Margaret Butler was enjoying a backyard barbecue last summer, barely aware the heat of the day had risen to sweltering temperatures. Thankfully her husband did know what was happening: Butler was exhibiting the classic signs of heat exhaustion. Butler recovered because she had a moderate encounter with one of the three stages of what health professionals call “heat injury.” If her symptoms had gone untreated, that happy backyard barbecue could have turned tragic.
Dr. Robert Robson, emergency physician, healthcare mediator, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, and principal at the Healthcare System Safety and Accountability Advisors (HSSA), loves to tell that story during his mediation sessions. Robson refers to the 2004 Baker-Norton study that revealed approximately 185,000 Canadians a year suffer serious injury under hospital care, and between 9,000 and 23,000 die. In the ensuing 12 years since that study, Robson suspects those numbers have only increased.
One told her she was depressed, another that she had chronic fatigue syndrome. Frustrated, she did her own research, and began to suspect she had Lyme disease, caused by a bite from a blacklegged tick carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. In 1999, author Amy Tan chronicled her years-long battle with bizarre symptoms that, after a battery of tests, one session with a shrink and consultations with 10 specialists, ultimately revealed Lyme disease.