Student details poor treatment, slow diagnosis at Student Wellness Services

Abby Duncan was diagnosed with Lyme disease two months after seeking help from Student Wellness Services

Abby Duncan, ArtSci '22.
Photo: 
Abby Duncan, ArtSci ’22, was diagnosed with Lyme disease by doctors at Kingston General Hospital on Nov. 17 after months of searching for answers from Student Wellness Services (SWS). In an interview, she told The Journal that SWS failed to listen to her concerns. 
 
Following a bout of strep throat and a cough treated with a puffer, Duncan experienced extreme fatigue and intense abdominal pains. She intended to bring up these symptoms at an Oct. 21 appointment she had booked with SWS in early September, but said that she was not given the opportunity to do so. 
 
“[The doctor] said that I couldn’t bring up multiple issues in one appointment, and I would have to book a new appointment,” Duncan told The Journal.
 
“I asked if he could give me a referral to someone, and he said that in order for a referral, he would need to know more information, but then didn’t listen to my concerns.”
 
Lyme disease is an inflammatory infection that, if left untreated, can lead to fatigue, arthritis, and neurological problems, including paralysis.
 
In a statement to The Journal, Mark Erdman, community relations manager, wrote, “The University provides confidential health services, and due to privacy legislation that protects health information, we are unable to comment on specific cases.”
 
“Student health is a key focus for the University and we work across campus and with community health partners to support student wellbeing,” Erdman wrote.
 
Student Wellness Services declined to comment when contacted.
 
In late October, before her Lyme disease diagnosis, Duncan was diagnosed with strep throat and mono by doctors at CDK Family Medicine.  The diagnosis was made without doing a blood test and doctors prescribed her penicillin for a second time.
 
“I was on penicillin, and oftentimes when you have mono, you get a rash that reacts with penicillin, so I got a full body rash,” Duncan said, “I was itchy all over my body, so I went to Student Wellness.”
 
Duncan says a doctor at SWS told her to stop taking antibiotics because she didn’t have strep throat, telling her she just had mono and needed rest and a blood test. A couple of days later, the blood test revealed she had never had mono. 
 
On Oct. 31, she returned to SWS seeking answers. “I was the first patient in the clinic. I got there at 7:45 a.m. and I had the number one ticket, and it still took 45 minutes for me to see a doctor.”
 
Duncan said that the interaction with the doctor during her fourth visit was the most discouraging part of her experience with Student Wellness Services.
 
“She didn’t do any type of examination and said that I was stressed and not sick and needed to find better ways to manage my emotions, but didn’t offer me any tips or help me make any appointments,” Duncan said.
 
“She sent me to write my exam, where I cried the whole time and failed the exam,” Duncan said.
 
Three days later, Duncan went to KGH where doctors performed a throat swab and blood work. “Turns out that I did have strep throat and the rash was scarlet fever,” Duncan said. “I was so feverish, I was hallucinating.” 
 
On Nov. 17, two weeks after she had been treated for strep throat and scarlet fever, Duncan received a diagnosis of Lyme disease from a doctor at KGH.
 
“He was kind of the first doctor I saw out all of these trips to clinics and hospitals that actually paid attention and wanted to figure out what was wrong and ran tests,” she said.
 
According to the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, the number of symptoms attributed to Lyme disease make it difficult to diagnose in patients.  Despite these difficulties, speed is critical when making a diagnosis because if a patient is left untreated for weeks or months, they can develop chronic Lyme disease, which can in turn lead to neurological illness and joint pain.
 
Duncan said it was how she was treated rather than the slow-moving diagnosis that disappointed her the most. “I kept telling them, I’m stressed because I’m sick. I’m not sick because I’m stressed,” Duncan said. “They didn’t listen to my concerns.”
 
According to Duncan, she attended a meeting with the executive director and the manager of Student Wellness Services in early December.
 
“I told them how disappointed I was in the care I received,” Duncan said, “I don’t think anything’s really going to come of that.”
 
Duncan said she also met with a doctor from Student Wellness Services who reviewed her files.
 
“She determined that I did not receive the care that I should have. The doctors who I saw were not following protocol.”
 
Duncan said that she is now trying to refocus her attention on her grades, but explained her prognosis means that she still suffers from recurrent bouts 
of illness. 
 
“I know that I can’t go to Student Wellness when I’m sick because it’s not worth the wait,” Duncan said. “I’m not going to go there because I haven’t ever received adequate care there.”
 
“I would rather go and wait in [emergency] at KGH for eight hours than go to Student Wellness.”
 

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