Wrong medical diagnosis inspires play about Sask. health care

Joey Tremblay spent five days in a hospital, convinced he was dying after he was misdiagnosed with HIV-related lymphoma. 

After arriving back in Canada from vacation, Tremblay was experiencing stomach pain. It was discovered he had a gallbladder infection requiring surgery, which he received.

Tremblay was having difficulty breathing following the operation and underwent a CAT scan.  A doctor, who was also the surgeon who operated on Tremblay, gave him some bad news.

"[The doctor] said he was 99 per cent sure that I had lymphoma," Tremblay recalled. "And given my sexual orientation, he was convinced that it was HIV related." 

Tremblay said he didn't question the diagnosis at the time. Then, another doctor later told him he had a rare, genetic blood condition — hemolytic anemia — which ran in his family. When Tremblay asked about the HIV and lymphoma, the new doctor said he didn't have either. 

So came the inspiration for Bad Blood, a play written and directed by Tremblay.

"In times of infection, I don't produce hemoglobin," he said. "So, I was drowning, essentially, in the bed."

Tremblay also contracted pneumonia around the time of his surgery.

Three months later, he collapsed and was back in the hospital with the same symptoms.

In a turn of events, akin to a slapstick comedy, Tremblay said the same doctor who misdiagnosed him did not seal a bile duct, causing a septic infection — then later confessed to dropping Tremblay's gallbladder inside of his body, bursting and spreading gallstones and causing abscesses on his liver.

"I was really a gigantic, septic, infected mass," he laughed.

Tremblay would undergo more surgeries, include one performed on his lungs, to correct the doctor's mistakes. He was in the hospital for months.

"In that time in the hospital, being in the institution for that long, I started to realize that although I was healing, what wasn't being addressed was the psychology of this," Tremblay said.

Three years of depression later, Tremblay decided to go to therapy where he connected his hospital stays with his feelings.

"Save for a few good nurses and a few good doctors ... for the most part, the institution was very de-humanizing."

Medical staff are too worried about charts, paper work and bureaucracy instead of the human aspects of medical care, he said. 

"I'm a white man of a certain privilege and this happened to me — what would happen to someone like an old First Nations woman?" Tremblay asked. 

Tremblay has had readings of the play for nurses in Regina and Saskatoon, which he says prompted people to tell him their own stories.

"It's not a unique story. That's what's sad."

For those who want a glimpse into the series of unfortunate events, Bad Blood opens at the University of Regina's Riddell Centre on Wednesday.

The play will run until Sunday. Show times are at 7 p.m. CST, except for a Sunday matinee of 2 p.m.