A Campbellton woman says she is struggling to understand why her husband did not receive more urgent care when he suffered a stroke this month, and she believes his prognosis would be better if he had.
"I'm in shock that this happened," said Cathy Pitre, whose husband, Luc Pitre, 53, is in hospital on a feeding tube and may never be able to work or walk again.
"It's hard to look at him this way," she said. "He should have been treated right away."
Luc Pitre went to the Campbellton Regional Hospital emergency department, in northern New Brunswick, at about 5:30 p.m. AT on Jan. 5, said Cathy Pitre, with a headache and trouble swallowing.
At first the couple thought it was related to a toothache.
Pitre described her husband as a "very active" person who played hockey, for example, but had pre-existing conditions including a history of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
After being triaged with a blood pressure reading of 200 and a blood sugar reading of 27, he was made to wait hours in the ER over a two-day period, she said, and at one point was sent home, before finally getting an MRI Jan. 7 that confirmed a blockage in his neck had caused a stroke.
An acquaintance who happened to be in the waiting room the first night he went in seemed to provide better care than the hospital staff, said Pitre.
"I'm so glad that he was there," she said.
'He could barely stand up'
Pascal Pelletier said Luc Pitre had been getting up often to go to the bathroom and spit, since he couldn't swallow, and was a bit wobbly, as if he was drunk.
At around 11:30 p.m., when Luc went out for some air, Pelletier said he could tell he wasn't doing well, so he took him to the nurse and asked for his friend to be re-evaluated.
According to Cathy Pitre, Luc had blood work and X-rays before being released. He was asked to return the next day at noon for a CT scan.
WATCH | 'He should have been treated right away,' wife says:
Luc was walking crooked when he came out out of the ER at around 1:30 or 2 a.m., said Pelletier.
"I said, 'You can't drive like that. You seem drunk… You might have an accident.'"
"He could barely stand up," said Pelletier, who insisted on driving him home.
Pitre said she was at work the next day when Luc called her with an update.
"I could hardly understand him, his speech was so slurred."
She went home and drove him to the hospital for his scan.
Afterwards, she said, they were told to go back to the ER, take a number and wait for the results.
Signs of stroke ought to be well known, wife says
They were waiting four hours, she said, when she began to lose patience and asked the nurse, "Since when is a stroke not an emergency?," having recognized the common symptoms of slurred speech, numbness on one side of his head and loss of balance.
"Pretty well everyone knows the signs of stroke," said Pitre. "They advertise them on TV."
He was finally admitted, she said, at around 5 p.m., almost 24 hours since he'd first gone in.
Since then, there has not been any change in his condition, she said.
He's conscious and can talk, but is in and out of sleep, "laying in a hospital bed with a feeding tube and really no quality of life."
He can't swallow at all, she said, but could possibly recover the ability in the next several weeks.
"We're trying to stay positive," she said.
"We could have lost him. We didn't, thank God."
'Something has to change'
The Vitalité Health Network, which manages the Campbellton hospital, declined to comment on the incident when contacted by Radio-Canada earlier this week. The authority cited confidentiality concerns.
CBC News also contacted the health network to ask whether the hospital was short staffed on the night in question, and if so, by how much. CBC also asked whether Luc Pitre's case is being investigated and for information on the policy to determine whether a patient is released from the emergency department.
Sharon Smyth Okana, senior vice-president of Clinical Programs and Nursing, provided a written statement by email.
"Quality of care is a priority for the network. Any complaints are taken seriously and followed up," the statement said.
"Following a complaint, the results of our analysis are shared with the patients and family members involved."
Cathy Pitre said it's been an eye-opening experience that she never would have believed until it happened to her family.
"Whether it was because of doctors and nurses not doing their job properly or because they are overworked, I'm not sure, but I do know something has to change because our health-care system is just — wow."