Montreal health care woes – a lesson on asthma

NOTE: I took this post down yesterday when I was told I was mistaken about the number of refills for Bricanyl. I haven’t always been great about keeping records on my son’s asthma medication. He was well controlled for years and it looked like asthma was going dormant so I didn’t feel a need to keep track. Looking through my papers, I discovered a prescription from last year indicated more than six refills for Bricanyl. My information was correct. The doctor has lowered the number of refills she prescribes.

I don’t know what to say.

I have been trying for nearly two days to get my son’s asthma prescription corrected. There have been problems getting a fax message from the pharmacy to the doctor and then having a new prescription faxed back.

My 15-year-old son is a longtime patient of the Montreal Children’s Asthma Clinic. We used to regularly visit the Asthma Corner in the emergency department and he’s been hospitalised for asthma in the past. Recently things have been better. But he has a cold on board right now. It’s dangerous for someone with asthma to go days without access to their reliever medicine when a cold is affecting their breathing.

When his prescription was faxed to the pharmacy in September, I never saw it. This prescription was supposed to replace one he had lost. Going by what the doctor prescribed in 2011, it was supposed to say he had at least three refills for the Bricanyl, the reliever medicine since the medicine is supposed to get him through six months and when he saw the clinic once a year he was prescribed more than six refills for the Bricanyl.

For some bizarre reason the part listing the refill for the reliever medication only said one refill. We see the clinic only every six months and the pharmacy has received years of prescriptions that indicated  as many as six refills for both the preventer and reliever medications. If you have asthma, chances are when you are ill with a bad cold you will reach for your reliever medicine more often than your preventer medicine. But apparently pharmacists don’t flag inconsistencies in refills, only dosages and medications, and pharmacy staff explained that they “can’t read a doctor’s mind.” On Monday night I discovered my son was down to two puffs of his Bricanyl. The pharmacy informed me there were no more refills and said they were faxing the doctor to request another prescription.

The Asthma Clinic is friendly and the doctor has long said if we ever need to refill a prescription or there’s a problem, just call anytime. Yesterday I spent hours trying to reach someone at the Asthma Clinic before finally being transferred to a voice mail box where I left a message about the mistake with the prescription. I said they should have received a fax from the pharmacy. No callback. I wonder if anyone heard my message.

When I phoned today the Asthma Clinic’s voice mail was full. Phone line attendants were busy at the appointment centre that transferred me to the clinic’s voice mail yesterday. I phoned the emergency number on the Asthma Centre’s Web page to reach a doctor. I thought maybe someone could page my son’s doctor. I was taken seriously. They paged a resident. But she told me she couldn’t write a prescription for a patient she’d never seen.

The pharmacy tells me they had trouble transmitting their fax to the doctor and made their third attempt this morning. I ask them why they didn’t alert me when they had problems sending the fax. We’re talking about life-saving medicine for asthma, after all. I asked what number were they calling. They weren’t faxing the Asthma Clinic at all. So the clinic never saw the fax.

The pharmacy is giving my son another refill. It’s a one time deal.

I am disappointed in the doctor for making a mistake on the prescription (if that is what happened) for lowering the number of refills prescribed for Bricanyl without explaining to me they were doing this and with the pharmacy for not telling me they had trouble with the fax number. I used to have a good relationship with this pharmacy but they now have a policy of making us wait till one prescription is finished before we may bring in a new one. Months can pass before an old prescription ends and they accept the new one. My son used to see the Asthma Clinic only once a year. Now it’s every six months. It’s been all too easy to lose the paper prescriptions.

We desperately need to make prescriptions digital. And I need better access to my son’s doctor. The superhospital is bringing changes to the Montreal Children’s Asthma Clinic. I hope what I just experienced isn’t what we can expect in the future.

UPDATE, Nov. 29, 2012 : I was told today that the changes aren’t in effect yet. I usually have great experiences with the Montreal Children’s. I don’t know what happened here.

SECOND UPDATE: Was told my son’s asthma is out of control, that he used six month’s worth of medication in two months (!) and this means he needs to see the doctor more often (we’ll be seeing them soon). He has had colds and with a cold you can end up using your reliever puffer as many as six times a day.  When my son used to see the Asthma Clinic every three months, he never ran out of medicine. We always had plenty of refills.


  1. Keep records of prescriptions. Note medicine prescribed, dosage amounts and instructions, and the number of refills allowed
  2. Make sure the pharmacy has the correct fax number for the doctor (this problem may be rare but in Quebec maybe not)
  3. If you’re dealing with a specialist doctor at a hospital, ask for a phone number to reach them or their staff quickly just in case
  4. If you see any changes to a prescription, ask questions
  5. Bring a new prescription to the pharmacy right away, even if your pharmacy gives you grief

Three cool and fund worthy Montreal-based Indiegogo campaigns

Here are three local and cool Indiegogo campaigns that speak to me in different ways.

