“The worst part was being there and looking at my mommy feeling so uncomfortable on that hard, wooden bench. I know she was in pain and I couldn’t do nothing to help her. I felt very terrible about it but I was afraid to speak out because when you do that they want to penalize you and leave you at the back,” she said, pain etched on her face.
It was as if she was reliving the hours two weeks ago when she spent the entire day and way into the night with her 76-year-old mother at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Her mother has a kidney disorder and visits the hospital’s outpatient clinic, but on that day her regular doctor felt she needed emergency treatment. They arrived at the ER at around 11 am, but she was not seen until the evening.
I approached Alison, a mother of three, because I not only wanted to once again chronicle the various struggles women go through every day, but also to drive home the fact that seeking treatment at the GPHC continues to be a disaster. The government has changed, ministers have changed and even the management of the hospital has changed (twice in three years) but the ordinary man and woman still cannot access the most basic medical care at the hospital without a hassle.
“I tried to tell her to bear up,” Alison said, explaining how she attempted to make things easier for her mother as they sat on the hospital bench.
“And you know at one time a woman, she didn’t look like a nurse, she came out because other people were venting their feelings. There was a woman who was like 80 and her son was talking out because she was in a wheelchair.
“But she [the hospital employee] come and say that the emergency does not have anything to do with age and how much you does give to the government. It is about whenever the chart go in and if the doctor feel it is not an emergency they would look after who is emergency.
“I did believe that mommy was serious because she had to get blood and she was having a tightness in she heart. She was uneasy and I believe they could have taken her in and started the medication since it was the kidney.
“I felt that by the doctor referring her from a clinic that she was in that they would see it as an emergency. I did not know that when you go there you have to wait for so long.”
I knew she indicated earlier that she was not keen on objecting to the length of time she had to wait because she was fearful that this would have made the wait longer, but I had to ask if she did not say anything.
I believed I would have said something, as I recalled the hours I myself was forced to wait at the ER with my mother who had suffered a brain aneurysm which resulted in a stroke. Looking back, I believed if I had not intervened my mother would have spent the entire night lying on a stretcher in a semi-conscious state.
But she responded: “No girl, I didn’t want to say anything because I know how they stay I did not want to make it worse.
“We had arrive at the regular clinic around 8 am and we had to wait some time to see the doctor but it was not too long. But as soon as he see her results [she had done some prior tests] he said it was not good and then she was experiencing dizziness in the head and her blood count was way too low. He said she had to get a blood transfusion.
“She usually go to the clinic twice a month.
“So, when the doctor see that he refer her to the emergency and we went over there at around 11 something. I took the chart to the nurse and they told us to go and sit down in the waiting area.
“But I never imagine that it would have taken us so long. They called her to take her blood pressure and so on and told us to go back and sit down. That take us until after four before she can see a doctor. They had to do back all the tests over again because we did not come with the results from the other clinic. That took some time. When they did the blood test it was further low than in the morning. They give her some medication and put her to sit in a chair in the emergency that they does usually give you oxygen in. I leave her like around 11 pm,” she said with a tiredness in her voice and her shoulders sagged.
“When I go back in the morning she tell me how she sit in the chair whole night before they put she up in the ward in the morning because they had no beds before.
“For that whole day we sit down on them hard bench and you know she is 76 and she was uneasy and crying out for back pain. And then to think that she had to sit down whole night, so it is whole night and whole day she did not get to rest her back and that really make me feel bad.”
I wanted to tell her she had nothing to feel bad about, but I suppose any child would hurt to see a parent in pain and wish to do more. She did not say it, but I felt she was thinking that if she could have afforded it she would have taken her mother to a private hospital.
“But you know in 2015 she had to get admit and again they didn’t have bed and she spend almost three days in the same chair in emergency,” Alison shared.
“And another painful thing at the hospital is the guard meeting you early in the morning when you hurrying to take food for the patient; they meeting you at the steps and asking you for money to buy tea. And if an attendant have to do something for you, they are looking for you to buy something for them. They don’t know the stress that you have to go through, and they are begging you.”
I felt angry at those insensitive employees, though I could not help but acknowledge in my mind that they are likely being underpaid. Nevertheless, I cannot condone such behaviour.
“At the clinic section they are doing the best for people, the doctors are doing what needs to be done but is when she is out of their hands. I just feel that they should deal with senior citizens with more compassion. They cannot have them sitting for so many hours, they should do more for elderly folks. That part is painful to see,” Alison said.
“For the time I was sitting there a guy came with his wife and he had to behave like a madman and right away she got attended to. You have to behave like your head ain’t good sometimes to get quick attention. Another patient was stung with a stingray and his family had to behave bad because he been bad and they just had him there.
“But you know I am not that type of person [to behave bad] all I keeping telling her to hang in there and that her time will come.”
I wanted to tell her that sometimes you have to do just that, but I understood when people are in distress they only wish is to be treated or have their loved ones treated and if they believe speaking out would further jeopardise this process then they would remain quiet.
“And I think the attendants need to be more serious with their work,” she continued. “My mother have a eye problem and can’t really see and no attendant come to assist she. She had to walk through the long place when she could get a wheelchair. And whenever you approach an attendant they are looking for a raise.”
She then spoke about the effects of having a full-time job and dealing with her mother’s illness.
“It is affecting me a lot. I have children. I have to go to work and I have a sick parent and I have a husband. Sometimes I does feel I am on the verge of collapsing and giving up because they are all important to you and you now have to find a balance with all of that. So, it is really stressful,” she said.
“When I was at work and knowing that she is in the hospital I was thinking about her but I know I had to focus on my work because it pays me, but it was still so hard.
“It is a hard thing to go through. Right now, she has to go every other day for an injection. The doctor say there is nothing much they can do for her so she will be in and out of hospital until such time. She is passing blood in her urine and her stool, but she is not on dialysis. She has a special diet I have to maintain.
“I love my mother very much I would do anything for her. In as much as I may feel tired, I can’t give up,” Alison said with a shake of her head.
There are many more Alisons out there who are experiencing similar and sometimes worse struggles; at the very least, systems and institutions set up to help the ordinary man and woman should function in a more reliable manner. Whether it is health, social, police, or judicial services – and the list can go on – the existing gaps in delivering necessary assistance to people are actually causing harm. Things need to change.