A 67-year-old Montrealer has filed a complaint against a CHUM doctor, saying he was insulted, mistreated and denied medical treatment for speaking English and being an immigrant.
Zbigniew Malysa said he was referred by his general practitioner to an urologist at the CHUM superhospital facility for tests. He said he spoke to a resident, who spoke to him in English.
When the doctor, Luc Valiquette, entered the room, Malysa said things changed. Valiquette began speaking to some of the residents, reviewing some of Malysa’s records.
“He started to be furious,” he said. “He ripped up the (appointment slip for the next appointment), put it in the garbage and started arguing with (the residents). They didn’t say any words, he just said, ‘Do you know what this means? How expensive this is?’”
Malysa said Valiquette was speaking in French during the outburst, and he eventually began questioning Malysa about his origins.
“He started joking about my name. It’s not easy to pronounce,” said Malysa, saying Valiquette began mocking his first name. “He started guessing where I’m from. ‘Maybe he’s Russian, oh no, he’s Serb, he looks like a Serb. Maybe he’s Czech, or he looks a little Croatian.’”
Malysa said he was confused and finally told Valiquette he was from Poland.
“He repeated ‘Eastern European’ many times. He was angry, furious that I was eastern European,” said Malysa. “He mentioned we don’t have money for east Europeans, in French.”
Malysa said while he speaks French, he isn’t fluent. He said he believes the negativity began when the doctor found out he preferred to receive treatment in English.
“Once he talked to me in English, he said ‘How long are you in Quebec?’ I said around 50 years. He started talking with the residents, ‘How come he’s here so long in Quebec and he doesn’t speak French? Eastern Europeans take advantage of the health care system here.”
Malysa said Valiquette never asked him any questions about his medical conditions and he never received the tests he had come for.
His daughter, Suzie, described Malysa’s experience at the hospital in a Facebook post that has since been shared over 1,000 times.
In a statement, CHUM officials said they are aware of the situation and it has been handed over to the Office of the Complaint Commissioner. While Valiquette was not available for an interview, CHUM did say in the statement that Valiquette had told administrators the situation was “a terrible misunderstanding and that he would contact the patient and his family shortly.”
“On a daily basis, staff and doctors at CHUM make the effort to accommodate patients whose mother tongue is not French, to the best of the abilities and a translation service is available as needed,” they said. “It should be understood, however, that CHUM is not one of the establishments in the health and social services network designated to offer all of its services in English.”
A day later, Malysa said he’s still in disbelief over the experience.
“I was thinking, maybe I’m dreaming because never in my life, and I’ve been living a long time in this world, nobody has treated me like that,” he said. “This is not the place to take the language debate when you’re scared about your health.”