Three sisters from Westmount began the year feeling frustrated after their 92-year-old father spent 72 hours in a hospital emergency department hallway in excruciating pain.

They're hoping other families don't experience the same ordeal.

Valerie Schwartz and her two sisters spent New Year's Day doing their best to help their father, Earl, after he suffered a serious injury. Schwartz said he could not move or get out of bed and he required an ambulance.

"He was screaming in agony, and he has a pretty high pain tolerance; he's not one to complain," she said.

The ambulance took him to the Montreal General Hospital, where her father's doctor works. Physicians determined that the man had a compression fracture of the vertebrae due to osteoporosis. He was then put on a gurney in a hallway near a stairwell door, where he spent the next three days directly under a light.

"People are coming in and out, sleeping on the floor," said Schwartz, describing the Kafkaesque scene.

Lying directly underneath the light without break for three days meant Earl could not sleep properly, and he became very agitated.

"He became delirious," said Schwartz. "The three days that he was there aged him by about five years."

Schwartz and her two sisters stayed by their father's side throughout the ordeal, helping with toileting duties as no orderlies or nurses were available to assist, she said.

After about 48 hours, when nothing was happening, the daughters considered leaving.

"At one point, we just said, 'let's just go home,'" said Schwartz. "We decided not to, because if you leave, you lose your spot in the queue."

She had no complaints about the hospital staff, who she said were doing their best.

"They are so overworked, very polite, very professional," she said. "They were trying."

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) runs the Montreal General apologized for the state of the man's care.

"We are very sorry to hear about this patient’s experience. We understand how this situation could be frustrating and we encourage the patient and/or the family to reach out to our Ombudsman if they would like to register a formal complaint,"  said media relations advisor Rebecca Burns.

The hospital centre said it has seen ERs going over capacity in recent months.

"High volumes in emergency departments (ED) have been observed throughout the healthcare system, a situation caused by a number of factors, including three viruses circulating at once," said Burns, adding that "with fewer beds than we had before 2015, ED patients can sometimes experience a delay when waiting to be admitted to a floor."

Montreal General Hospital

In addition, the hospital said seriously ill patients are treated first and all are triaged upon arrival in the department, leading to longer wait times for other patients.

After three days, Earl was admitted into a private room that was quiet and allowed him to rest.

"He got to catch up on his sleep, but it does take its toll," said Schwartz. "He's better, but he's still a little confused."

He returned home Friday with some painkillers and will follow up with his doctor to determine a care routine. Schwartz said the doctors determined that surgery was not the best option at the moment.

The family, however, will need to now arrange care for him as his wife Stephanie, 85, broke her hip three weeks ago and can only assist in a limited capacity.

Earl and Stephane

Dr. Ariane Murray of Montreal's Regional General Medicine Department (RGMD) said patients should try to avoid emergency departments if possible by calling 811, seeing a pharmacist or specialized care, such as seeing an optometrist for an eye problem. For those with a family doctor, Murray suggested calling the clinic.

Schwartz said 811 was not an option as her father's condition required an immediate medical professional.

"He was in agony, screaming in pain," she said.