Hallway Health Care

Hallway Health Care

This woman spent 47 hours waiting for surgery in the Sunnybrook ER, with shattered wrists, a broken elbow, cracked ribs and internal bleeding.

Just before midnight, Yerxa made a trip to the bathroom, and on her way back along the pitch-dark hallway, she veered slightly to her left and took a wrong step. She plunged down seven wooden stairs, hit the landing, punctured the drywall there, and then continued down four more stairs before coming to a stop in the living room.

An athlete sleeping on the couch rushed over. Bones were sticking out of Yerxa’s right elbow, and her wrists were in the shape of the letter S, her hands dangling limply. But she was in shock, and she felt no pain. She told the young man not to worry, that he should go back to sleep since he had to compete in the morning. Then she passed out.

When she came to, two of the other parents were hovering over her, and she was soon being rushed to Haliburton Hospital by ambulance, sirens blaring. Doctors there told her that in addition to the two shattered wrists and broken elbow, she had a couple of broken ribs and a lacerated kidney, and she would require complicated surgery, which was beyond their capability as a small hospital. The pain was by that point intense, and doctors gave her strong painkillers. The next day, a snowstorm hit that made an airlift impossible, so Yerxa was transported by ambulance to Sunnybrook, and her husband, Trevor Clough, drove in from Cambridge to meet her there. He sat in the ER for nearly three hours, waiting for her arrival, and he couldn’t believe the pandemonium he witnessed. “I’d never seen a hospital that busy,” he says. “I was amazed at how many people were coming in.” He remembers ambulances arriving every 15 or 20 minutes, disgorging patient after patient. There had been a major accident on the 401, which he thought explained the deluge, but the nurses told him it was always that way on a Saturday night.

In the hallway, there was no curtain, no call button, and Yerxa was next to the bedpan dumping station. Illustration by Jeffrey Smith

When he finally got to see his wife later that evening, Clough discovered that her bed was in what Sunnybrook staff call the “orange zone”—essentially a holding area for patients when no rooms are available. Her bed was pushed up against a wall, with the IV pole and other paraphernalia wedged in beside her. Clough had nowhere to sit, so he stood awkwardly next to her until a nurse kindly brought him a chair. There was a curtain, but no switch to turn off the lights at night. That location would be Yerxa’s home for the next 19 hours—and her predicament would get worse from there.

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