A mother from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation is calling for improved health care in northern communities after a nurse prescribed chewable Tylenol to her 11-year-old son for his severe chemical burns.
Charlotte Linklater says her son Willy-Jack came home from a friend’s house Friday night with shaking hands and in tears. "It burns mom, I’m going to have an ugly hand," she recalls her son saying in between sobs.
Willy-Jack alleges the other boy, also 11, asked him to look away and put out his hands, at which point he poured what would later be identified as battery acid onto Willy-Jack's right hand. A burning sensation was almost immediate, followed by redness and peeling skin.
Linklater flushed her son’s hand under cold water and called a medical truck so they could get to a community nursing station where, she said, "the nurse gave me chewable Tylenol and said, ‘Give this to him every four hours for pain, but come back tomorrow for a followup.'"
Her son's pain did not improve. "I was so frustrated. I felt so helpless. I felt so let down. I couldn’t stand to see my son in pain," she said.
She took him back to the nursing station the same night and a different nurse consulted a doctor, who prescribed an IV with morphine for the pain and a medevac to Winnipeg's Children’s Hospital the following day.
Willy-Jack has since been diagnosed with second-degree burns, and remains in hospital.
Mathias Colomb Cree Nation is located in Pukatawagan, about 210 kilometres north of The Pas — nearly 820 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Ralph Caribou, one of the remote community’s councillors, said he has heard public complaints about nurses being unable to respond to patients or provide a diagnosis on a timely basis. Some days, he said, doctors are not available to help nurses with diagnosis questions.
Caribou said he once had to travel to Winnipeg for a second opinion because the nursing station could not help him. He called Willy-Jack's initial assessment "totally unacceptable."
"Scarring or burning, that should be visible and the pain should (have been) very obvious," he said.
Linklater is still expressing frustration.
"We need a better health-care system up north," she said during a phone call from her son’s bedside. "We’ve lost too many people and watched our people suffer because of the poor health care we have. I just hope this opens (peoples’) eyes."
Federal-run nursing stations provide primary care, as well as public health and basic emergency services. Those who require additional care, with a physician’s referral, are transferred to a hospital.
Indigenous Services Canada spokeswoman Leslie Michelson said in a statement the Pukatawagan-area station is fully operational and staffed, on average, with four nurses. Doctors are on-site on a "periodic basis" and through telephone consultation via Ongomiizwin Health Services around the clock.
Linklater said her son is bandaged and taking medication to help with the pain and is undergoing physiotherapy. She expects he will remain in hospital for a couple of weeks since Willy-Jack’s bandages need to be changed every other day.
"We are deeply concerned for the well-being of the child and hope (he makes) a full recovery," a spokesman for federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said in an email Tuesday. "It is our utmost priority that all community members have access to timely, quality health care."
Department officials are following up, the email said, standard procedure after any incident inside an Indigenous Services-run health facility.
RCMP spokeswoman Julie Courchaine said officers are aware of the incident, but noted that children under the age of 12 cannot be charged under the Criminal Code.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Updated on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 at 6:52 PM CDT: Adds photo
October 23, 2019 at 2:43 PM: adds photos