The family of 77-year-old Canadian navy veteran who was just diagnosed with terminal lung cancer is furious after they were told off by an orderly at the Gatineau Hospital, after they asked for help in English.
Iris Beeler-Gervais asked the orderly to help her husband use the bathroom, and when urine went on to the orderly's shoe, he got angry and told the couple that they were not in a hotel, that they were in Quebec, and that they should speak French.
"I got a little angry, and I went to him, and I said, 'this is not an English and French thing, that's my husband in bed!'" she said. "I don't speak French and I'm sorry about that. My husband is completely bilingual. He was born in Ottawa. His family is all French speaking. This has nothing to do with that. Never entered my mind."
Gervais's daughters and son in law Steve Long have written a formal complaint to the hospital (see below) and want to see the orderly removed, but Long says the orderly has not been disciplined.
"The most that had happened to the orderly is, on our insistence, and I think with the help of media attention, the hospital has agreed to keep that particular orderly off of Mr. Gervais' floor," Long says. "[When Gervais] saw him a couple of days after the incident was still shaken up just seeing him."
Quebec Health Minister Rejean Hebert called the alleged behaviour "unacceptable," and said that all patients deserved to be treated politely. He added that he would leave any disciplinary measures to in the hospital administration's hands.
Steve Long, the son-in-law of John Gervais spoke with Andrew Carter this morning about the ordeal. He's the letter he wrote following this incident:
My name is Steve Long. My family and I suffered through an awful event at the Gatineau hospital this weekend past and I believe there is a story within that needs to be told.
My father-in-law, John Gervais, is 77 years old. He has been married to Iris, the love of his life, for over 50 years. He has raised four children, one of whom has passed away, and has lived in Aylmer Quebec for over 35 years. He is a twenty year veteran of the Royal Canadian navy and has been living in active retirement for over ten years.
About two months ago he began to feel ill. His appetite waned, his strength flagged. He lost weight and his back began to scream at him constantly, making it impossible to get comfortable while trying to sleep. He found himself spending more and more time in his easy chair, twisting and turning in an effort to find positions that allowed him a few moments of pain-free comfort. He lost weight at an alarming rate. His local doctor sent him for batteries of tests, exams, scans, x-rays...eventually a spot was discovered on his lung. More tests were called for but his strength was fading fast and last Wednesday, the 9th, Iris decided that he needed to go to the emergency. An ambulance was called and we quickly found ourselves in the Gatineau hospital, emergency ward.
More tests, more doctors.
On Thursday night we got the news that all indicators pointed to lung cancer. A biopsy was scheduled. Still, his vitals were strong, oxygen saturation levels high. His pain and weakness and disorientation confused the lung specialist who called in a neurologist. A new diagnosis was presented that explained his failing strength. Evidently, the antibodies that his body was producing to fight the cancer were playing absolute havoc with his nervous system and all of the side effects that we were seeing were likely caused by the strain on his nervous system. Still he weakened.
On Saturday night John was still in the emergency ward, being tended to by his frightened wife and two daughters. Not only had they all just been given the terrible news of cancer, they were now witness to a once strong and proud man slipping into a state of total dependence. Mr. Gervais could barely speak, he couldn't stand on his own and he couldn't swallow without having his throat close up. His back still roared with pain whenever the prescribed morphine wore off, about every three hours.
At around 20:00 hrs he told his wife that he needed to use the washroom. He was too weak to stand on his own. Iris went over to find an orderly willing to help out. She found a young man tidily dressed in bright white scrubs and even brighter running shoes. She asked if he could come help her husband. He said he would. Ten minutes passed and, knowing that hospitals are very busy, Mrs. Gervais and her daughters waited as patiently as they could. Mr Gervais was holding on but he was struggling. They found the orderly again and he agreed to come right away. If only he hadn't.
