NEW WATERFORD, N.S. — Had it not been for a back injury sustained in a winter fall, Greg Sharpe reckons he would be down in Florida riding his Harley-Davidson.
The 56-year-old New Waterford resident says his quality of life has suffered since he took a bad fall in January and that he now requires strong opioid-based medication to keep his injury-related pain in check.
And, Sharpe said his experiences with the health-care system over the past three months have left him feeling frustrated.
“I am just flabbergasted about the level of health care,” he said.
The computer programmer, who was working from home, said his disappointment with the system began after he learned that X-rays, an ultrasound and a CT-scan did not provide an accurate diagnosis. He said he was told he needed an MRI, but that it would in Truro and that he would have to wait until late July.
Sharpe said his pain has been so intense that he opted to arrange for a private MRI in Halifax. But after reviewing the results, his family physician and a neurosurgeon at the regional hospital recommended physiotherapy rather than surgery.
Sharpe said he then consulted with a couple of physiotherapists.
“They told me that physio only works about 30 per cent of the time and that 80 per cent of those result in reoccurrence – I even went to a local physiotherapist, one of the most reputable around, and he told me there was nothing he could do for me,” he said.
For Sharpe, the final straw came when his family doctor told him that the neurosurgeon would not see him because he was on pain-control opioids.
“I couldn’t believe it — I’m at a 9.5 out of 10 level of pain and I don’t know what he wants me to do about my horrific pain,” he said.
He said he found his answer while recently watching television.
“I saw an ad for a place in Florida that offered surgery to help improve the quality of life — that’s what I want, so I connected with them and it all sounds really good,” said Sharpe.
“It’s not cheap, it will cost a lot of money, but fortunately I can cash in some RSPs and get it done, but I know lots of people couldn’t afford that — that’s why I wanted to go public with my story, so others don’t have to go through this.”
Due to confidentiality issues, the health authority does not discuss individual cases. However, Dr. Warren Wilkes, the NSHA’s Eastern Zone medical executive director, said doctors consider many factors when evaluating patients.
“Physicians make their decisions on care and treatment based on things like diagnostic test results, clinical guidelines that help guide approaches to care and the urgency of a health issue including the patient’s current condition — there are various forms of treatment for some conditions and surgery is not always a first step,” said Wilkes, in a written response to a Cape Breton Post inquiry.
But, he said, the patient also has the option of obtaining a second, or third, opinion.
“If a patient is not satisfied, they can ask for another opinion and can also ask their family physician for a referral to another specialist — if a patient has a concern about their care from a physician they can contact the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons,” said Wilkes.
“People can also explore other private options for health services outside of Nova Scotia — we suggest they discuss that type of approach first with their family physician or specialist before they make that decision.”
The health authority does not track who, or how many people, travel out of province or the country for private services.
For his part, Sharpe says he’s resigned to spending the money to have surgery in Florida.
“How can our health care be so bad that this is my only option?” he asked.