Coma calamity

Coma calamity

Woman blames local hospital as her mom lays unconscious since April

BY JANICE BUDD Associate editor Sunday

Sunday, September 09, 2012

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KIMONE Lyle-English is at her wits' end, having been forced to leave her mother languishing in a coma in a Jamaican hospital for the last three months while she wrings her hands in despair more than 4,000 miles away in the United Kingdom (UK).

She is the only child of 64-year-old Derrit Fraser Francis, a Jamaican-born woman who has lived in the UK for the past 20 years.

Her mother, once a robust, spirited teacher, has been teetering on the brink of death on Ward Three of the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew since April 24 this year after a family trip went horribly awry.

On April 12, Fraser Francis travelled to Jamaica from the UK. She accompanied Lyle-English, her daughter's husband and the couple's four-year-old daughter to his mother's funeral.

As the trip progressed, Fraser Francis experienced difficulty breathing and had to be rushed to Linstead Hospital in St Catherine, where doctors reportedly started treating her for pneumonia.

Linstead is a type C medical facility since it doesn't have the capacity to treat extremely serious illness and, according to the family, the hospital soon found itself out of its depth in Fraser Francis's case.

"When I went to the hospital, my mom was lying on a bed with a drip in her arm. I could tell that she was in distress, because her eyes were bulging and she was foaming at the mouth, she was breathing with great difficulty, and her face was turning red," said Lyle-English.

"I asked the doctor what's going on, what are you doing, she isn't breathing! and they said, well, there isn't much they could do because they don't have the right equipment to treat her. So I said if you don't have the equipment to treat her, then we have to find somewhere that has the equipment to take her, and they said well, by all means, but she is not stable enough for travel.

"Anyway, after what felt like ages, we decided that we were going to call an ambulance. The ambulance arrived in about 15 minutes, they didn't take long at all."

By that time, she explained, they had contacted a relative who works at the UHWI in Kingston, who said yes, that facility could take her.

"When they (private ambulance service) came, we were getting my mom ready, but the doctor said, 'you cannot move your mom, because she is not stable, and if anything happens to her en route to hospital, then we will be liable'.

"I said to her, 'well, give me whatever form there is that I can sign so we can release you of the responsibility so we can move her, because you are not doing anything to treat her, so it's better we take her and take our chances. But the doctor went into her office and closed the door and the ambulance told us that they couldn't take her without her docket," said Lyle-English.

She told the Jamaica Observer that she doesn't know how long the doctor stayed in the office, but recalled that it felt like forever.

"And all this time my mom is on the bed in distress, trying to breathe. I'm crying at this point, trying to get the doctor to come out and speak to us. The doctor finally came out and said the UHWI doctor has accepted my mom but she needs to find a nurse from the hospital to go with us," said Lyle-English.

But the ambulance crew, she said, told her they didn't need a nurse because they are trained to deal with anything that might happen on the journey. However, the doctor said the hospital would only release her under that stipulation.

Lyle-English said she watched her mother's breathing grow worse as the doctor went back and forth trying to find a nurse that the hospital could release to accompany her. She said her temper flared when she was told that the responsibility was her family's to ensure that the nurse returned to the hospital after her mother was admitted. That would be $32,000 ($16,000 either way) by private ambulance for a family that was tapped out financially after burying her husband's mother.

She said her anxiety grew as the minutes ticked by and since they had finally found an available nurse she finally relented.

"It felt like another hour before we finally got to leave the hospital," Lyle-English said, adding that she cried for the entire journey, holding onto her mother as her gurney shook and shifted about. At one point she admitted she shot the nurse a dirty look when the nurse laughed after she slid from the seat as the ambulance navigated a corner at high speed.

"I kept thinking, we are paying $16,000 to get you back to the hospital, after we waited so long for you to accompany us and you won't even hold down the trolley, and yet you're laughing," Lyle-English said.

By the time the ambulance made the journey from Linstead, St Catherine to the UHWI in Mona, St Andrew, her mother had suffered cardiac arrest and had been without oxygen for several minutes.

Doctors worked on her mother for a long time and managed to get her heart restarted, but, the family was told later, she had likely suffered severe brain damage in the meantime, and was in a coma.

Lyle-English and her husband risked losing their UK jobs and spent the next month at her mother's bedside, her trip to Jamaica in shambles.

"My husband returned home, but my daughter and I remained there for an additional month to monitor my mother's condition and work on getting her returned to England for further treatment," said Lyle-English.

Eventually, they, too, had no choice but to leave at the end of June, making arrangements with cousins and family friends to look out for her mother who lay mostly unresponsive in the hospital bed. Even her departure was not without drama, Lyle-English said, as in her rush to the airport from Bog Walk, where her husband's family is, she lost her purse.

