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Pain exacerbated by lack of family doctor has B.C. senior desperate for help

‘The system is leaving us high and dry,’ says Dr. John Mitchell of Williams Lake
Dr. John Mitchell, a retired chiropractor, says he must not be alone in his struggles to find health care when he needs it most as a senior citizen. “A lot of us old people have pain.” (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

The first time we met Dr. John Mitchell, he admitted he was willing to do just about anything to get his prescription refilled for Dilaudid, an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain.

“I’m desperate,” said Mitchell, who limped into the newspaper office to talk about the impact the loss of his family doctor was having on him, and, in particular, his pain management. “If my wife wasn’t alive I don’t know what I’d do.”

Mitchell, who just turned 80, said he has been prescribed Dilaudid for the last 15 years by his doctor to treat the severe pain he has in his foot. With that doctor now gone, Mitchell cannot get his highly-addictive prescription filled for more than two weeks at a time unless he goes to Cariboo Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and is seen by a doctor. Each visit can take anywhere from four to eight hours, depending on how busy the ER is, he said.

“I’ve tried everybody …. the system is leaving us high and dry. I can’t be the only one.”

Mitchell moved to Williams Lake in 1970 “straight out of college” from Toronto with his wife Norma to start work as a chiropractor. It was that 30-year, six-days-a-week career which Mitchell believes caused the trouble he’s now having in his right leg and, in particular, foot, due to pivoting while working on clients.

Mitchell’s pain is so severe it keeps him up at night. It’s that desperation for pain relief that also had him, at one point, even considering buying painkillers off the streets.

“I don’t want to do that, but when you’re desperate you think of these things.”

In fact, on Nov. 14 Interior Health issued a drug advisory for the region due to fake Dilaudid tablets containing isotonitazene being sold on the streets which carry a “very high risk of overdose.” Isotonitazene is equally or more potent than fentanyl, which means the tablets may be 20 times stronger than real Dilaudid, noted IH.

We checked-in with Mitchell over the phone a few weeks after our first visit at the Tribune. He was at home in bed due to the pain in his foot, though he was able to get more Dilaudid during his most recent ER visit, which offered him relief from the pain.

“It’s horrible to go to the ER for a prescription.”

“All my life I’ve had [access to] health care, and now I really need it and I don’t have it. It’s not a fair situation. I feel ripped off. There must be a lot of other seniors this is happening to.”

Mitchell was more upbeat after his latest ER appointment, however, which resulted in follow-up calls from the ER doctor to get Mitchell in for an MRI and surgical consult.

In the meantime, he said he and his wife will look after each other and he enjoys having his dog at home for companionship.

He wanted to share his story so other seniors experiencing similar difficulties know they are not alone.

Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

I began my journalism career in daily and weekly newspapers in Alberta.
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