Imagine having your colon rupture two days before a scheduled colonoscopy.
That’s what happened to Joan Hama.
The Kelowna woman is considering becoming a patient advocate after a near-death experience that might have been avoided if she didn’t have to wait so long for the routine procedure.
Hama has been looking for answers and calling for better policies since she suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery six years ago.
She was referred for a colon screening FIT test in July 2016 and it came back positive, which meant she should have had a colonoscopy within eight weeks, under provincial guidelines.
Unfortunately, when she went back to her doctor in October, with other symptoms, the procedure had still not been scheduled in Kelowna. Her physician arranged for a colonoscopy for Hama with a specialist in Vernon on November 10, 2016.
She ended up in the emergency room at Kelowna General Hospital on November 8, and her long and painful journey began.
She underwent emergency surgery after an urgent CT scan revealed a perforated left colon and fluid (likely feces) in her abdomen, according to an affidavit sworn by Dr. Gareth Eeson, who performed the surgery.
Dr. Eeson is a clinical instructor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and a surgical oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency, through Kelowna General Hospital. He gave the affidavit in October 2020 as part of an appeal filed in a court case involving the B.C. and federal governments and Cambie Surgeries Corporation.
Dr. Eeson noted that in order to receive her screening colonoscopy within the B.C. government’s maximum acceptable wait time of eight weeks from her positive FIT test on July 16, 2016, Joan should have had a colonoscopy by September 14 of that year.
In his professional opinion, the surgeon said if she had the screening within the acceptable wait time, her cancerous tumour would have been detected eight weeks before her bowel perforation and she likely would have had surgery within 2-4 weeks. He added that she would have been at low risk of any life-threatening complications.
Instead, Hama needed emergency surgery to remove part of her colon and had a colostomy bag attached to her abdomen. She was unstable during the operation and needed to be resuscitated a number of times.
She then developed sepsis because of the fecal contamination and spent several days in the ICU.
Even when she was discharged home, it wasn’t a smooth recovery. She needed home nursing care and experienced significant fatigue and recurring fever.
Joan wants Interior Health to take responsibility for not doing a better job of ensuring patients get a colonoscopy within the eight-week time frame.
She said if she had been sent to Vernon, or elsewhere that had sooner appointments, she wouldn’t have gone through such a harrowing experience.
Joan contacted a lawyer in 2018 about a possible lawsuit, but he recommended she take her complaints to the Patient Care Quality Review Board.
In a letter to the Ministry of Health, Hama claims that although Kelowna General Hospital had an eight-month waiting period for a colonoscopy at the time of her ordeal, Vernon Jubilee Hospital had a wait time of four to six weeks.
Hama also learned that Interior Health did not have policies or procedures at the time that offered patients the option of having a colonoscopy in another community.
“Interior Health was not being forthright in doing anything to solve this waiting list of people waiting for a colonoscopy,” Joan told Castanet.
“They waited until it was at an eight-month mark when it should have been done at two months. I think it’s deplorable.”
She has now gone to her MLA seeking answers and calling for better use of taxpayer resources to serve patients.
“To say yes, there’s waiting lists and throw more money at them, I don’t think is necessarily the right way to go about it if they’re not going to do some simple things. That one could have been simply solved by just talking to other health authorities and figuring out, yeah, we should be using the other hospitals within our area to see if there's a way that we could have alleviated the waitlist in Kelowna,” said Joan.
She mentioned a similar case where a man from Kelowna complained to the Interior Health Patient Care Quality office about a seven-month waitlist in Kelowna in 2017, and he was finally given a much sooner appointment in Revelstoke.
Hama wonders if IH finally acted to put policies and procedures in place to clear up wait times after her incident.
She’s thinking about becoming an advocate for other patients to help them navigate through the process because of the knowledge she has gained through her experience.
Castanet contacted Interior Health multiple times in the span of a week seeking comment or explanation from the health authority, but got no response.