When he got to Mr. Gervais he asked in a loud enquiring voice "PEE?", "Poo?”. Mr. Gervais was unable to voice his needs fast enough, it seems. Louder and more insistent..."PEE?! or POO?!". No tact, no compassion, just loud demands of a proud man. His wife, sensing his embarrassment told the orderly, "He just needs the commode. Please help him to the commode." The orderly, not interested in listening, reached over to my father-in-law to lift him from the bed and while doing so he jostled a bedside tray and he spilled either a small amount of water or apple juice on to his shoe, his bright white runners. He was furious. Shaking his head back and forth he angrily and loudly told my mother-in-law "This is NOT a hotel!" before he pulled the curtain back and stormed away leaving John on the edge of his bed, unattended. My wife, seeing this orderly's anger said "Why are you shaking your head like that?" He didn't like that question at all and told her in an even more loud voice "I said that this isn't a hotel!!" My wife, feeling her anger rise, told him in a firm controlled voice "Cool down. Just cool down." She received an angry and hateful glare for her troubles as the orderly stormed away. Mrs. Gervais, at 75 years old and all of 4'10" called after him as he stormed off. "That is a horrible way treat a sick person. You shouldn't treat people that way!" It seemed that was the final straw for the poor orderly. He spun on her and flashed the hateful weapon of language bigotry.
His voice was loud, just under a scream. "Je suis un Quebecois. Parles pas dans anglais. Ici nous parlons francais!" Please understand, I'm para-phrasing. Although Mr. Gervais is French Canadian and is fluently bilingual, his wife and daughters are not. The gist of the orderly’s words were utterly clear, however. The angry bigotry was unmistakeable. And with that he stormed away.
I was only minutes away from the hospital when I received the call from my wife telling me that I had to get there right away. They were afraid. The orderly had been walking around the emergency room floor staring them down every time he went by. When I walked into the room the tension was palpable. I walked towards my wife and was immediately approached by a young, cocky, puffed up fellow and he said "What are you looking at?" in perfect English and clearly angry. "I stopped and said are you the guy who is yelling at my wife?" He got right in my face and said he was going to have me escorted out and that he was going to call security. I was stunned. I had just walked in less than twenty seconds earlier and hadn't any real idea of what had been going on. I said to him "What is your name? Who is your supervisor?" Guess what answer I got?
"Parles pas dans anglais ici. Ce c'est Quebec. Parle moi dans francais!" He was in full flight now. I asked a nurse who was in charge around here and she was silent, frightened perhaps by the orderly's outburst. I walked over to my family and asked if they were okay and assured them that everything would be taken care of. The orderly followed me over there and was confronted, once again, by my mother in law. "Enough is enough!" she told him pointing her finger up at him. "This has nothing to do with French and English! How can you treat people this way?!"
Once again..."Parles francais. Pas d'anglais, ici!"
I asked a nurse, again, where the supervisor was and she said that the orderly would bring me to his supervisor. I couldn't believe what was going on and just wanted to get this a**hole away from my sick father-in-law and his frightened family. We went through a set of double doors together and as soon as we did he got right in my face and pointed down the hallway "You walk in front of Me.", he growled. On my guard I began walking down the corridor and he was right behind me and to my left, muttering, in French, into my ear. I can understand enough of the language to know when someone is threatening me. Part of me wished that he would put his hand on me but I was afraid of what I might do to him if he did.
It was a short walk to his supervisor’s office and there is a story to be told about what happened there, as well, but I'd prefer to continue the telling of it in person.
I've lived in Quebec. I grew up there. I guess that I was being naive to have forgotten the anger and hatred that still exists in some circles. Still, why does it have to exist in hospitals, of all places? And why did no one speak out loudly against it while it was happening. The best that was offered was a whispered apology by a male nurse who, along with about twenty other people witnessed the outburst directed against three tiny ladies and a very sick veteran. This one nurse came up to my sister-in-law and said "I'm so sorry for what just happened. If you need somebody to tell what just happened tell them to ask me. I've seen too much of that around here." Still, he wouldn't give his name.
Photo: Le Droit