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Woman says she blacked out from pain during 19-hour wait in Windsor ER before learning she has cancer

Chantel McNeil said she waited about 19 hours with unbearable back pain at Windsor Regional Hospital’s emergency room in southwestern Ontario before she finally saw a doctor.

Now, she’s telling her story, including about how eventually she was diagnosed with cancer, as just one example of the lengthy waits impacting patients at hospitals across the province.

McNeil moved to Windsor in May from Shakespeare, Ont., and is currently on a wait list to get a family doctor. 

In late June, the 44-year-old went to a walk-in clinic after about two weeks of suffering intense back pain, and then was referred to the hospital’s ER.

Eight hours into her wait at the hospital’s Metropolitan campus, McNeil said, hunger, exhaustion and the sharp, throbbing pain in her back forced her to leave — even though she risked losing her spot in line.

She said that after getting into the car with her husband, she blacked out and was taken by ambulance back to the ER, where health-care workers inserted an IV and took blood. She said she was then sent back to the waiting room for another 11 hours.

“I shouldn’t have had to sit for that long in pain,” McNeil told CBC News.

According to McNeil, she waited about a day in an emergency room bed before getting admitted into the hospital. After some tests, a doctor told her she had a cancerous mass on her kidney and a blood clot in her lungs. 

CBC Windsor spoke to McNeil’s husband, who confirmed her experience. He said he was “scared” when McNeil blacked out and is frustrated with how she was treated in the hospital. 

Something needs to be done with [the health-care system], because too many people are going without care and I know they really need it.– Chantel McNeil, 44 

Chantel McNeil said that about a week later, an oncologist diagnosed her with kidney cancer, and it had spread to her lymph nodes.

She is also on blood thinners to manage her blood clots. 

Recalling her time in the ER, McNeil said it seemed as if there weren’t many nurses around, and those who were there seemed “rushed” and “scattered.” 

“They had other patients that looked like they needed more than I did,” she said. “So I just let them go about what they had to do.”

There are long ER waits across Ontario

A spokesperson for Windsor Regional Hospital wouldn’t comment on McNeil’s story.

When asked generally about wait times, the hospital said they “are high all across the province.” On its website, the hospital warns patients that wait times mean “you will wait longer than normal to be seen.” 

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woman says she blacked out from pain during 19 hour wait in windsor er before learning she has cancer
Windsor Regional Hospital says it can’t comment on specific patient experiences, including McNeil’s. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Some Ontario hospitals have temporarily closed their emergency rooms because of low staffing levels. Burnout and increased patient demand are also adding to the backlog.

Last week, Windsor Regional Hospital said it didn’t foresee closures there. Local ERs, it said, are obligated to stay open “no matter what it takes.” 

Ontario’s Patient Ombudsman said it has “recently seen an increase in calls and written complaints about emergency department wait times and triage.”

But those complaints make up a small number of the total complaints about public hospitals, the office said. Of 665 complaints between April and June, 43 were related to delays or waits. 

‘Something needs to be done’ 

Since her ER experience in Windsor and being told she has cancer, McNeil has seen a doctor in London, Ont. Now, she’s waiting for surgery to remove her kidney and infected lymph nodes. 

McNeil still doesn’t have a family doctor, and she’s not alone. Ontario Medical Association (OMA) numbers show one million Ontarians don’t have one either. 

Dr. Rose Zacharias is the president of the Ontario Medical Association. She says about 1 million Ontarians don't have a family doctor, making it more difficult for them to navigate the system especially during these times.
About one million Ontarians don’t have a family doctor, says Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

“When you have a family doctor, you have a trusted advocate,” said the OMA’s president, Dr. Rose Zacharias.

That person “helps to screen you, do that cancer screening, monitor you for increasing in your symptoms … and also refers you to the specialist.” 

Zacharias said that in the short term, the government can look at reducing barriers for international medical graduates and, in the long term, open up more medical student and trainee spots. 

She said this will help increase staffing levels. 

Additionally, she said, the OMA is suggesting standalone surgical centres — these would offer day or non-urgent surgeries that would free up hospitals for more urgent situations. 

As for McNeil, she said that until she gets a family doctor, she’ll rely on urgent-care clinics or the hospital. 

“Something needs to be done with [the health-care system],” she said.

“Too many people are going without care and I know they really need it.” 

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