I’m writing this on a chilly Sunday morning. I’ve just returned from our neighbourhood mailbox (a major construction project prevents us from gathering our mail daily). After sorting out the flyers, I chose to open an envelope from the Nova Scotia Health Authority. As I read the enclosed letter, I am filled with a deep sense of sadness and concern for how we are choosing to communicate with each other.
What did the letter say? And why would it bring tears to my eyes?
Three years ago my husband, David, was diagnosed with cancer. While his journey with the disease has been relatively easy, cancer is always disruptive and emotional. There has been surgery, radiation and months of heavy-duty medication. And for some of this time he was without a family doctor and we struggled to navigate an extremely complex system.
Which brings me back to this letter. It is from the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre – the QEII Cancer Care Program. There is absolutely nothing about it that indicates “care”:
He is being scheduled for an appointment with his oncologist in February. Since he recently had blood work done, we are assuming this appointment relates to those results, and since the appointment is not until February, we are assuming the results are positive, that the cancer has not returned. But we don’t know this … the letter provides no information other than what David needs to do to keep this appointment.
There are two phone numbers provided. One if we want to change the appointment and one if we want to leave a message for the doctor or nurse. I’ve called both these numbers on occasion and, if you ever want to feel unimportant and of little value … . When David was without a family doctor I used every phone skill I possess to communicate, and was mostly met with anger and annoyance for my persistence.
Of course, we will bow to the system but I need to ask … Is this how we want to communicate? Is this acceptable to us? Are we truly okay with abandoning the phone conversations that once guided us through our health needs?
All health concerns are emotional, yet our system of black words on white paper, or nameless voicemail messages, do not acknowledge this truth. Those that are ill must endure an arms-length system in the name of “efficiency” that has nothing in common with community or caring. What are we doing?
Certainly the staff we have spent time with – receptionists, nurses, doctors, technicians – have been compassionate and caring. David has been treated with warmth and respect … once we are “inside” the system. But when you are “outside” … .
I sat with this letter and wondered, “How do they know we’ve even received this notice? What about the people who struggle with organization or dementia, who might not get this information in their calendar? What about the people who don’t read English?”
The letter is signed “Sincerely, CCTRS1”. No name, no connection. A letter from a number for a patient that’s a number. And this … this made me cry.