Karen Chin was not known to me personally. She is or rather, was my friend’s sister who passed away early this month. I dedicate this blog post in loving memory of Karen and to Karen’s family. My friend, Lyn wrote a letter with details of their experience at the public hospital with the intention of letting the management know what actually took place prior to her sister’s death. With hope held high that the hospital would investigate and take necessary steps to ensure, the same would not be experienced by other patients. No one deserves to go through such painful experience. My friend also sent a copy to the press, hoping that her letter would be published for people to learn from their experience. I read about Karen’s ordeal during the last few days of her life with huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. If I, a stranger can feel that way, imagine how the family members felt then?
I can’t do anything to take away the pain and loss felt by the family, but I’d like to help my friend, Lyn. Then, I thought, the least that I could do is to publish her letter here in my blog. Lyn gave her consent to the idea. Please keep in mind that her intention is purely to allow people to learn from their experience, hopefully others won’t share the same fate as her late sister. They have come to terms with her passing and just want to move on.
(AUTHOR : LYN)
My sister was mentally retarded since she was a few months old as a result of jaundice. Ever since then, she was fully dependent, unable to talk, feed herself or do the basic activities by herself. She had to be attended to round the clock. Additionally, ever since she started menstruating, she would have seizures during such periods. It had become a norm to have seizures accompanying her menstruation, but no other complications associated with it.
All these conditions ended with her life when it was snatched away from her on that fateful day on 4th May 2012, while she was in custody of a local public hospital (hereinafter referred to as UH). Following is the events that took place at UH in chronological order, till my sister’s last moments on earth :
24th April 2012
9.30pm : Following my sister’s recurrent seizure and fever, my mother sent her to UH Emergency Ward. Her hands were immediately strapped to the bed railing to prevent her from falling off the bed as her body was experiencing wild trashing movement. Thereafter, attending nurses began to draw blood and urine sample for tests.
10.30pm : X-ray taken
1. When the nurses failed to find a suitable vein to insert the needle, they carelessly left a deep huge bruise on my sister’s arm.
2. As untrained as they look, they were seen to continuously poking my sister with the urinary catheter to draw urine, until her urethra bled. As my sister was mute, she could only shudder in great pain.
3. She was subsequently put on an IV drip. Half and hour later, my mother started noticing that the drip was not functioning at all and immediately called the nurse. The IV drip was then re-administered. Imagine if there were no one beside the patient and the attending nurse didn’t do the proper checking before leaving the patient.
4. My mother, an elderly 71-year-old lady was left standing by my sister’s bedside throughout the night worried because my sister was left with minimal attention in the Emergency Ward.
25th April 2012
5.15am : The doctor from Emergency Ward discharged my sister saying that all test results were normal. However, at that moment, my sister was still experiencing seizure and fever. My mother asked if her condition was due to an ear infection. The doctor then took a brief look at her ears and prescribed a course of antibiotics. She further advised my mother to have a neurologist look at my sister for further investigation on the seizure.
My mother then called to make an appointment with the neurologist, as advised by the doctor in the emergency ward. She was refused an immediate appointment despite my sister’s critical condition. Instead, the appointment staff insisted that she should only come on the regular appointment on 16 June 2012, which sadly, she did not live to see the day.
1. Is it the standard practice of the hospital to discharge patients who are still in apparent need for medical attention just because the blood and urine tests have not shown any suspicious signs yet? In this case, my sister was still having seizures and fever.
2. Shouldn’t the attending doctor write a medical report and immediately refer the patient to see the neurologist, without going through the usual queue, based on the critical condition of the patient?
28th April 2012
My mother called UH for an appointment again as my sister’s condition didn’t improve even after administering the antibiotics. This time the appointment staff at the neurology clinic told my mother to come in to wait until the neurologist finished with the last patient, as the appointments were full. The clinic was open only on every Tuesday and Friday, and the next available clinical hours would be 4 May, 2012.
4th May 2012
3.30pm : My mother brought my sister to the neurology clinic. She was advised by the staff to be there at that time since my sister would be the last patient of the day.
When she reported at the reception counter, she was denied medical attention simply because the Professor, whom the staff claimed to speak to, had asked my sister to return in 4 weeks’ time. The staff also commented that it was already 4pm and the clinic was closing. Finally, we managed to persuade the staff to give us a queue number for the day, much to the staff’s reluctance. All this while, my sister was in great pain while on the wheelchair and everyone at the neurology reception including other patients were aware of it.
When my sister was finally ushered in to see the neurologist, she was already unconscious. The neurologist was shocked that she was not being seen on urgent basis. The doctor was made to understand that prior appointments were denied by the appointment staffs. She was immediately sent down to the emergency ward.
At the Emergency Ward, she was administered IV drip. The doctor ordered for all her daily medications be terminated. I saw that there was blood stained on my sister’s lips and the nurses did not have any knowledge how and when it happened. When my sister’s seizure returned and her eyes were all rolled up nobody attended to her again. I quickly alerted the nurse and the latter gave Valium to calm her down.
Half an hour later after the Valium, my sister began to turn pale and another seizure started again with foam forming in her mouth. No medical attendant was nearby and I had to rush to fetch a nurse again. The nurse told me that a suction has to be done and I was told to step aside. The curtain was drawn and that was the last time I saw my sister breathing….
When finally the on-call/emergency doctor spoke to me, he was there to deliver the bad news. He said that my sister’s heart had stopped and CPR was performed. They failed to revive my sister after performing the CPR for 51 minutes and therefore, she was pronounced dead.
1. Don’t hospitals consider the condition of a patient when setting appointments for him/her? More critical condition to be given priority?
2. Aren’t nurses trained to look at symptoms of patients as they walked or being wheeled in?
3. A person experiencing continuous seizure is to be left unattended for long intervals?
4. Would my sister be saved if the doctor who first attended to her on 24 April had acted proactively by referring her to the neurologist for immediate attention?
5. Is this the standard of practice of our Public Hospital when attending to critical cases? No sense of urgency?
6. Aren’t the nurses trained well to conduct tests on patients without causing more injury?
My sister is no longer with us. We mourn for her death and the way she had to suffer in her last moments at UH. My family hereby seek an explanation from the UH on their conduct during my sister’s stay with them, which ended her life pre-maturely. And, we also hope that other patients would not subject to such treatment in the future and let this be a lesson to all. (AS CONTRIBUTED BY LYN)
Karen, I’d like to believe that you are now in a special place where there are only good health, happiness and peace exist. I’m sure you’ll be missed by those who love you. My deepest condolences to Lyn and her family. Farewell, Karen Chin…..
~ Alice N.