My experience with Victoria General Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia


My mom was admitted to the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia less than a week after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. We were devastated and soon found out the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, spine and kidney. She was a very private person so there was no doubt we were getting her a private room

There were a few things in the hospital that we thought were strange – as small as public bathrooms running out of hand soap, to something as big as not being able to use the tap water to brush your teeth. We didn’t think too much of it, as all of our focus was on our mother. Our experience seemed to be as normally painful as a health emergency could be – until we were robbed of our last night with our mom. This left me feeling like it was a nightmare within the nightmare my family was already dealing with.

The night before my mom died, she was having one of her most alert, talkative days. She was her old self again, laughing, joking and even asked the rest of my family to go grab a pizza so we could all have some time together to chat in her room. The calm before the storm, as the saying goes.

Around 7pm there was a shift change, and mom received her medication. While she was getting her vitals tested, an excessive amounts of brown, mucky water started pouring down from the ceiling in a staff room across the hallway. It didn’t seem to be an emergency until I felt my feet were wet. I went to the hall and started pulling everything and anything I could in the doorway to stop the water from coming in – ruining piles of towels, pillowcases and anything else I could find.

While I was trying to take care of my mom and her room I overheard the security asking themselves whether or not they should call the fire department, more than a few times.

The nurse told me to tell my family not to come up, the whole unit was flooding and it was critical that no more people come up. After a while the head nurse came in and told me that my mom had to be evacuated.  At this point, my mom’s slow-release morphine was starting to take effect, she was aware there was a flood but she was starting to get more and more confused by all the commotion. I told her not to worry and that we are going to get her out of this room, somewhere safe. I explained to the head nurse that she needs high-flow oxygen and we will be ready to move as soon as we received that. She informed me that mom would have only regular oxygen for the move. We were forced to go with it, and were told that she would have high flow as soon as she got to her new location. I told mom to relax and breathe through her nose to keep her oxygen levels up during the move.

As we began our journey, my mom was becoming more and more confused. She innocently asked the head nurse “Where am I going? Am I going to another private room?” The reply made my mother even more anxious to the point where she just shut her eyes. The head nurse replied strongly, and loudly “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY, YOU MIGHT BE PUT IN THE HALLWAY FOR ALL I KNOW”. I was so shocked and appalled by her behaviour, and this was just the beginning. Keep in mind that my mother hadn’t been able to stand straight up in a couple months. She didn’t move much and required anti-nausea medication if she did have to move. She received nothing.

As we guided my mother’s bed through the hallway, we came across many other patients that were obviously distressed and alone. I will never forget the look on the face of an elderly lady whom was placed in the hallway on her bed, alone. She was stuck in the middle of the panic – she was miserable. I wanted to stop and comfort her but my mother was more important.

The new room was a ward with four other patients. None of the nurses in this unit were aware of my mom’s situation. The nurses from our original unit went missing. I asked a nurse for Ativan (anxiety medication) – I explained that my mother cannot handle being moved around, nor can she handle the stress of the flood. I was denied her medication. I asked for her high-flow oxygen and was denied. I repeatedly asked and eventually harassed staff members to get my mom high-flow oxygen. By this time, my mom was due for more morphine. I pleaded to the nurses to please give my mom her medication, not only did she need it hourly – she needed extra due to the stress of the move. After being denied multiple times, I ran through the flooded area, into the flooded nurses desk and grabbed my mom’s chart. I ran back through the dirty water to the new nurses and put my mom’s chart in their faces. This whole time I had to repeatedly tell other staff members that I AM NOT A NURSE.

My mother was extremely ill to the point that we never left her alone. During the flood I was forced to leave my mom alone in the ward while I tried to save our belongings from the flood in her old room. The room was filling up quickly. I was very fortunate to only make one trip and find my father by my mom’s side. I quickly called my brother and told him to send someone up that doesn’t mind ruining their shoes. My sister-in-law and I made many trips back and forth through the mucky, brown water – just barely saving our belongings.

We were all waiting for the water to be shut off to try to get some answers. The water was not being shut off – no one knew where the valve was to turn it off. A director with the VG eventually showed up and tried to calm us down. I didn’t let her calm me down – instead I harassed her until my mother received all her medication as well as her high-flow oxygen. It took at least two hours for my mother to receive the appropriate medication as well as her high-flow oxygen. I had been asking since before we left her original room, and the excuse was that they sent someone to pick it up. They took two hours to realize they couldn’t find any and went to my mom’s original flooded room and took it from there.

While this was happening, my whole family had to keep calm and act like everything was okay so that my mom wouldn’t get too stressed out. Meanwhile, we were pleading with the director for a private room. The water still hadn’t been shut off. They were letting the water drain out of the elevator. The place was literally a mess. I eventually convinced the director that we could not stay where we were. She gave us a private room in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. We were relieved that mom was in a safe spot where the nurses could focus on her. By the time we had her settled with another dose of medication, it was after 11pm. She passed away around 18 hours later September 25 2015- surrounded by loved ones. The night was like a nightmare within a nightmare, but we were grateful to receive a peaceful room for her last hours.

There was absolutely no plan set for an emergency like this. In some cases, I could understand the panic and disarray that a massive flood could cause, but this particular building has been through this before. The Victoria General has had their fair share of floods and other emergencies. The staff could have dealt with this situation a lot better. They should have a plan in place for any emergency. This is one of Atlantic Canada’s most important health care facilities. We deserve better than a falling down, third-world type of hospital. Most of the staff here are limited due to the lack of quality equipment, and cannot perform to their full potential.

As everyone knows, cancer is a horrible disease and it affects many people. It will be hard to live with the fact that my mom died of cancer, but what is even more painful is how she spent her last night. I always believe things happen for a reason but I will never understand why my mom died of cancer, and why she was evacuated in such a manner the night before she died.

What I do know is that The Victoria Hospital is a disgrace and embarrassment to the Maritimes. This is not the place you want to be when you are critically ill. It’s time we make a change and improve our health care facilities.

If you take a look at the video in this article, you will find mom’s room at 1:18 into the video.


(The above photo was taken by me when the flood first began on September 24 2015)

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Bruce MacKinnon Politic Cartoons



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