Vivian Gowrie takes dozens of pills a week to treat a host of chronic conditions, from heart disease to fibromyalgia, and now she's suddenly without a doctor.
When Gowrie called her general practitioner on Thursday to set up a routine appointment for next week, she was told that due to overwhelming patient volume, Dr. Iftkhar Khan had cut some patients from his practice and Gowrie was one of the unlucky ones. Despite seeing Khan for the past four years, Gowrie was told the doctor made the cuts through a random lottery of all his patients.
"It makes no sense. Why didn't he take the time to go through his patient list and let go the people who weren't as ill?" Gowrie said. "What happens if there was an older person in there who just had open heart surgery, and they just happened to be picked in the draw. Are they not going to get medical treatment?"
Khan didn't return a call placed by the Citizen. It's not known when the draw was held or how many other patients were let go at the same time as Gowrie.
Gowrie said she never had any problems with Khan in the past. She received a letter in the mail on Friday saying in writing that she'd been let go through the random draw. In the letter Khan apologized for any inconvenience caused by his decision to release her from his practice.
Losing her doctor is one thing, but Gowrie was "dumbfounded" at the method used to pick which patients were kept and which were released.
"It's putting a person's life in a lottery," she said. "If your number comes up, you're lucky; if your number doesn't come up, tough luck. If you die in the process of being between doctors, well that's your problem."
According to a position paper from the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, doctors are within their rights to terminate a relationship with a patient so long as it doesn't put the patient's life in jeopardy.
"A physician may legally and ethically decide not to continue seeing a patient, as long as the patient is not acutely in need of immediate care, and has been given enough notice to find another physician," the college's position reads in part.
In the letter Khan sent to Gowrie, dated Nov. 9, he said his office would help in emergency situations for up to two weeks as she looks for a new doctor. In its guidelines, the college recommends doctors provide patients with three to four weeks of notice before releasing them.
Given Gowrie's long list of medical problems, including three heart attacks, chronic pain, osteoporosis, diabetes and collapsed disks, she feels by letting her go Khan is putting her life in danger.
"It's ethically, medically and morally wrong," she said, adding she's beginning the process of launching an official complaint through the provincial college.
After learning of the results of the draw on Thursday, Gowrie immediately began her search for a new doctor. The provincial college gave her the names of three local doctors taking patients, but two of those leads turned out to be dead ends and the third one asked her to come back at the end of the month. One of the doctor's offices Gowrie contacted gave her a fourth potential doctor, but she hasn't heard back from that office.
In the meantime, she has access to walk-in clinics and emergency services at the hospital, but Gowrie is worried that some of the medications she's taking for pain relief won't be available to her through a doctor at the clinic.
"I can't walk into a clinic and ask for pain medication, even though I've been on it for 20 years, because it's a narcotic," she said.
Gowrie acknowledged that by going public with her story it might actually make it more difficult for her to find a new doctor, but she felt it was important to get the word out.
"I'm not going to sit here and play dumb when someone has put my life on the line," she said.