Whitehorse General Hospital’s expansion is long overdue

Arthur Mitchell I am writing to thank the doctors, nurses and X-ray and imaging technicians for the extraordinary care they provided me during my five-day stay in Whitehorse General Hospital this winter. Like many Yukoners, I caught a terrible cold in Ja

COMMENTARY

by Arthur Mitchell

I am writing to thank the doctors, nurses and X-ray and imaging technicians for the extraordinary care they provided me during my five-day stay in Whitehorse General Hospital this winter.

Like many Yukoners, I caught a terrible cold in January that developed into bronchitis and pneumonia. When it became clear that my illness was not going to resolve itself without intervention, I saw my family physician, who ordered a chest X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and prescribed a course of antibiotics.

Nevertheless, the illness and accompanying hacking cough persisted into February, while I tried to fulfill work commitments without taking too much time off. Because I was so sick with the pneumonia and coughing constantly, I ignored symptoms of another condition, ascribing periodic abdominal pain as the result of the constant coughing. Finally, on Rendezvous Friday, I was forced to leave work and go to the hospital emergency room.

From the moment I arrived, on a busy Friday afternoon, I received the utmost care and attention from the emergency room doctors, nurses, and X-ray and other imaging technicians. Despite working in an overcrowded and poorly designed workspace, everyone provided the most professional and considerate care possible.

After a number of tests, I was admitted with a diagnosis of a severely inflamed and infected gall bladder that needed to be surgically removed. That led to a consultation with long time surgeon (and friend) Dr. Dave Storey, who explained that he would need to remove the gall bladder, but hoped to first treat the infection, so that the surgery could be done with a less intrusive laparoscopic procedure.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, WGH was completely full, and there were no beds available on the surgical ward, so I spent my first night on a gurney in the ER / Day Surgery area, where there is constant noise and little chance of sleep. I was on an IV, receiving both fluids and antibiotics to try to treat the infection. Eventually, on Saturday, I was moved to a regular hospital bed in the surgical ward, and Dr. Storey successfully performed the necessary surgery Sunday morning.

Again, I received the best possible treatment from all the nurses on the surgical ward, who were always considerate and cheerful. Of course, I benefited from Dr. Storey’s surgical expertise, and got to enjoy his great sense of humour as well. I doubt that any southern surgeons announce it is time to fish or cut bait, while wearing a Leatherman tool, which I appreciated his not using! And how many outside surgeons would draw an anatomical diagram of all the abdominal organs, and then conclude by announcing, “This is what Hoss Cartwright, from Bonanza, died from!” I’ve known Dave Storey for a long time, and never tire of his great sense of humour.

I am extremely grateful for the extraordinarily considerate and professional care I received from everyone I met at Whitehorse General Hospital. And I’m not writing to complain about having to spend the first night in the ER. Rather, I saw it as an example of what happens to so many hospital patients, because we have waited so long for the overdue expansion project at WGH that is, at long last, underway.

For too many years, WGH’s medical professionals have laboured under the most difficult working conditions. It is unfortunate that the hospital renovations were postponed for so long, but it’s imperative that no matter the results of this year’s territorial election, they be completed as expeditiously as possible.

I understand there are also staffing issues in the ER and elsewhere at WGH that urgently require addressing. I urge the Yukon government to listen to the nurses, the doctors and the other medical professionals and ensure that their input is incorporated into both the construction project and the staffing decisions.

WGH is the only Yukon hospital where general surgery, orthopedic and specialty surgery is performed, and serves the entire Yukon community. Yukoners deserve the best possible treatment. Our medical professionals provide that great treatment, but the facility is sorely overtaxed.

Arthur Mitchell is a former leader of the Yukon Liberal Party. He lives in Whitehorse.

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