Warning: Story includes graphic post-surgery photos.
A Tillsonburg, Ont., mother says she was surprised her toddler was released from SickKids in Toronto just 48 hours after he underwent open-heart surgery earlier this month, and worries overcrowding at the hospital was behind him being discharged earlier than she had expected.
Rhoda Goobie said three-year-old Zane Goobie is recovering well at home after corrective surgery for the large hole in his heart. He had been diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect (VSD) when he was two months old.
Zane was admitted to SickKids at 2:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 and discharged two days later at 5 p.m.
While a SickKids spokesperson said a 48-hour turnaround isn’t unusual for a “straightforward” procedure, Rhoda said her son’s health team at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton never warned her Zane would be faced with that kind of timeline at the Toronto hospital.
The push was there. I understood that. But I could tell that they had to do things that they normally wouldn’t do.”– Rhoda Goobie
“It felt like it wasn’t really about trying to let him recover. The night that I was in the hospital with him, they were trying to get him ready to go home the next day,” said Rhoda, 30, who works as a photographer and has two other children in Tillsonburg, a town about 50 kilometres southeast of London.
SickKids’ intensive-care unit has been under immense pressure for weeks. Recently, it was reported that the hospital was at 120 per cent capacity, and pediatric hospitals across Ontario have been in similar situations as they’ve seen a huge surge in children with respiratory illnesses.
Goobie is sympathetic to the pressures facing children’s hospitals right now, but also to what patients’ families may be feeling when a child needs to be admitted.
“I could tell that they had to do things that they normally wouldn’t do because of the situation,” Goobie said, referring to a decision to remove Zane’s IV. She said another team of nurses told her the IV had been removed too early.
“They said, ‘This is not right. He needed to have a good night’s sleep, he needed to have one day here at least.’ It was very hard to understand the situation.
“I definitely broke down the first night.”
A SickKids spokesperson said the hospital couldn’t speak to the case involving the Goobies, for privacy reasons, but added, “A discharge time of approximately 48 hours would not be unusual for a straightforward VSD closure.
“Our care teams work hard to ensure patients are able to go home safely and as quickly as possible following surgeries, recognizing that recovering at home is often best for the patient and family’s health and well-being,” the spokesperson said in an email. “A patient’s care team completes detailed discharge planning with the family that includes a plan for followups, which allows patients to recover safely in the comfort of their own home.”
Hospitals working hard to clear beds
Other hospitals have been faced with trying to get patients discharged sooner rather than later.
“Freeing up a bed is always a priority, more so now than ever before,” said Dr. Ram Singh, interim chair, chief of the department of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in southwestern Ontario.
“We do make decisions which sometimes in an ordinary course of events, you would take a different route,” he said.
The Children’s Hospital is almost always operating at full capacity these days, said Singh, and on some days, at as much as 150 per cent.
We do make decisions which sometimes in an ordinary course of events, you would take a different route.– Dr. Ram Singh, Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre
Before discharging a patient, the hospital considers someone’s transit time to and from the facility, said Singh. LHSC physicians are also working more closely with community hospitals to see if patients can stay closer to home.
“They hang on to those patients longer,” he said. They’re also “repatriating” patients back home more quickly.
“These are decisions that we are being forced to make,” said Singh.
Advice for parents of sick kids
Although the hole in Zane’s heart is smaller, it’s not entirely repaired. But he’s doing well, and for his mom, that’s all that matters right now.
“I feel like they’re all trying to figure out this new system of everything being so busy,” said Goobie as she reflected on the stressful two days at the hospital earlier this month. She commends both hospital staff and management for doing their best.
“You need to vocalize how you feel,” she said. “I did break down one night and I just said, ‘My poor child is crying and he’s not doing well. He’s not even supposed to be using his heart. He should be resting right now.'”