If you believe in supporting local artists and inventors, these projects need your help. You benefit too since donating can get you some fun perks.  Because these are flexible funding campaigns, any money pledged (after paying Indiegogo a share of the money raised) goes to the campaigns even if goals aren’t reached by deadline.

I’m listing them in the order of their funding deadline dates.

Business Is Risky

Studio XX, a media arts and multimedia resource centre for women, is currently holding Les HTMlles 10 – a feminist festival of media arts and digital culture and  Business is Risky is the theme for this 10th edition. The festival offers “an international platform dedicated to the presentation of women’s, trans, and gender non-conforming artists’ independent media artworks from all facets of contemporary technological creation.”

From Nov. 10-18 over 40 invited artists are showing their works at venues across Montreal and they’re using all sorts of platforms, including exhibitions, performances, interventions, workshops, along with a speedshow, a one-day conference and a hackathon.

The Why of this Indiegogo Campaign

  • Pay for childcare at events 
  •  “Guarantee appropriate support for participating artists”

Funding Goal: $500 by Nov. 18


Depending on the amount of your donation, you could get:

  • V.I.P. passes for festival events
  • a gorgeous wooden 2 GB USB key
  • handmade HTMlles 10 Mug
  • a package that includes the passes, the USB key and the mug


I’ve watched the RoboBrrd idea evolve a lot this year. I remember a different version at a Robotics Hackathons earlier this year. RoboBrrds are incredibly cute, they have big eyes and beaks and light up and move their heads. Once a teaching tool to help children learn math, now they offer a way to get people enthused about science and engineering by learning robotics. You can order a kit and build your own RoboBrrd, add on a “brain board,” accessorize it or even order up a pre-assembled brrd.

The Why of this Indiegogo Campaign

Helps cover manufacturing, development and packaging costs of creating kits and improving RoboBrrd.

Funding Goal: $10,668 by Dec. 5

Perks include:

  • A dollar gets you a thank you on the project’s Web page and an invite to an “exclusive  backers-only RoboBrrd hangout.”
  • A top hat for the brrd costs $25, you can get a basic kit for $114 but the $137 kit includes an assembled brain.
  • If building a RoboBrrd’s not your thing, ready-made RoboBrrds cost $170;  custom birds can be had for $259.

Notes on Montreal

Disclosure: Mike Rud is an amazing Montreal jazz guitarist but he’s also my brother-in-law. Still, I can safely say I would be wowed by this project even if he were not married to my sister.

Notes on Montreal is an interesting idea – a campaign to raise money to produce a professional CD featuring  jazz songs about novels set in Montreal, (plus a song celebrating Montreal diners). Mike loves Montreal, he’s probably one of this city’s biggest fans. It’s not just the history, culture and amazing food but the people and the sense of place in different neighbourhoods that captures his attention.  The seven books cover a wide range of viewpoints and observations about Montreal – there’s everything from the classic Tin Flute (Bonheur d’occasion) by Gabrielle Roy, Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers, Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals to Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version and Dany Laferrière’s How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired.

To get on an idea of how cool this project is, check out Mike’s videos on the campaign site (his updates especially). They show you what I mean about his talent and enthusiasm. He has plenty of experience and credibility but hearing his voice and listening to Mike say why this project is important speaks more to me than music degrees, CBC profiles, teaching experience, gigs at jazz festivals and at Montreal’s Upstairs club.

The Why of this Indiegogo Campaign

Helps cover professional recording session in studio with full band, music arrangements, production costs, CD packaging, artwork etc.

Funding Goal: $18,000 by Dec. 26

Perks include:

  • personal thank you notes, digital downloads of demos
  • the packaged CD or the digital download
  • digital pre-release copies of songs
  • song scores
  • brunch with Mike
  • personal music lesson
  • sponsorship/special mention on CD notes
  • a performance with the full band at your house

I think the perks alone make these campaigns worthwhile. The folks behind these campaigns are truly inspiring, it’s the kind of investment that puts a smile on your face.


Hacking Corruption: Data for Democracy

If they’re looking for material, Ian Rankin, Louise Penny and other police/crime thriller fiction writers need only read Montreal news. But they don’t have to change much, the plot’s right here.

The Charbonneau Commission, an inquiry into the “awarding and management of public contracts in the construction industry,” is in fact a probe into corruption, revealing the extent of corruption among civil servants in Montreal and the city of Laval, a populous nearby suburb, and just how far Mafia tentacles reach. The hearings have heard testimonies from witnesses about money stuffed in socks, a safe in the office of  the ruling municipal party so crammed with illegal cash donations it would not close, a city engineer who accepted kickbacks in exchange for ensuring certain Mafia-linked construction companies were awarded city of Montreal contracts. Testimony revealed similar problems in Laval, with allegations that the mayor accepted kickbacks.

