While I was in Calgary to wish my mother a happy 87th birthday, I read with shock and dismay an article in the Herald editorial pages (Feb. 20, 07) about asbestos in the old Holy Cross Hospital. An excerpt from the Alberta Liberal leader’s new book, the article enumerated the tale of corruption – Klein basically arranging to sell off the old hospital for 4.5m (when it was later assessed at 20.something million), to his cronies Peter Huang and his brothers, all doctors. Highly placed in the opthalmology sphere, Huang was head of that area for the CRHA (Calgary and Region Health Authority). It appears that he gave himself the contract to open an eye clinic in the newly purchased Holy Cross, which was then immediately being renovated for private use. So we have patronage, corruption, and all the political stuff that we have come to expect. But then it gets worse.
It was known that asbestos was in the building, and the building was being renovated. At first, the city responded to the queries about the asbestos and how it was being handled, then after two weeks there was only silence. It appears that people were hushed up. Meanwhile, reports on the site revealed that workers were only using flimsy painter’s masks, and then would sit down in the same place and have their lunch. Not only that, a nurse (who was very afraid of speaking out) reported that she was caring for frail and elderly people on a floor that shared an elevator with the workers, who would come and go in their asbestos-covered clothes.
My brother had taken my mother to the hospital in those days many times for her eye surgery with Dr. Huang. Waiting, they would go to the coffee shop in the building, and the workers would be there in their dusty clothes. Huang’s waiting room was always overfull. One person said that they had 12 people waiting for an appointment at the same time! It was a sausage factory of eye surgery. Huang rarely spoke to his patients. The waiting area was like something imagined from the old days of East Germany: stiff chairs in a crowded corridor filled with people who have eye bandages on. This doctor was considered the best in the city. He was, after all, the head of opthalmology for the CRHA. My mother’s cataract surgery didn’t take, so it became a cornea transplant that became rejected and infected, so another cornea transplant had to be done, and there was one visit in which she had something done without enough anaesthetic, so she was having her eye scraped while awake and feeling it as a horrific torture. Meanwhile, just upstairs, the asbestos was being removed. I wonder if her repeated problems could have been due to the asbestos in the air (what kind of HVAC system did they have in place) – not in the operating area, but in the waiting hallway, or the air in general. She went to Huang for 100 visits, lost the sight of her eye, was hospitalized twice for complications, and he didn’t see her while she was in the hospital. In fact, it was said he didn’t have hospital privileges so she was admitted under his brother’s name, then seen by a staff doctor.
As we know, asbestos also causes cancer. Last year my dear mum finished radiation treatments which successfully eliminated a mouth/throat cancer.
I read this article on my mother’s birthday. She pulled through it all to become 87. How many of her health problems were caused by events that need not have happened? I can’t help but wonder how much the asbestos mismanagement and the doctor’s apparent greed contributed to my mother’s infections and loss of sight, and perhaps her cancer also.