HALLWAY HEALTH CARE
This woman spent 47 hours waiting for surgery in the Sunnybrook ER, with shattered wrists, a broken elbow, cracked ribs and internal bleeding. An investigation into the overcrowding of Toronto ERs
The day Kelly Yerxa had her accident was mostly uneventful. It was a Friday in January 2016. After finishing work in Cambridge, where she is the city’s director of legal services, she drove to Haliburton to join her 19-year-old son, a competitive snowboarder, who had spent the day training there. Yerxa is tall and lean and, like her son, athletic. She went to university on a swimming scholarship and now, in her 50s, competes as a triathlete. She was scheduled to officiate during the weekend’s snowboard events, and she met up with her son and about a dozen other parents and athletes at a cottage they had all rented. It was late when she arrived, and since everyone would be getting up early, she and the others headed off to bed. Just before midnight, Yerxa made a trip to the bathroom, and on her way back along the pitch-dark hallway, she veered slightly to her left and took a wrong step. She plunged down seven wooden stairs, hit the landing, punctured the drywall there, and then continued down four more stairs before coming to a stop in the living room.
An athlete sleeping on the couch rushed over. Bones were sticking out of Yerxa’s right elbow, and her wrists were in the shape of the letter S, her hands dangling limply. But she was in shock, and she felt no pain. She told the young man not to worry, that he should go back to sleep since he had to compete in the morning. Then she passed out.
When she came to, two of the other parents were hovering over her, and she was soon being rushed to Haliburton Hospital by ambulance, sirens blaring. Doctors there told her that in addition to the two shattered wrists and broken elbow, she had a couple of broken ribs and a lacerated kidney, and she would require complicated surgery, which was beyond their capability as a small hospital. The pain was by that point intense, and doctors gave her strong painkillers. The next day, a snowstorm hit that made an airlift impossible, so Yerxa was transported by ambulance to Sunnybrook, and her husband, Trevor Clough, drove in from Cambridge to meet her there. He sat in the ER for nearly three hours, waiting for her arrival, and he couldn’t believe the pandemonium he witnessed. “I’d never seen a hospital that busy,” he says. “I was amazed at how many people were coming in.” He remembers ambulances arriving every 15 or 20 minutes, disgorging patient after patient. There had been a major accident on the 401, which he thought explained the deluge, but the nurses told him it was always that way on a Saturday night.