Public hospital patients prefer death to neglect

“Look just give meh a knife and leh meh kill meh self. I don’t want to live anymore. What a living fah,” ‘Granny’ lamented.

“You ain’t want a cutlass? You too damn annoying, mek people can’t even sleep when deh night come,” was the response she received.

This sad exchange occurred between two elderly women in a ward in the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH). The first cried and begged for assistance for hours and the second must have had enough as she herself was ailing and was unable to rest.

I recently had a relative in the hospital and my constant visits not only brought to bear the everyday suffering of the poor and down trodden, but also made it crystal clear that conditions at the GPH leave much to be desired.

‘Granny’ in the above exchange had lost a leg, was on oxygen, both of her hands were swollen, and she was on her back every day I visited. Bedridden and unable to help herself; she had to be fed and cleaned. And as soon as anyone entered, she would ask to be fed or have her diaper changed.

“Come help nah. A really feeling bad a can’t tek it no mo,” she said one day as I entered the ward. The previous day, the relative of another patient had assisted in changing her diaper so I felt I should assist because she sounded as if she was in some amount of discomfort. But I was unsure of assisting ‘Granny’ without the nurses’ permission especially in light of the fact that she was on oxygen. But before I could have approached the nurses, another person did and was advised to leave ‘Granny’ alone.

“The nurses say they would do it. They say I can’t touch you,” the woman told ‘Granny’.

“They does just say so but dem don’t do it,” ‘Granny’ responded. “Ow come help nah, a really don’t like how a feeling.”

‘Granny’ then asked for food but got the same response and she continued to cry out. For three days, no one visited ‘Granny’ and she requested mobile calls to contact her two sons.

“Wah you saying? He not home? Oh he ain’t deh,” I overheard her saying during one of the calls and then she turned to the nurse aide who assisted her and said, “Oh he not home he must be lef to come.”

He did not come that afternoon nor the following day or the next. ‘Granny’ continued to beg for phone calls but no one came.

My relative indicated that during the night ‘Granny’ cried for hours for her children to visit her.

“Wah a living for her, best a dead,” she said one afternoon while I was in the ward and I attempted to soothe her with some kind words, but she continued to cry.

Minutes later a man, who said he was a pastor, with two women in tow, entered the ward and from his interactions with ‘Granny’ he knew her.

She asked him to pray for her.

“I don’t know why you want me to pray for you. I tell you since the last time when you went by [person’s name] that you have to let some things go but you just want to hold on to them,” he argued loudly.

“The last time a call you daughter and tell she come, she say she not coming. In fact, she say how she can’t tek you.” The entire ward could hear him and ‘Granny’ did not respond, but I saw tears trickle down her cheek.

The ‘pastor’ then prayed. I am not sure what he said, because by then I was so angry I wanted to chase him; he also sucked his teeth upon completion before he marched out of the ward.

‘Granny’ was quiet for a while and I wanted to believe that she finally got some sleep. But before I left the ward her eyes were open again and she continued to lament her situation and at intervals beg to be changed and fed.

My relative was in the ward for five days and ‘Granny’ was visited on the first two days, but not for the remaining three.

Hours after my relative left the ward, ‘Granny’s’ death announcement appeared on television. She got her wish, it seemed.

I never knew ‘Granny’ before my hospital visits and so I cannot testify as to what kind of individual she was. From all accounts, she had children and relatives yet she died tormented and alone in the hospital.

Regardless of what ‘Granny’ may or may not have done in her life she did not deserve to be treated in such a manner in her final days and hours. Not only did her relatives fail her, but also the hospital’s system that should have provided care for her. I was witness to the fact that she was left in diapers soaked with urine or full of excretion for hours, and she was not fed regularly.

In the same ward with ‘Granny’ there was a younger woman who also lost a leg and she related that she was suffering from diabetes. Her husband and other relatives visited and took care of her physical needs, but it was obvious that she needed more than they could have given.

She cried out constantly and it was not clear if it was from physical or mental pain. At times she folded one of her hands into a cuff, placed it in her mouth and bit down on it. She asked to be returned to her home in the interior to die, but her relatives encouraged to stay and try to get well.

My relative reported that the younger diabetes patient also cried for hours at night and as a result the other patients in the ward were unable to sleep. She may have needed some psychological assistance but none was provided during the days I visited the hospital.

The hospital’s emergency unit continues to be harrowing for those who are forced to visit. I spent an entire night there before my relative was admitted. Though my relative was attended to almost immediately, various tests had to be done so the waiting period was long.

But not everyone had the same experience. I saw a teenager in her school clothes who had to wait for hours before she was seen by a doctor. I saw mothers with babies in their arms leaned their tired heads against the hard walls and took naps as they waited to see a doctor.

I cannot forget the sight of a woman who sat on the ground and wailed gut wrenchingly for her husband who had just died in the emergency unit.

“A can’t believe he gone and lef me!” she screamed and had to be supported by strangers. Her relatives turned up about an hour later and led her away.

There were many other experiences (none of them positive) during the days my relative was hospitalized. They have all served to confirm why persons are hesitant to visit the GPH for treatment and why those who could afford it prefer to visit a private institution.

What is obvious is that apart from installing equipment and cleaning the hospital (the emergency unit waiting area was emptied during the night I was there so that the cleaners could clean, which entailed wiping the walls from top to bottom) the authorities have to find a way to effect a change of attitude among those who are at the institution to care for patients. Again, I should indicate that the doctors and nurses I interacted with during my relative’s stay were professional and appeared understanding, but in the case of ‘Granny’ and other women this was not so.

My relative said that even when in pain, she helped herself, adding, “I didn’t want nobody holler up on me.”

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