acetaminophen in his system (Tylenol) but that’s no surprise. If I had a leg Infection and migraine I would probably take Tylenol too. The report indicates he died from “acetaminophen toxicity”. It also states that the amount actually found in his system was much less than most other causes of death for this reason. They chalked it up to a combination of that and declining liver function.
I’m not suggesting this isn’t true. My dad wasn’t healthy and I know that. What I’m stating, is that had his doctor actually listened, had she prescribed him a very simple and effective antibiotic, had the hospital not dismissed him and the paramedics taken him in; maybe he would be alive today. He might have been able to attend my wedding or see my second daughter being born or maybe even walked my sister down the aisle.
The average autopsy and toxicology report takes 6-9 months to get back. Do you know how long it took to get my dads? 1.5 years. It took begging and pleading and threatening legal action before I got it. And even then, it seemed like the only thing they were trying to prove was that his leg infection had nothing to do with his untimely death. I am now trying to get his doctor to provide me with his recent medical records to show he was never prescribed an antibiotic even though his autopsy report states that he was on “appropriate medication.” After being ignored by the office for over a week, I called back and was informed that before any medical documents would be released to me, the doctor is speaking with her representative to see if she has to at all.
Closure is a big deal to anyone grieving. I haven’t received that opportunity because I have been chasing coroners and physicians and now lawyers for answers. My dad deserved more. I hope that by writing this message, perhaps another oppressed soul will be given a better chance. There is always so much more than what you see on the surface. Never stop pushing, digging, supporting and holding space for the people you love.
Before I wrap this up, I’d like to stop and say that in the almost decade I worked in addiction and mental health, I met and collaborated with some really incredible medical staff including paramedics, doctors and nurses. But this message isn’t about those people. I love and respect each and every one of you. Thank you for doing what you do.