Ambulance attendant demands parents speak French

Two-year-old daughter unconscious and in seizure

By Robert Frank

Montérégie ambulance officials are declining to identify the ambulance attendant who put language politics ahead of the needs of two-year-old Ella Bergeron, Oct. 20.

Ella was visiting her aunt Laura Bergeron’s home in Hudson, when she fell ill, began seizing and became unresponsive.
“There was no eye contact. Her breathing became gurgling. Then she went into convulsions,” Laura said. “I perceived she was dying.”
“The first responders from the Hudson fire department arrived quickly and were amazing, but they didn’t have the equipment to continue to do fully what needed to be done.”
Ambulance attendants showed up soon afterward and began by asking Ella’s parents what had happened leading up to the seizure. That’s when the medical emergency was compounded by language sensitivities.

Yelled at traumatized parents

“They asked us all the questions in French,” recalled Ella’s father, Marc Bergeron. “They wouldn’t speak to me in English.”
“I responded in French,” said the fluently bilingual father “but a few times I had to pause and think about what he said because he would use a technical term.”
“With my daughter’s life at stake, I asked if I could use my mother tongue. To which he replied ‘Non.’ I couldn’t believe what I heard. So I asked him ‘Tu ne parles pas l’anglais?’
That’s when things escalated. He started yelling, and his tone of voice changed and he said ‘Non, je parles français!’”
What the ambulance attendants didn’t know was that Laura Bergeron had already lost two children, and family members were paralyzed by the fear that another young kin might die.
“Our panic was ten times that of a normal person, because we had already lost a child, and here it was with a niece,” explained Laura. “So the whole trauma was all that much scarier.”
“The ambulance attendant made my brother repeat everything. In our state of mind, we couldn’t remember what the word for ‘drooling’ was,” said Laura, who attended elementary school in French. Though Ella’s mother Stephanie Hansen is a unilingual English New Brunswick native, she added, “With three fluently bilingual family members on hand, we were still unable to figure out the right words.”
“It could make a world of difference between the way that they treat or don’t treat the child. That was not the time nor the place for my brother to have to struggle to find the right words. His inability to communicate was worrisome.”
Marc was so upset by the situation that he had to leave the room, and conjectured that the Hudson first responders, whom they had already given Ella’s medical history in English, must have conveyed that information to the ambulance attendants in French.
The girl was taken to Lakeshore General Hospital, where she was treated and released around midnight.
“Ella is one hundred per cent now,” Marc confirmed.

Right to be understood

Patrick Jasmin, spokesman for the Montérégie ambulance authority CETAM, told The Suburban in an interview that “every paramedic working for us understands English, even though they might not be able to speak it perfectly. When we give care in emergency situations, we communicate.”
“The situation is very sad because it’s a stressful situation for everyone when there is a call for a child who has a seizure,” he said.
At the time The Suburban went to press, Jasmin said that he did not have sufficient information about the incident to provide details.
“At this point, I don’t have any papers at hand. I still have to read the reports and we even have some recordings but I don’t want to answer questions without entirely knowing everything that happened.”
“Every patient who needs health care services has the right to be understood and give information to the health care giver,” Jasmin affirmed. “That’s the policy we have.”
“We know that it’s a difficult situation when children are ill and we’re happy that the child is doing well, and that the story ended well for her.”
Laura Bergeron has started a petition at:
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