Lynn McLaughlin says she got “great care” from surgeons and nurses at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre after being rushed to hospital early Sunday evening, December 18. 

McLaughlin was seen immediately in the Halifax Infirmary Emergency Department after passing out several times from the severity of the pain in her gut. Staff told McLaughlin’s daughter Erin her 67-year-old mother might not make it and she should “say her good-byes.” 

McLaughlin describes the experience as “pretty traumatic.” She spent the next four and a half days on the surgical ward recovering from what was diagnosed as a perforated bowel. 

She was discharged before Christmas and will need follow up visits to the surgeon.

That’s the good news part of the story.

The bad news is that Lynn McLaughlin says she could have died because no ambulance was available to transport her from her home in Tantallon, 34 minutes away from the hospital in Halifax. 

“I couldn’t stop screaming,” said McLaughlin. “I never felt pain like it and I have a high pain threshold, having gone through two knee replacements needing only Tylenol after the surgeries.”

Her daughter first called 811 for medical advice when the pain started about 5pm on Sunday. As her mother’s screaming continued, Erin called 911 at about 5:25. Within 10 minutes, first responders from the nearby HRM fire station arrived at the home. 

For the next hour, with McLaughlin screaming in agony, the firefighters became increasingly concerned about her condition after 911 dispatch indicated no ambulance was available and no ETA could be provided. 

According to McLaughlin’s daughter Erin, someone called an EMT (paramedic) friend for advice and the paramedic suggested calling a taxi to get her to hospital. But Erin said none of the four cab companies she dialled would agree to transport her mother. 

While the first responders stayed with the patient, Erin went to their nearest neighbours, who agreed to drive her mother to the hospital in the back of an SUV.

“Those poor guys; I hope they aren’t scarred for life,” Lynn McLaughlin told the Halifax Examiner. “They had to listen to me screaming all the way from Whynacht’s Point to Halifax. Except when I passed out several times.”

McLaughlin was lucky to have such good neighbours, especially considering she didn’t know them. 

McLughlin said she wanted to go public with her story for a couple of reasons. One, to illustrate her concern over whether an ambulance will be available to respond in a real emergency. Two, to underline the vulnerability of people who have chronic medical problems but do not have a family doctor.

McLaughlin said her surgeon linked her admission to Emergency with a perforated bowel to having consumed the wrong medication. 

McLaughlin, who moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario 14 months ago, does not have a family doctor and said she will “absolutely not” be turning to Algomed, a company she hired to provide in-person or online consultations with a health care professional. McLaughlin became “a subscriber” for $30 a month and paid $23 for one visit in May to the clinic in Burnside and $23 for a telephone consultation in November. McLaughlin said she signed up with the company in May because she injured her back and wanted pain relief. At that time, she was taking prednisone for gout. 

McLaughlin has diabetes. She also has a chronic condition which means she must take a particular drug called lansoprazole for the rest of her life to protect the lining of the stomach. McLaughlin said she booked a phone consultation with a nurse practitioner in November to request a refill for the stomach lining prescription and to discuss getting off the prednisone (which was supposed to be short-term only) and how to cope with the back pain which continued.

McLaughlin said the discussion got heated and she understood Algomed would not refill the stomach prescription nor would it prescribe a pain reliever. 

She claims it wasn’t until after her trip to the Emergency Department and a discussion with her surgeon that she learned Algomed had indeed made changes to her prescriptions. Unfortunately, she had not gone to the pharmacy to get them because she believed they were incorrect. A refill had been ordered for the stomach lining medication and a “step down” drug had been prescribed to replace the prednisone. Regardless of what led to the poor communication, the result was a life-threatening condition she blames on “a drug that was eating my insides.” 

McLaughlin will see the surgeon again and need further diagnostic tests to see how much internal damage there may be. 

For now, she is grateful for the good care she received at the Infirmary and apprehensive about what the future holds. Like thousands of Nova Scotians unattached to doctors or nurse practitioners, her new best friend may be the pharmacist and a clinic where she can at least book an appointment in advance to help with refills. Hers is a cautionary tale.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Is Medavie Health Services making a profit? Are they meeting their deliverables for which they are contracted?