WALLACE, N.S. – Christe Brander knew something was wrong with her son when he started having facial numbness last May.
But it wasn’t until he suffered a seizure and collapsed by his parents’ bedside that she felt people in the health care system took his complaints seriously.
“It’s one of the scariest things you can go through as a parent, having your son laying on the floor and not being able to communicate with him,” Brander said.
It was following his Dec. 26 seizure that 22-year-old Jeffrey Brander was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. He underwent surgery in Halifax soon after, but the prognosis is not good.
To Brander, the situation could have been different if her son, who also has Asperger’s, was able to see a doctor sooner.
Jeffrey began experiencing facial numbness in May, but she said he had to wait three months to see a family doctor at the collaborative emergency centre in Tatamagouche. He got into see the doctor in October, but she feels the doctor was so overworked that he wasn’t able to give her son the care he needed.
Her son was supposed to go back to the doctor in January.
“I’m not trying to blame our doctor because he was swamped. He was in and out in 15 minutes and I asked what was going on and the doctor, talking to me from behind the counter, said he thought he was fine that it could have been a nerve,” she said. “I asked if he should have a CT scan and he said no, that he’d see him in three months.”
Then the seizure happened.
Brander said Jeffrey came to the bedside in the middle of the night complaining that his hand had gone numb. His speech was slurred and one side of his face was drooping.
“I turned to my husband and told him to call 911. When I turned around he had collapsed,” she said. “His whole right side had gone paralyzed. He could hear us, but couldn’t talk indicated he had a terrible pain in his head. Then he stopped responding.”
A CT scan in Truro found a large hematoma and Jeffrey was transported by ambulance to the QEII Health Sciences Centre where surgery found an orange-sized tumour on the left side of his brain.
While surgeons removed most of the tumour, it has grown back and the prognosis is not favourable. Jeffrey underwent a radiation and chemotherapy rotation during the summer and the family is waiting on an MRI he had earlier this week.
She is convinced the news could have been different had he seen the doctor earlier.
“The wait time trying to get into a doctor was a huge issue. I think if we had ordered the CT scan in October or did it earlier he wouldn’t have had the hematoma in December, the paralysis and the other things, like the anxiety, that he suffers today,” she said, adding her son was a talented pianist prior to the seizure. “We need more doctors so they’re not so overloaded. Because they’re overloaded patients are not being cared for properly.”
Brander is also struggling as his caregiver and because she couldn’t get into a doctor in a timely fashion herself, because she was in Halifax with her son, she is having difficulty getting her insurer to cover her expenses.
“I’m with him almost every hour of every day,” she said. “Because of his Asperger’s his anxiety level is so high he doesn’t sleep well at night and doesn’t like to be left alone. It’s draining.”
Cumberland North PC MLA and health critic Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin says she has seen examples of this across the province and is frustrated the province won’t acknowledge something is wrong with health care.
“It’s a heartbreaking story, but hers is one of hundreds across the province,” Smith-McCrossin said. “There are a few issues at play, but the biggest is a physician resource issue.”
The MLS says she believes the department needs to work with doctors on solutions and suggested physicians need to have input as members of the provincial health authority’s leadership.
Smith-McCrossin, who is a nurse, raised the issue in the legislature on Oct. 20 asking Health Minister Randy Delorey when his department is going to come up with solutions to reduce wait times.
The minister responded the health-care system is very complex and inter-related, which means there is no single solution to address the challenges of any one particular area.
He said the department is taking a look at health care as a provincial system.