When Heather Snow arrived for an appointment at the Mental Health Clinic at Anna Laberge Hospital last week, she was surprised to find the door she usually uses was locked.
“I called right away. There were signs, but they were all in French, and I can’t read French,” Snow said. “So I called, and the secretary was giving me directions, but it was in broken English. And then she started laughing, and she hung up.”
Despite the initial delay, Snow was early for her appointment. She checked in with the receptionist at 11:05 a.m., 10 minutes before she was scheduled to see the doctor.
“It was only me and one other woman in the waiting room,” said Snow. “I was just waiting, and waiting, and waiting.”
After an hour, Snow was the only patient left in the waiting room. She asked the receptionist if such lengthy wait times were normal, considering there were no other patients left before her. It was nearly an hour before Snow asked again whether the doctor would be seeing her soon.
“She told me, well, you’re next. So I sat back down, and within 10 minutes, she picked up the phone,” Snow said.
Though Snow’s understanding of French is not fluent, she was able to understand that the receptionist, speaking French on the phone, had said ‘Madame Snow has just arrived’. Shortly after, Snow’s doctor, Dr. Peeva, called her into the office.
“At first, she said it wasn’t her issue, that she has no control over wait times,” explained Snow. “But then she told me that she came out, and I wasn’t there. But I was right next to the door where the patients go in. I was literally right there.”
Snow had been experiencing severe side-effects on her medication, including muscle spasms, which are indicative of a serious reaction. She told the doctor that she is a carer for her grandparents, and had to return home quickly, but explained her symptoms.
Instead of working to help her, Dr. Peeva told Snow she would be unable to treat her.
“She told me, ‘Now you want me to work quickly? I don’t work like this, if you want me to work like this, you have to make another appointment at another time’,” Snow said.
This was her second time seeing Dr. Peeva, after previously being treated by a doctor who was unable to communicate with her in English. “And then she just went off the handle and said ‘Listen, I’m doing your doctor a favour. You didn’t want to speak French, I’m here speaking to you in English. And you’re even lucky that I’m here helping you right now.’”
Snow immediately left the building, and had a panic attack in her car. On the advice of her therapist, Brent Beresford, who she sees through Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), she was able to get an appointment with a doctor at Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) within two days.
“(Beresford) is the only person I’ve come across who actually cares. He’s gone above and beyond for me to make me feel safe and make me feel heard. He has been the only person to help me,” she said.
Though she is now stable and has had her medication adjusted, Snow has been left traumatized by the events of last week. The two days that she had to wait for her appointment at Kateri after the initial events were difficult to process, she said.
“For those two days, I was inconsolable. I felt like it was my fault,” she said. “For two whole days I cried, I couldn’t sleep. I’m still having trouble sleeping. It just makes you feel more and more crazy.”
Snow has also been told that Dr. Peeva called the pharmacy in Kahnawake to complain about her behaviour.
“The pharmacy said that she had called to say that I was yelling at her, that I was the one freaking out and causing a scene and that I was an issue. And then she said that if I went back and was calm and apologized she would see me again,” Snow said.
Snow emphasized that this incident reflects a common experience for community members at Anna Laberge. In June, The Eastern Door published the story of Kaniehtisakhe Albany, who had a traumatic birth experience at the hospital. Since then, many other community members have shared their story on The Eastern Door’s social media in response to the post.
“When I told them I was going to file a complaint, they said ‘okay, you do what you’re going to do, that’s fine,’” Snow said. “Unfortunately for her, I have a big mouth, and I’m going to speak up if I’m not being treated right.”
Despite her experiences, she wants community members to know that it’s still important to seek help when struggling with mental health.
“It’s normal not to feel okay, I hope people can reach the correct people,” she said. “I don’t want this story to stop people from getting help.”
Though Snow could go back to Anna Laberge if she wanted, she now intends to deal with her medication via doctors at Kateri and with her therapist.
Anna Laberge Hospital did not respond to The Eastern Door’s request for comment by deadline.