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Red Deer woman forced to travel to Camrose to get appendectomy

Olivia Armstrong, 21, got the emergency surgery last weekend
Olivia Armstrong, 21, gives a thumbs up after having her appendix removed at a Camrose hospital on June 25. (Contributed photo)

A local woman had to be taken to Camrose to receive an appendectomy because she wasn’t able to get the surgery at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Olivia Armstrong, 21, experienced an episode of severe pain on Wednesday, June 22.

“It started in my stomach and worked its way into my lower abdomen. It was very bad,” she told The Advocate Saturday.

Armstrong was able to get to sleep and when she woke up the pain had subsided a bit. On Thursday, June 23, she went to a walk-in clinic, where she was told to go to the hospital if the pain got worse.

“At four in the morning (on Saturday, June 25), I had another episode of excruciating pain so I went into the hospital,” she said.

RELATED: Surgery diversion persists at Red Deer hospital

While at the hospital, Armstrong waited about six hours for an ultrasound. When she finally did get an ultrasound, she was told her appendix needed to be removed.

Armstrong said she was told the surgery couldn’t be done at the Red Deer facility due to staffing shortages.

About an hour later, a location where she could get the surgery was found: St. Mary’s Hospital in Camrose. But there was no EMS transportation available, so Armstrong’s mother Roxzane drove her the hour and a half to Camrose to get the emergency surgery.

Armstrong said she felt “a little bit of fear” at that moment.

“I was worried having to transport myself there,” she said.

“I thought, ‘What if (my appendix) bursts on the drive?’ or ‘What if we get backed up on the highway?’ The unknown was a little bit freaky because I’ve had a few people in my family who have had bad appendix situations.”

At the Camrose hospital, a patient in the same room also had appendicitis. Armstrong said that patient was from Rocky Mountain House and was sent to the Red Deer hospital before being redirected to Camrose.

Armstrong was able to get her surgery after a couple of hours at the Camrose hospital

“I was up until 2 a.m. – they had to do tests and monitor my blood pressure and everything. It was a very long ordeal,” she said.

A week after the surgery, Armstrong said she is still feeling a little sore.

“If I cough, sneeze or laugh it’s quite painful. But if I’m just sitting, standing still or laying down … it’s not bad at all,” she said.

The whole situation was “very frustrating,” said Armstrong.

“It’s frustrating that it took so long. It’s frustrating that they couldn’t do the surgery in Red Deer. It’s a way bigger city and they had to outsource to Camrose,” she said, adding her family has been in the Red Deer hospital frequently over the past couple of years.

“My auntie had cancer just before the pandemic and my grandma’s been in the hospital,” she said.

“When my auntie was in the hospital, (it seemed) every day in the early afternoon they’d announce the hospital is going into overcapacity.

“Something’s got to change.”

In a statement Saturday, Alberta Health Services apologized for Armstrong’s experience and said it is reviewing the circumstances around this patient transfer.

“In some instances, a medical team may deem it safe and appropriate for a patient to be taken by private vehicle to a different site where they can get the care they need in a more timely manner. The medical team would only do this if was safe to do so,” said AHS.

“This is not a routine practice, however in a situation where a patient’s clinical assessment and condition is considered stable and it is safe to do so, a private vehicle may be used to ensure appropriate use of resources or obviate the need for the patient to wait for transport by EMS. Communication with the patient is essential in these circumstances.”

While some general surgery cases continue to be diverted from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, emergency surgeries, patients who are medically unstable for transport, and some scheduled general surgery procedures are continuing at the site, said AHS.

“AHS is working hard to resume normal surgical services at RDRHC in the coming days, following the successful recruitment of new clinical assistants who will be starting work at the site next week.”

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Sean McIntosh

About the Author: Sean McIntosh

Sean joined the Red Deer Advocate team in the summer of 2017. Originally from Ontario, he worked in a small town of 2,000 in Saskatchewan for seven months before coming to Central Alberta.
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