My youngest son recently split his head open. He’s not shy about telling you, or showing you the scar he now wears like a badge of honour. It’s a symbol of his bravery and toughness in the face of metal benches everywhere, for that is how he split his head open – he lost a fight with a metal bench.
It was a pleasant enough Friday as they go, and we were just finishing up our weekly grocery shop. I had my back to my family who were hanging out by the benches, bulk items and miscellaneous boxes that line that area. My eldest was sitting on one of the benches and my youngest was running around. He ran over to the bench and unbeknownst to me, tripped and fell headfirst into it.
A raucous cry immediately filled the store and my wife bundled him up into her arms. And then I heard the panic in her voice, “Oh god, he’s really bleeding!”
I ran over to them both and saw for myself the blood spilling from his tiny head, and mixing with the tears on his face. I ran to get help from the customer service desk where a woman quickly grabbed the first aid kit and assisted with wrapping his head and taking our information (just in case we decided to sue the store, I imagine). Quickly paying for the groceries, we raced home, gathered what we needed, and headed straight to Dartmouth General.
Thankfully he stopped crying on the way over and perked up enough to ask for MacDonald’s for dinner. It was a late Friday afternoon, and we had a four year old with an obvious head injury, so we thought that our hospital visit would be quick. He’d get in, be looked at, cleaned up, and stitched up. Easy. Instead what happened was an insight into the workings of a hospital emergency department in Nova Scotia during a “pandemic”.
Now I’ll admit that as his parents my wife and I were probably over estimating the seriousness of the situation, as I’m sure most parents do when their child is injured. But what I was not expecting was the rush and fervour we had experienced in the half hour race to the hospital to come to an immediate and complete halt once we entered its doors.
While we waited to be triaged and there were only two other gentlemen before us, who were clearly together. There were three little chairs separated by perspex screens and then one little chair right by the entrance door, by which we were standing so as to give the other gentlemen their space from our excited-to-be-somewhere-new children. My wife and I were wearing masks but our kids weren’t and, nobody once addressed the matter with us, which is curious considering what I’m about to tell you.
It was at this point that we were asked by the lady at the desk to please move away from that singular chair by the door because that was the “COVID waiting area”. I was stumped. That one little chair, right next to the door (perhaps for better ventilation?) was the COVID waiting area. I began to see just how seriously the healthcare system in Nova Scotia actually took this virus – counter to the constant fear mongering, they didn’t actually take it very seriously at all. There was not 5ft between the COVID waiting area and the rest of the triage area. There also weren’t any perspex screens enclosing that chair, like with the others, and we all know how useful they are in preventing the spread of airborne viruses…
Nonetheless, we moved away from the COVID waiting area as asked. And just at that moment an elderly woman was rushed into the hospital in a wheelchair, clearly short of breath behind her mask, and panicking to the point that the lady at the desk need not have asked her the COVID screening questions. This lady was then wheeled over to the COVID waiting area.
During the triage process the doctor asked the broad question of my four year old son, “has he been vaccinated”, to which we appropriately replied, “yes, to lots of things”. He then specified his question to mean the COVID vaccine, to which we responded quite obviously, “no”. I thought that a doctor would know that those under 5 years old aren’t even eligible for the jab, but apparently not.
Being triaged was the easy bit though, and the slow trudge that is hospital intake in an “emergency” department soon became apparent. Hours ticked by while we tried to entertain our sons. I’m grateful that an elderly man took a shine to them, and kept up a conversation with them for quite some time. He also wasn’t wearing a mask by the way, and was only spoken to about it by hospital staff once, and only half heartedly. Three hours into the wait my wife went to ask why it was taking so long to see a four year old with a head injury, and was told that they don’t prioritise people ahead of others.
They don’t prioritise emergencies? Good job no one was at the hospital for, say, an emergency, then eh? Well, what about the lady that came in with clear symptoms of COVID? Surely she’d be seen before everyone else so she wasn’t increasing the exposure risk of the other people in the waiting room? Nope. She sat next to the rest of us, her wheelchair parked at the end of a row of seats. There was no hermetically sealed area, no quarantine room separated from the rest of those waiting to be seen; just a little space and a mask over her face.
At this point I had to grab something to eat, so my eldest and I left to find and bring back food. On our way back into the hospital, with my arms full and in the middle of a conversation with my son, a man at the door yelled at me, “HAVE YOU BEEN VACCINATED?”. Putting aside the fact that interrupting a conversation by yelling at someone is obviously rude, and something that even my 6 year old knows, what is with that question? It’s as if the COVID vaccine is the only vaccine that has ever existed. Not to mention the fact that my medical history is none of that stranger’s business. I ignored the nice man, and continued to enter the hospital with my son, at which the man said, “Oh you’ve been through this before.” I answered in the affirmative and we carried on our way.
Finally, after five and a half long hours, my son was admitted. He got four stitches. My wife went with him and she later relayed to me her experience. They weren’t taken into a small doctors room, separated from everyone else, but an open air room with white plastic sheets used as separators. This meant she could hear the conversations of the people around her (so much for medical privacy). One such conversation involved a person who had been admitted for stomach pains and had self diagnosed with some abdominal anomaly. But they were told that the symptoms they had were not consistent with that original diagnosis, and so they would need to take a COVID test.
There are three issues highlighted by this conversation – the first is the serious lack of medical privacy with a setup in a hospital like this. I mean, come on, is this the best we can do? The second issue is the inflation of COVID numbers in Nova Scotia (and globally) which has occurred due to little events like this that turn into mass, asymptomatic testing using the inappropriate PCR test. It can’t distinguish between whole virus or viral fragments, and when run at more than 35 cycles of amplification, the false-positive rate soars to about 97%. Most, if not all of the ‘asymptomatic’ COVID case numbers, were the progeny of this test, which this person was steered into having. And this brings me to the third issue: this person probably didn’t realize they didn’t have to be tested for COVID. In Canada it is your right to refuse any medical treatment you wish, even if doing so would hasten your death. And the right to refuse is specific to each treatment, so this person could have refused the test, without refusing medical care for her symptoms. Anecdotal though it may be, this little example shows how COVID is still really a numbers game, and it’s one we don’t have to keep playing.
We left the hospital around 11:30pm that night, and needless to say we were all pretty beat. My kids dropped off to sleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, while thoughts of our hospital visit during a pandemic swirled through my head. For all the press briefings and endless reminders to mask up, stay the blazes home, sanitise and stay “COVID safe”, it felt clear to me that the hospital environment didn’t think this virus was all that deadly, because the lady with COVID symptoms was still sitting in the waiting area after we left.