Without a family doctor, many patients in the Eastern Townships feel abandoned

Ginette Perron Davidson says it was love at first sight for her and John Davidson.

Sitting on the veranda of their home in Foster, Quebec, she thinks back to the day they met 57 years ago, when she was 16 and John was 17.

For 45 years, they built their life together in the Eastern Townships, raised two daughters and managed their business.

Then their lives – and their retirement plans – were turned upside down.

Within a few years John, 74, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. While his cancer was successfully treated, John’s two other diagnoses led him to be seen by three different specialists.

But like about 73,000 Quebecers in the Eastern Townships, none of them have a family doctor to manage and take care of their health and well-being.

Instead, they are both on the long waiting list for a family doctor, while shortages of doctors and healthcare staff complicate the level of care they can receive.

Ginette Perron and John Davidson shortly after they met in 1965 as teenagers. (Submitted by Ginette Perron Davidson)

13 hour wait in the emergency room

Last December, Perron Davidson, 73, could barely walk because of sciatic nerve pain. As her husband’s primary caregiver, she had to be mobile – Davidson’s conditions mean he needs 24/7 care – so she tried desperately to get an appointment at a local clinic.

« You call from this hour to this hour and you could get an appointment. Tried on a Monday, tried on a Tuesday… redial, redial, redial. »

She was eventually seen but the prescribed medication did not relieve her pain. The only option she had left was to go to the hospital, where she waited 1 p.m. in the emergency room.

A seated man and woman in their 60s look at the camera.
John Davidson, left, requires 24/7 care due to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Feeling unsupported by the CAQ: « Where are its promises? I see nothing »

Perron Davidson receives help from the CLSC with home care nurses during the day, but finding care at night has been a major challenge. The government will pay for an attendant, but it’s up to her to find someone.

« They throw the ball at you. They say we’ll pay $19 an hour for someone to come to your house, but do you find someone. But where? … Where am I going to get help? » said Perron Davidson.

She has been looking for a night watchman since July, when the last person left.

With her husband getting up two to eight times a night, not having an attendant cost him dearly.

« I’m not a superwoman…sometimes I just can’t do it, » Perron Davidson said, his voice trailing off as a tear rolled down his cheek.

She says she is disappointed with the lack of support that the CAQ government, led by outgoing Premier François Legault, has given to caregivers struggling with staff shortages and waiting lists.

“They said they would give a bigger budget to (caregivers) at home,” she said. “But nothing has increased… Where are the helpers? Where are his promises?

A middle-aged man and woman wearing yellow T-shirts flank a younger woman in the center, dressed in red.
John Davidson, who left in 2012, a year before he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his daughter, Sarah, centre, who works for the Canadian Cancer Society. A few years earlier, in 2005, Ginette Perron Davidson, right, was diagnosed with colon cancer and recovered after surgery. (Photo submitted by Ginette Perron Davidson)

Staff suffer too

While Perron Davidson is looking for someone to fill the full-time night shift, her husband’s day attendant, Jessica Wilson, has offered to help out a few nights a week.

« I understand the need, you know, so I was like, ‘Okay, let’s try to find a solution,' » said Wilson, a single mother who works from home for a public co-op.

She has agreed to work three nights a week in addition to her regular 40 hours, but says she cannot do it indefinitely. Having previously worked in a seniors’ residence, she knows the effects of staffing shortages.

« I would come in at six and not finish until midnight, but I still had to be back at six to start my shift, » Wilson said.

« It’s exhausting, there’s always a lack of staff whether it’s attendants (attendants) to nurses to kitchen to cleaning,” she said. “The government is stretching things to the point where it’s not even safe.

« We deserve proper medical care »

Sarah Rumsby of Bedford, Quebec. also faces a shortage of family doctors. She and her daughter, Adeline, 6, have been on the waiting list for a year and a half.

Rumsby, a nurse, says her daughter has reactive airway disease which has resulted in a persistent cough.

As someone with a history of depression herself, Rumsby says she worries about not having access to a doctor.

« Even though things are going well now, it’s one of those things where it’s really hard not to have someone around when you start having trouble, » she said.

Tracy Biddle, who lives in Stanstead with her husband, Christian Desnoyers, says her doctor’s recent retirement came as a major « shock ».

« After 18 years of someone being your doctor, it’s kind of like a divorce, it kind of hurts. ‘What do you mean by leaving me here without a doctor?' » Biddle recalled having think.

« I find myself in a situation that I never wanted to be in. »

A man and a woman stand in front of the fireplace in a living room.
Tracy Biddle says she felt shocked and abandoned when her doctor recently retired. Now she worries about growing old without the help of a GP. (Rachel Watts/CBC)

Biddle says the situation makes her angry and, « as an aging person, » scared.

It’s up to her generation, she says, to do something about it.

« We deserve proper medical care, we all deserve family doctors, » Biddle said. « Why don’t we have it? » There’s no fucking excuse.


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