A race against time
Bay Roberts couple in search of doctor
Wally Wilohorski is busy doing yard work around his Bay Roberts home on Sept. 11.
Donned in yellow work boots, a pair of blue jeans ripped at the right knee, and an old grey sweatshirt, Wally guides a red and black grass trimmer through the tall grass just beyond a white fence, his yellow-rimmed cap pulled down over his forehead.
He has been on his feet since 6 a.m., and will not be putting them up anytime soon.
His work ethic is genetic. Wally’s father immigrated from the Ukraine in the early part of the 1920s to Winnipeg, Manitoba and instilled the work ethic the Ukrainians are known for.
It was this work ethic that Wally carried into his work, first as an RCMP officer and later, after moving to Newfoundland, as a commercial fisherman and businessman in Bay Bulls.
Caring for ‘B’
Wilohorski’s wife of 58 years, Rubina, has dementia and it is necessary to give her 24-hour attention.
From making sure Rubina, or B as Wally affectionately calls her, gets her daily snacks of bananas and walnuts, to ensuring she is washed and dressed for each day.
“I’ve got a full-time job, 24 hoursa-day. Plus, I’ve got to look after the house, cook all the meals, do all the cleaning, and washing, all of that stuff,” he said.
Wally has no qualms doing whatever is necessary to ensure Rubina’s comfort. It was a character trait passed down from his father and his grandfather.
“They taught me what I should do to help people” said Wally. “This is what I’ve taken onto my shoulders and I’m going to until the day that I die.”
A tear runs down his weathered check as he lovingly glances across the table at B.
To make things easier for her, Wally renovated the downstairs portion of the couple’s home. He placed a walk-in shower, toilet and sink on the bottom floor, preventing the need for B to travel up and down stairs during the day.
No family doctor
The couple’s situation will become more difficult next month when their family doctor, Dr. Luis Alberto Acevedo, leaves Bay Roberts.
Attempts by Wally to find find another doctor willing to take on more patients had been unsuccessful up to late last week.
This leaves the Wilohorskis in a bit of lurch. Without access to a doctor, it may not be possible for Rubina to get the prescriptions she needs to treat her illness.
Luckily, Acevedo gave Rubina a three-month supply of her assigned medication.
“If it wasn’t for that, we’d be on a boat and up a creek with no paddles,” said Wally.
He said when his wife needs a new prescription he need only to go to the Baccalieu Pharmacy in Spaniard’s Bay.
“It’s on the computer over there,” he said.
While this is a temporary reprieve, the current stockpile of medication will only last until January.
This three-month window is not a large one for Rubina, especially with the limited number of options available to the couple.
Wally asked their doctor recently what he could do to keep Rubina’s check-ups regular.
“He said, ‘She can go over to the outpatients department at Carbonear Hospital or the emergency ward and take our chances,’” he said.
Another option would be to take in a clinic on Thursdays at the Humber Medical Clinic offered by Dr. Robert Humber.
“For two days, I couldn’t sleep,” he said, tears falling again. “Holy smokes, what if I get sick? Thank God I’m not sick.”
Trying to get help
Stung by the news of his doctor’s pending departure, Wally started making phone calls, and reached out to the media to tell his story.
He also called Eastern Health, and an official with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Information provided by Eastern Health states any individuals looking for a family physician can visit the website for the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Searching the website, the results say physicians accepting patients can be found in Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Old Perlican and Whitbourne.
However, Wally does not have a computer and is unable to search for himself.
He was able to secure an appointment with a physician at the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s on Nov. 21.
The hope is he will be able to extend the prescription given by Acevedo.
What is dementia?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Rubina was diagnosed with dementia just three months ago. However, Wally said she had been exhibiting signs for two-and-a-half years.
“She’d ask what month it is, what day it is,” he said.
A bigger problem
The unfortunate circumstance that Wally and Rubina find themselves in is just one part of a bigger problem in the Trinity Conception region and beyond.
Rural Newfoundland has, for a long time, had problems attracting new doctors.
The information provided by Eastern Health reads that the problem of recruiting health professionals is one the organization shares with other health authorities both in Canada and abroad.
“Eastern Health’s recruitment efforts include widely advertising in physician journals, posting positions on the NL Practice web site, and corresponding with recruitment agencies who also post positions on their web sites that are seen nationally and internationally,” it reads.
It is not only the Wilohorskis that are affected by the departure of Acevedo.
“How many more people are subjected to not having a doctor as well?” Wally asks rhetorically.
Wally Wilohorski (right) has been working tirelessly to find his wife Rubina a new family physician after Dr. Luis Acevedo posted notice he is leaving the Humber Medical Clinic in Bay Roberts on Oct. 15. Rubina was diagnosed with dementia three months ago.