Forgiveness is bullshit – a story about my mother & Quebec’s healthcare system

“Forgive and forget? No, that’s being gullible. Forgive, sure; but never forget what that person did to you, and make sure they never have the opportunity to do it to you again.” – my aunt, one of the few women I know who has broken through the glass ceiling in her male-dominated industry (electrical engineering).

Let me tell you a story. But first, I invite you all to read this post. I want you to imagine me, sitting on the kitchen floor, as my father tells me what happened. Imagine a grown man, sobbing so hard, he is almost inarticulate. Imagine the two cops standing in the hallway hearing every word, uncomfortably aware that they have to do a minimal investigation to ensure this wasn’t a homicide, and probably desperately wishing that the coroner would show up and sign the damned papers so that they can give privacy to what is clearly an innocent family tragedy. Imagine my best friend, standing next to those cops, unsure of what to do, willing himself to be deaf and not hear the following.

My beloved mother was a walking pharmacy. She had bazillion different illnesses and conditions, each requiring medication, and requiring her GP and pharmacist to be expert jig-saw puzzlers, as they worked to ensure none of her medications were incompatible with each other, or worsened any of the side-effects. Without revealing all of her medical history, it is pertinent to this story to disclose that she had a heart condition, suffered from fibromyalgia and a complicated chronic pain condition as well as a rapidly worsening spinal stenosis. For anyone that doesn’t know that those terms mean, or the pharmaceutical implications, it means she was on medication for her heart, and dangerously high levels of different pain medications.

She took the controversial medication Lyrica. Look it up. Some of the side-effects include depression and suicide. It causes a lot of strain on the heart, which is why it is strongly recommended (big Pharma slang for “do this, or else you will get fucked but you can’t sue us because we warned y’all”) to keep dosage constant, and if for wtv reason the patient decides to stop taking it, it must be done extremely gradually, over months, by diminishing slowly the dosage, to avoid over-straining the patient’s heart.

In the week before her death, my mother realised her supply of Lyrica was low, and worse, her prescription had run out. Of course, Murphy’s law dictated that she was living through a bad phase of pain – leaving the house was too hard. She missed the first day of her GP’s drop in clinic that week. She (barely) managed to show up on the Wednesday, a few minutes before it closed. Her GP refused to take her, she didn’t want to stay late because she was leaving on vacation that evening. Having been my mother’s GP for over a decade, she knew my mother’s file inside out. My mother attempted to plead with the receptionist, but the receptionist was frazzled and overworked, and my mother found standing up too painful, so she decided to just go home and lie down, without getting the prescription. Her Lyrica ran out that night.

Thursday, her state worsened. My father was worried to leave her and go to work, but my mother convinced him that she’d be ok – afterall she had tons of morphine and other opiates as backup pain medication. Thursday night, my father was panicked, because my mother was wheezing more than normal, sweating, and was clearly in an unmanageable amount of pain. Friday, my father took time off work, and waited at the local pharmacy until the head pharmacist, who has known my parents for over 30 years, arrived. Crying, he explained my mother’s situation and begged the pharmacist to sell him some Lyrica, without a prescription, to tide over my mother until her GP’s return from vacation. Let us be clear: he was asking the pharmacist to do something illegal, that could cost him his licence and career. God bless that pharmacist, he agreed because he deemed the risks to my mother’s heart, given her heart condition, to be too great. Unfortunately, he did not have the particular dosage that my mother required. So he sold my father a weaker dosage of Lyrica, because that is all he could provide.

My mother had been off Lyrica, cold-turkey, for 36 hours at that point. She started taking the weaker dosage on Friday night. My father didn’t sleep that night, because he was too frightened by her moans in her sleep and labored breathing.

She died in her sleep Saturday night.

The coroner determined that it was impossible to determine whether her lungs or her heart had stopped working first. He acknowledged that the yo-yoing drugs most likely played a role. He did not deem there to be sufficient cause to investigate anything further. He confirmed something which we already knew – my mother’s health was a ticking time-bomb. So many precarious, interrelated factors, held together in tenuous equilibrium… if it hadn’t been the Lyrica prescription, it could have happened a few weeks later due to something else.

I made all the calls to friends and family to advise them of my mother’s death. I refused to notify her GP, because I knew I would be incapable of doing so in a socially acceptable manner, and I was incapable of breaking the news to the pharmacist. My father did so, a few weeks later, when he returned all of my mother’s medication to be disposed of safely.

Why tell this story? Why now, on this sunny September day, that is not an anniversary of anything note-worthy in either my life or my mother’s?

When I moved out 10+ years ago, I stopped being a patient of my family doctor (same doctor as above – maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, afterall). After 2-3 years, I found a GP. She changed medical practices, and I didn’t get my act together in time to follow her. I didn’t have a doctor for all these years, until this fall, when a new clinic opened up near my place, and I got accepted as a patient. My relief was profound – I am getting to an age where I am starting to have worrisome question marks, and have a family history that is scary, on multiple fronts. My new GP helped me transition back onto Ritalin, for the first time in years. We had more work to do to tweak my dosage, and she required me to book appointments in 3 month-intervals, for the next year, until we got things just right.

I called the clinic this week to book my next appointment, only to find out that my doctor had decided to go back to school for the next 4 years. She did not transfer my file to any other doctor. I’m back at square one. I still have my question marks. And a prescription for a controlled substance that I currently cannot renew.

Rage. What I feel is rage. I have not forgotten. And I do not forgive either our shit healthcare system, backed by anonymous bureaucrats and passive/corrupt/indifferent/naïve/I-frankly-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-the-right-adjective-is politicians or the doctors that forget/don’t care that their actions change and sometimes end lives.



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