How the hospital failed my daughter

Leanna Kairua's daughter Veronica endured two weeks of hell at North Shore Hospital. Veronica, says her mother, went through unnecessary suffering for a common, though potentially lethal, complaint. This is Leanna's account.

Leanna Kairua witnessed her daughter in terrible pain while dealing with Third World conditions at North Shore Hospital. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Leanna Kairua witnessed her daughter in terrible pain while dealing with Third World conditions at North Shore Hospital. Photo / Steven McNicholl

My 18-year-old daughter recently got sick, suffering over a week of abdominal pain and loss of appetite. She was taken to our A & E and referred to North Shore Hospital.

She had suspected appendicitis. On the first visit to North Shore we sat in the waiting room for six hours.

My daughter was in extreme pain. After hours of waiting and some "words" with the nurses who consulted a doctor, they allowed her some pain relief.

During this time, the waiting room was full and observations were being undertaken. My daughter was eventually examined by a gynaecologist who discharged her pending an ultrasound in a week.

I opted to get this done privately due to my daughter's discomfort.

The next morning she had the ultrasound ($220) which showed a cyst near her ovaries. Her condition was deteriorating.

I took her to our local doctor who was convinced after an internal examination it was highly likely she had appendicitis and that the cyst was not a problem.

She sent her back to North Shore.

After another six hours in the crowded waiting room, with more tests and observations, they finally decided to admit her.

They were not even interested in looking at the ultrasound. They were still convinced she did not have appendicitis because her bloods did not show an inflammatory problem.

My doctor insisted I ask the hospital to perform an internal examination. All the doctors patronised me for suggesting such an archaic test. My daughter spent 18 hours in observation.

I stayed with her and slept at the bottom of her bed. I got up during the night to go to the bathroom and had to avoid patients sleeping in the hallway behind makeshift screens. I had to question what country I was in _ that people in New Zealand have to sleep down hallways of hospitals because they are full?

My daughter was then admitted to a ward. She was put in a room with three elderly gentlemen. She rang me at 3am scared because one became disoriented and stood right outside her cubicle.

She could hear him breathing. I then took up residence in the day room on a very uncomfortable vinyl two-seater and kept in contact through text messages. The next day my daughter was moved to a room of four women patients.

From the time she arrived on the ward, pain relief was an issue. She would be in excruciating pain, buzz for help and would have to wait on average one to one-and-a-half hours before anyone responded.

I assisted the other patients in the room to go to the bathroom and with simple things like putting their food trays in a place where they could reach them and not starve. I learned quickly that the only way you could get medical attention or avoid a long delay was to cause a big fuss.

The waiting was unbearable. We were all at the mercy of the nurses and doctors and no one could give any indication of how long you needed to wait for anything.

I did not feel that I could leave the hospital as each time I did there was an "incident" and I would come back to find my daughter distraught and in major pain.

Doctors would not chart enough medication for a day, nurses would not deliver it before pain set in, and my daughter suffered unnecessarily.

She lost nine kilos in 10 days. She could not keep food or water down, had not eaten for over two weeks and had no bowel movement.

She was on a cocktail of morphine, pain killers and other nasty bowel flushing concoctions, all of which made her very sick.

The doctors suspected she had a bowel problem and said we would have to wait a further week for an MRI scan. They wanted to discharge her then bring her back. But she was too sick to take home as we could not manage her pain or her not eating. Again, I had to lose the plot to get the MRI fast-tracked while she was there.

The doctors were adamant she still wasn't sick enough to have appendicitis and suggested a laparoscopy to check where the pain was coming from.

My daughter was placed on the waiting list for the operation on Friday but was bumped off it due to more critical cases.

One incident was a pregnant woman of about 24 who had extreme abdominal pain and who was crying the whole time.

The medical team, about eight of them, including students taking notes, came in and said you're either having a miscarriage or it's your appendix, then left her on her own, distraught.

Has the medical profession lost their compassion and empathy? Who delivers that type of news to a young girl (without family support) and then walks away?

The other disturbing incident was the death of a young man in his early 20s on the ward from a burst appendix. The police came and shut us in the ward.

(The hospital will not discuss this claim, citing privacy. North Shore police say there were no deaths reportable to the coroner or requiring police action for that time, and no incidents of note on computer.)

I had questions whether they had treated his condition the same as my daughter; was she at risk of being misdiagnosed?

I lost the plot again and insisted on seeing a doctor. I was told that we would have to wait as there was not a doctor on until Monday. It was Saturday. I was not aware on the Friday that we would not see our medical team until Monday.

Finally, the nurses agreed to page him and he arrived about five hours later. He again assured me it was very highly unlikely my daughter had appendicitis.

I didn't feel very reassured.

That night I sat down with one of the nurses and asked "why is it is like this?"

She said North Shore Hospital is trying to service two of the fastest growing cities, Waitakere and North Shore (it also serves Rodney District) and there are limited operating theatres, not enough specialists, or doctors and nurses for the number of patients.

Basically, everyone was extremely overworked, frustrated and under considerable stress.

On Sunday we were advised by the charge nurse that my daughter had again been bumped from the list.

My daughter was so distraught by this I had to wrestle her as she tried to rip out her IV line and leave. She had to be sedated.

On Monday, the medical team arrived to advise she would probably not be operated on that day. She burst into tears and said that she wanted to go home.

They advised she still wasn't sick enough. I asked them "well, how sick does she need to be?"

Again, I had to perform mini-meltdown and asked them whether they were also willing to treat her for depression because of the stress.

An hour later we were prepping for surgery.

My daughter was operated on and the doctor who attended us on the Tuesday advised her appendix had been inflamed.

My criticism is not towards the doctors, nurses and specialists. I think they are probably doing the best they can under the circumstances.

But I felt I was close to losing my precious daughter.

I had to be a pushy parent and in hindsight I'm glad I did, but I'm saddened the sorry state of the health service made me do this.

You have to ask: "Why are we giving to overseas aid when there is suffering in New Zealand?

"Why is the Government helping out failed finance companies when our health is failing?

"And would John Key let his children suffer unnecessarily because of a poor emergency health system?"

* Veronica was admitted on August 5 and discharged on August 19.

She is at home and recovering well.

* 481,614
Population of Waitemata District Health Board, the largest in NZ. Canterbury is second, with 466,404. Counties Manukau has 433,843 and, Auckland, the fourth largest, has 404,619. These are 2006 Census figures.

* 51,858
Population growth in the Waitemata district between 2001 and 2006 - a growth rate of 12.1 per cent.

* 24,267
Patients at North Shore Hospital's emergency department in the year to the end of August, an increase of 10.7 per cent from 2009.

* 718
Patients in the last week of August - a 10.4 per cent increase.

* 54
Beds in the emergency department. But a new 38-bed ED is being built, along with a 50-bed Admission Diagnostic Unit (ADU). Staff say this should mean faster and more efficient care.

Source: Waitemata District Health Board

- NZ Herald

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