Why we need to be Empowered Patients and Families

by Connie Jorsvik

When we are accessing medical care, we are doing so because something is wrong. Our bodies, and often our heads, aren’t operating with their usual sharp and intelligent approach to problems because we are sick and hurt. The very definition of needing healthcare is to seek treatment because something is wrong, and when we are debilitated we just can’t think as straight as we can when we are healthy. Trisha Torrey – Founder of AdvoConnection and Author of “You Bet Your Life: The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes

In the following education series I hope to give you the information and tools so you can get the healthcare you need and deserve within the BC Healthcare System. Sometimes, to get the care you need, going to the United States or abroad may be an option – but I hope that with these tools, it can be your last option.

Our health care system is in crisis. It’s going to get much worse as the huge bulge of baby boomers really begin to age. The oncoming tsunami of Alzheimer’s and other dementias alone could cause the bankruptcy of our healthcare system.

We no longer have the option of being passive patients where we hope and trust that our doctors and nurses and other health members are actively looking out for our individual good.

Blind trust in the medical system to give you the care and treatment that you need when you are at your sickest is an understandable, but a potentially dangerous thing to give your healthcare providers. Those who are the best healthcare providers are caring, extremely knowledgeable and always act in their patient’s best interest. At the other end of the spectrum, care providers are merely there for the pay-cheque and they really don’t care about their patients. And, then there are the bulk of care providers in the middle: those who have the best for you and your family in mind but are massively overworked and walk away from a situation that could be better managed if they had the time and resources.


Blind trust came from a paternalistic medical system of the early to mid-1900’s when “doctor knew best” and he generally had time to do so. There are many, many doctors who still think they know best and put their patients in jeopardy with that belief and their actions.


Patients and their families MUST be vigilant all of the time. It’s like driving a car – a moment’s inattention can be deadly. Most of the time, even during the height of rush-hour, most other drivers are behaving themselves and following the rules; it’s when you take your eyes off the road for just a moment that accidents happen.


All the stories I provide are from my own practice. I have changed the names and some of the details to protect their privacy. Some of these stories will continue in other sections of the education series.


Colin’s wife Karen* had been admitted to hospital with headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Within days CT scans and MRI’s came back showing a ‘diffuse lesion’ in her brain and mild brain swelling. Karen’s condition was relatively stable as testing was done on enlarged lymph nodes to see if she had cancer and where it was originating from. Largely, little was done for 16 days. Then, suddenly, one day she began to have headaches that were 10 out of 10. She felt that her head was exploding. The neurologist was called and an MRI was ordered for the next day. Colin was told to go home and rest. He left, extremely anxious about his wife’s condition but he was assured that he would be called if there was any change. He was not called until 10:30 this morning as his wife was being rushed to ICU following a cardiac arrest. It turned out that despite serious signs and symptoms escalating, nurses failed to do charting all night and the day nurse left her side when she had signs of a decreasing Glasgow Score – a sign of increased intracranial pressure. An MRI in ICU showed massive brain swelling and she was taken off life-support two days later.


An extensive review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC and the provincial Quality Review Board showed multiple errors in care and procedure, and the Patient Care Quality Office for the Hospital had not done an adequate review of the case. Colin and I are in process of now laying a formal complaint with the College of Registered Nurses of BC.


Details of this complaint process are given in Chapter ___.

I am like a jaded cop on the downtown east-side of Vancouver… I know I tend to see healthcare with jaundiced eyes. I have seen a tremendous healthcare delivery over the years but I believe that there is some really, really bad care being delivered – and you don’t know it’s bad until you’ve gotten it. As a patient you have to be aware that the next doctor might not give two-hoots about you or your loved ones or that your next nurse would rather be sitting playing a game on their smart phone than perform a required hourly check on night shift. Why bother with washing your hands between patients when you’ve already washed them 30 times that day? (Answer, a lot when the last patient you were with just had a loose stool that won’t test positive for c. difficile for another 3 days.)

Keep your eyes on the road, which in this case is your health care or the health care of your loved ones. If you are unable to be physically present at a loved one’s bedside, hire someone – and train them what you want to see, say and do!!


You need to be watching that hands are washed, name and allergy bracelets are being checked, and that your loved one is being giving the caring attention they need and deserve. See Chapter __.


I am the bearer of bad news, I’m afraid… There is no rest for the weary. Most illnesses are marathons, not sprints. Get the resources you need in place before you become exhausted. Become empowered!


When you find yourself in one of these situations and you need support, please give me a call.


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