How Calling Health Links Almost Got Me Killed

Originally published Apr. 1, 2008

On Saturday I happened to call Health Links to ask a couple of questions. I had had a really strange sore throat for a few days, and was debating whether to go to Urgent Care, or wait for Monday when my family doctor would be in his office. The nurse was very polite and professional. She asked a bunch of questions, listened to the answers, and told me that I needed to hang up, call 911 and get to either HSC or St Boniface hospital. It seems she thought I was having a heart attack.

Having been ill and unable to eat for 3 days, I was not at my best reasoning power, but I did manage to ask, “How about if I just go down to Urgent Care at Misericordia?” This was met with a resounding, “NO! Urgent Care can’t deal with you. You need to take this seriously and call 911.”

As I said, I was not at the height of my reasoning capacity, so I said okay, like a dutiful little girl. 911 was called. An ambulance arrived. I was not transported to HSC or St. Boniface hospital. I was taken to the Grace, where I answered the usual triage questions, provided health card and allergy information, then languished for 5 hours before being seen by the only doctor on duty.

5 hours. After arriving by ambulance, with a suspected heart problem.

When the doctor finally did arrive, he spent about 5 minutes looking me over, ordered an IV, some blood work, and x-rays. All well and good.

As a nurse was inserting the IV, another one arrived with a medication pump to add to the drip. “One amp of ampicillin” she announced. I nearly bolted off the bed. I am deathly allergic to penicillin. Ampicillin is a penicillin derivative. After I shouted this out, the nurse took down the meds pump, turned around and walked away.

Now, I know that I told the triage nurse that I am allergic to penicillin. I saw her put the big red allergy flag on my chart. For all that, I am lucky to be alive to write this account. Had I not been paying attention to what the second nurse was saying, I would be dead.

I could rant about the health care system that has only one doctor working an entire emergency room, and hospital staff that are run off their feet because of that fact. I won’t, because the simple fact is that there was no good reason for me to have been at an emergency room, at all.

It turns out that there was nothing wrong with my heart. I have a particularly nasty case of strep that is responding nicely to antibiotics. The Health Links nurse caused me considerable concern, great expense (I’m sure the city will be forwarding a bill for the ambulance ride any day, now), and almost got me killed. The paramedics told me that the Health Links nurses always insist that people call 911, to avoid liability.

Will I ever call Health Links again? Not bloody likely.


health links

My younger brother once fell out of a tree and landed on his arm. He said it wasn't hurting much and it was neither swollen nor bruised. We called health links as a precaution and the nurse said that as long as it isnt swollen, hes fine. By the next morning he was in so much pain he couldn't move his arm. He was taken to the hospital where we found out that the arm was broken. Way to go health links.