Marcel Aubin said his wife of 50 years, Monique Labrecque, had been feeling unwell for several days before the night of her death on May 24.
At 7:25 p.m., seeing her condition was getting worse, Aubin called 911.
An ambulance arrived at their Lévis residence 20 minutes later. But before paramedics could evaluate her condition or even unpack their equipment, they were dispatched to another call.
It was deemed a higher priority by their call centre, which operates on a medical priority dispatch system, with categories commonly called Clawson codes, after the U.S. doctor who devised them in the 1970s.
Paramedic Sylviane Provençal said she felt helpless when she was ordered to leave and had to tell Aubin they couldn't even check on his wife.
Later that night, Provençal heard over the radio waves that Labrecque had died of cardiac arrest.
"Would she have died or would she have had a chance if we had stayed?" Provençal still asks herself.
Aubin said once the first team left, his wife started complaining of stomach cramps, and asked: "Why is the ambulance taking so long?"
At 8:09 p.m., he called 911 a second time. By then, her symptoms classified as a priority 3, instead of a priority 7.
Paramedic Pier-Luc Croteau and his colleague walked in at 8:21 p.m, nearly an hour after the initial call for help.
"As soon as I saw her I knew she wasn't doing well," said Croteau. "She was pale. We could see she was suffering."
Labrecque died shortly after.
Croteau said the Clawson dispatch system failed Labrecque.
But he said the lack of ambulances in the area is the main problem he has dealt with over the past ten years.
"If I have to call an ambulance from my home, I know it's like playing the lottery," said Croteau, who lives in the same neighbourhood as Labrecque, roughly eight kilometres from the Dessercom ambulance dispatch centre.
Loss of a colleague
The ambulance shortage in Lévis had already been flagged. In July, coroner Julie Langlois recommended local officials address the issue.
She was commenting on the death of Hugo St-Onge, who died in 2017 after waiting 20 minutes for an ambulance.
St-Onge, 24, was a paramedic himself. He had been dealing with heart issues and had even signed an open letter, one month before his death, calling attention to the ambulance shortage.
The regional health board for Chaudières-Appalaches (CISSSCA) said one ambulance was added in March 2018.
But no extra staff-hours have been attributed to the region since the coroner's recommendations came out.
Only the provincial Ministry of Health — with the approval of Treasury Board — can authorize extra hours for a specific region.
The CISSSCA says ambulance coverage is adequate in Lévis, and operates at "75.5 per cent of the targeted clinical utilization ratio." Adding extra resources is only required once that number jumps to 90 per cent, according to the Ministry of Health.
Dessercom and the Quebec Federation of First Responders would like to see an extra 200 staffing hours added for the Lévis region.
Jean-François Gagné, the director of work relations, said in the meantime, the pressure and stress of dealing with these ratios falls on the paramedics who are on the ground.
"When there are 10 calls that come in and I only have eight ambulances, two people will have to wait — so you just cross your fingers to hope it's not an emergency."