My first experience with medical harm dates back to my teenage years and early adulthood. When I was 16 years old, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. She had been seeing the doctor for a year and a half prior to her diagnosis with complaints of rectal bleeding. Despite a family history of colon cancer, her symptoms were dismissed as a simple case of hemorrhoids. By the time she was sent for a colonoscopy, the cancer had metastasized. My mother fought a valiant fight, but passed away after a whopping dose of chemotherapy that her body couldn't handle.
In 2012, I became the victim of a medical error that changed my life irrevocably. At that time, I was working as a Licensed Practical Nurse, a profession I loved and was well-suited for. I received an erroneous pathology result which precipitated a very invasive and unnecessary surgery, and as a result I am no longer able to function in the capacity required to be a nurse.
As a healthcare professional, I expected reparations and a swift systemic response to such an egregious error. Instead, I was met with a wall of silence and to this day, I still have not seen the results of the internal investigation into my case.
As I have sought information for many years since my unnecessary surgery, I have found that there are certain impediments to fulsome disclosure after a medically adverse event occurs. I would argue that, in my case, the poor systemic response only served to compound the injury inflicted and, as such, I now find myself in an advocacy role for certain reforms.
It is difficult for me to reconcile that the third leading cause of death in Canada is medical error, and yet there is not a nationwide system for a) collecting information and statistics on the prevalence of medical error; or, b) legislation which requires the mandatory reporting of medical errors. I find it further concerning that there is legislation that exists in most provinces (Sec. 51 of The Evidence Act in British Columbia) where information surrounding discussions pertaining to individualized medically adverse events are prohibited from being disclosed externally.
As difficult as this situation has been for me personally, I find strength in a community of like-minded individuals who are elevating the narratives of patients and striving to improve our healthcare system across this country. I am cautiously optimistic that our collective voices will resonate and our efforts will not be in vain.
Allison Kooijman is a patient advocate, co-Chair of Patients for Patient Safety Canada, and a member of the British Columbia Patient Safety and Health Quality Council's Patient Voices Network.