Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why home nursing is not respite for one mom

By Marcy White

It looks good on paper.

After a year in hospital with machines helping him breathe and tubes sucking out mucous that clogs his airway, my 13-year-old son Jacob, who has a rare neurodegenerative disorder and is prone to respiratory infections, was discharged last summer with 24-hour nursing care in our Toronto home.

But aside from the fact that nurses can cancel at a moment’s notice—leaving parents like me to pull all-nighters so my son doesn’t choke to death—we’re facing alarming incompetence when they do show up.

Jacob has had registered nurses care for him every night since he was discharged as a three-month old baby. In those days, our challenges were nurses who fell asleep, a nurse whose eyesight was so poor she had her driver’s license revoked, and the one who was arrested for shoplifting at Winner’s when she hid items behind my son’s back on a walk.

Talk to a family whose child relies on home nurses and most have a story or two about workers who fall asleep during night shifts (I’ve never heard of anyone being disciplined because of it). 

But in the last few months, the mistakes nurses have made while caring for my son at home have alarmed me beyond measure.

One fell asleep at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. When I woke her up, she apologized, saying: “I’m sorry, I took too much codeine.”

Another nurse placed food from her fingers in Jacob's mouth, despite the fact that Jacob has always been fed through a stomach tube because of life-threatening breathing problems. At the time, he also had a collapsed lung and required frequent suctioning and oxygen. “Everyone should be able to taste food,” she explained.

There’s been a nurse who couldn’t speak English, one who repeatedly poked him in the eye and accidentally wrote on his face with pen, and one who’d never suctioned a patient before.

Another nurse thought 140 mg of medication was equal to 1.4 ml of liquid. She didn’t realize that one measurement was for solids and one for liquids. She thought they were interchangeable.

A day ago Jacob fell out of bed onto a hard tile floor because the nurse had him too close to the edge and the railing was down. Aside from a lot of crying, I’m not sure how he didn’t break something. When I reported this to the director of the nurse’s agency, she responded: “Thanks for letting us know. We will log it in our risk file.”

The nurses I'm writing about still work with the agency that’s the largest provider of pediatric nurses in Toronto. Prior to welcoming them into my home and introducing them to my son, I was assured that they had the qualifications and experience necessary to safely care for Jacob.

We have met a handful of wonderful, caring and skilled nurses. But although we’re funded to receive round-the-clock nursing, we can’t get consistent, competent care. Everyone involved knows this, but excuses are constantly made.

Until something as serious as death can be attributed to the malpractice of a home nurse, I’m afraid the system will continue to ignore the danger faced by the most vulnerable patients like my son.

Because of Jacob’s medical fragility, he is always at risk of choking. His breathing problems are constant and we rely on the skills of proficient nurses to clear his airway and administer oxygen and other medications when he turns blue. There is little room for error or hesitation when his oxygen levels plummet to dangerously low levels.

It’s safe to say that I’m barely hanging on at this point. I actually parked my car on Avenue Road the other day and as I was going into the bagel store I realized that not only did I leave the keys in the car, I left the car in park, running! A few days ago I went to pick my daughter up at gymnastics at night and ended up at her school by mistake. I am exhausted. I even have dreams about being tired. Perhaps it will be me who is hospitalized next.

Despite families like ours receiving funding to cover round-the-clock nursing, there’s no respite when you’ve witnessed many serious errors in your child’s care and a nurse “no-show” (with no backup) is just a call away.

Marcy White is the author of The Boy Who Can: The Jacob Trossman Story. You can follow her on her blog at Cure PMD. Marcy is a family leader at Holland Bloorview.


I cant even imagine what you must go through on a daily basis. I wish you all the strength you need.

Girl I feel you! Deal with this all of his life it's frustrating and in the states our biggest issue is Homecare nursing gets bottom of the barrel nurses that are not able to run with the big dogs in the hospitals. Sure I get a few good nurses from time to time but we often go through ten to find one. It's terrible, and until Hcn offers more incentive and pay for good nurses then this is what will cont. it's sad scarey and so unfair!

This is horrendous and all too common. The negligence you describe is abusive and discriminatory

There is NO accountability to protect patients with disabilities. This system shouldn't be relying on parents who are already exhausted and require support to monitor and instruct the so-called expert help they're supposed to be receiving

I've never dealt with home nurses but this was differentially and eye opening read!

Hi Marcy,

I just want to comment on your ability to keep fighting and bring these things to the world's attention. As a mother, this breaks my heart to read. It defies belief that nurses can legally and morally cancel without notice that way. I know their jobs are tough too but. Anyway, I just want you to know that your readers support you.

Krystal Copeland @ Countryside Village

I'm curious, reading this from the US: What is the level of training of these nurses, and what is the pay rate they receive?

(I'm afraid even the least dangerous horror noted,
drawing on his face by mistake -- what? WHAT? ---
would provoke a violent reaction from me as a mother!)