Many Montrealers have grumbled in disbelief at the revelations and there was plenty of anger when the city’s ruling party recently introduced yet another property tax hike even though opposition parties at city hall say property tax hikes have added up to nearly 16 per cent over the past four years. When mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned earlier this week after a Charbonneau Commission witness swore the mayor knew what was going on (Tremblay insisted he was unaware of corruption connected to city contracts for most of the 11 years  and says he informed police whenever wrongdoings came to his attention and lobbied for the setup of the Charbonneau Commission), some people celebrated.

Yesterday there was even more fallout. Laval’s mayor, Gilles Vaillancourt, finally resigned after taking a sick leave/period of reflection while facing a slew of corruption allegations at the Charbonneau Commission.  Michael Applebaum stepped down as chair (president) of Montreal’s executive committee, apparently because his colleagues opposed Applebaum’s wishes to publicly release a report confirming Montreal pays 30 to 40 per cent extra for municipal contracts. Applebaum’s critics question whether this is the true reason for his resignation since he was passed over as his party’s candidate for interim mayor of Montreal.

While this weekend’s Hacking Corruption hackathon has been in the works for months, it couldn’t come at a better time.

There’s something inspiring about young, optimistic computer developer, software engineer and startup types inviting other citizens to do something about this dark and depressing problem. There’s something incredibly cool about people believing in using open data to solve corruption, improve democracy and fuel citizen engagement.

They’ve even invited Jacques Duchesneau, who’s developed a reputation as a crimebuster. A former Montreal police chief who once headed up a special anti-collusion unit investigating the workings of Transport Quebec, these days Duchesneau is a member of Quebec’s National Assembly and justice critic with Coalition Avenir Québec and he’s advocating for changes in how municipal parties receive and spend donations.

It may be impossible to create a corruption-proof system for awarding city contracts and collusion among contract bidders, but why not try. Instead of whining about the Mafia ripping off taxpayers, why not create apps and other tools to watch where who gets contracts and who benefits when contracts are awarded. Computers software apps, tools and sites designed to track these contracts and flag increases when costs supposedly rise would definitely make a difference, especially for journalists but also for citizen watchdogs.

The Montreal Gazette’s Roberto Rocha, a judge for this weekend’s anti-corruption hackathon, reports projects will include:  a “contract vigilence” applinking data from the Montreal Gazette’s database of Montreal and Laval city contracts with the Quebec government’s SEAO database of public tenders and another app linking business donors with political party donations. Datasets will include  information from the Quebec government registry of Quebec companies, public calls to tender and donations to political parties.

The open data movement may even change Montreal’s bureaucratic, outmoded way of governing. Why not effect change by convincing politicians and civil servants to see the benefits of being transparent with civic information and taxpayer dollars? Pressuring the city to divulge this sort of information in an open data format that computers can easily handle will make it easy to create more tools to engage people in their city’s government. It will make transparency a given. It’s time we eliminate secrecy in city contracts and trade it in for accountability. We need to know as much as possible about who bids on the contracts, who gets the work and how.

If you can’t make Québec Ouvert’s  Hacking Corruption Hackathon this weekend, this Thurday the Montreal Semantic Web Meetup Group is examining “the role of the semantic web as an interface between government and the governed.”  Soon technology may play a big and useful role in helping the “governed” keep a watch on their governments.

A sombre & political Día de los Muertos event tonight

I’ve mentioned Día de los Muertos events around the city on this blog. While I’ve listed them with Halloween events, in no way am I implying that the two are interchangeable. I could discuss how Halloween has lost its origins, becoming commercial and unrecognizable but that’s for another time.

While there is a celebratory aspect to the Día de los Muertos holiday, it is also a time when people remember their ancestors and deceased loved ones.

Tonight at 6 p.m. in front of the Mont-Royal metro, a group called Mexicain.e.s uni.e.s pour la regularisation is holding a political/cultural event in honour of victims of capitalist policies across the world.

The group asserts that contrary to popular belief Día de los Muertos is not a “Mexican Halloween” but a day dedicated to remembering and thinking about the dead by offering them their favourite foods and beverages.

According to a press release, tonight’s event will include traditional offerings to the dead and a performance in honour of people the world over who’ve died as victims of the capitalist  system and its policies. For instance: the millions of immigrants who have died while attempting to cross borders, those who have suffered discrimination and exploitation, and those who have been deported (the current Harper government’s policies playing a big part in this).

The organizers want people to remember Blanca Peña González, a mom of two sons who was popular in Montreal’s Mexican community, and who was deported last Sunday in spite of valiant efforts to keep her family together. At the time of her deportation, organizers say, her immigration claim was nearly resolved, her sons has begun their school year. For years she lived in fear of her abusive ex-husband in Mexico and she had remarried in Canada and was sponsored as an immigrant by her Canadian husband. But she and her sons were deported when her refugee claim was denied.

Today’s event was organized to denounce unjust laws, indifferent bureaucracy and racist policies that derail plans, ruin dreams and contribute to great injustices, the organizers say.