"My purse with money I had just withdrawn from the bank fell whilst I was talking to police officers en route to the airport due to a road block and bad rain," she said. "They handed it in to the Falmouth Police Station. My British driver's licence, credit cards and other important identity cards were all in the purse which was collected by my cousin a few hours later, minus the J$20,000 and British pounds which was meant to pay the taxi and give to my cousin to pay for my mother's medication," she said.

Before she left, she said doctors told her that there are no further treatment options available in Jamaica that could do much for her mother, and gave the family a referral for an emergency MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) to the UK.

"We have been given a quotation from the MEDEVAC air ambulance at Heathrow airport of £55,000. I am willing to do anything required of me. However, I do not have the sum of money required to MEDEVAC my mother without any assistance from anyone. I love my mother very much and I share a close relationship with her and would do anything to aid her survival and safe return home to continue the recommended and desperately needed medical care and attention required," Lyle-English told the Sunday Observer by phone last week.

"I have been a British citizen for 10 years. My mother has Indefinite Leave Status and has resided permanently in England for 20 years. I am requesting special consideration and assistance to return her back to England. I needed to return to earn money to support my family and try to pay for my mother's rising hospital bills which (three weeks ago) stands at J$3,000,000 (just over £21,000) as she has been admitted in the critical care unit for 70 days now and counting. My mother did not have medical insurance and as it now stands, it is down to me to find the sum of money required to help her," the desperate only child wrote in an e-mailed letter to the Observer.

Each week, the family hopes she can be released from the hospital and get well enough to take the long flight back to the UK, but each week they face disappointment with Fraser Francis contracting frequent bacterial infections in hospital. In the last few weeks, the 64-year-old woman's medical condition has deteriorated rapidly, according to a family friend with whom the Sunday Observer spoke.

"We went to look at her last week and one side of her face was so swollen it was hanging down on the bed. I asked the doctor what was causing it and he said it was a bacterial infection that they now have to be treating," said Joyce Scott, who everybody calls Aunt Peaches.

Scott and her daughter have been checking in on Fraser Francis three times a week, as long as they can find the money. Without any direct relatives left in Jamaica, they act as family for the woman who spent her last birthday this past May unconscious in hospital.

Scott explained that neither she nor her daughter is employed and although they get some money from Lyle-English they don't always have the bus fare to travel from Bog Walk to Kingston and buy little things here and there for their comatose friend.

"I want to go and look for her tomorrow (Saturday), but I just can't find the fare," Scott told the Sunday Observer on Friday night, adding that Fraser Francis's condition had not changed. "She just lies there, you know, like how you would park a car and leave it. She not moving."

Scott and the family are growing more disconsolate as the days pass.

Lyle-English said her mother now needs a replacement tube for the one in her throat through which she breathes, and she has been told that there is none to be had in the island .

"She needs a trach tube and none is on the island. It's a shambles. I am currently trying to get a decent ticket to come visit her as she is deteriorating rapidily. I am not getting much assistance from the UK, either," said Lyle-English.

"She was a volunteer at the Andover youth centre here in London and spent her time working for free with disabled kids, helping them to read, paint, draw, and mostly just talking to them. She dedicated all her spare time to charity. She loved her granddaughter and was planning on relocating to Jamaica this year. She has all her belongings packed in boxes at her house ready to come home to Jamaica, but I am sure if she realised that the health-care system was the way it was, she would not have been so keen to rush to Jamaica to live," Lyle-English argued.

"I believe the lack of urgency in the way my mom was treated at the Linstead hospital is to be blamed for her condition right now. If the doctors had done something more than give her a drip she would have recovered and not suffered brain damage. I am angry at the doctor for walking away with the notes when the ambulance was there and waiting and I am angry that they requested me to pay $16,000 to transport a nurse back to Linstead when one was not even necessary in the first place, due to fully trained paramedics being on the ambulance we hired," she said.

Lyle-English is also angry that although she waited for hours outside the headquarters of the ruling People's National Party to speak to government members about her mother — who was an ardent supporter when she lived in this country — and even handed one government minister a letter appealing for help, she has heard nothing back.

She said she even personally dropped off a letter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for its intervention, but has received no acknowledgement of their receipt of it.

In the meantime, having pleaded with her bosses in London for three weeks' unpaid leave to come back to Jamaica, she is struggling to find an affordable aeroplane ticket.

"I am currently trying to book to come out to Jamaica to spend some precious moments with my mom," Lyle-English said. "The airfares are ridiculous, but I have to do what I have to do in order to see her and make her as comfy as I can."

She expressed gratitude to Bibleway Basic School teachers and students in Bog Walk, for helping take care of her daughter, Tehyana, while she spent her days at the hospital caring for her mother.

A spokesperson with the South East Regional Health Authority confirmed that Fraser Francis was, indeed, a patient at the Linstead hospital. However, she said she could not comment on the family's accusations, since a formal complaint had not been lodged. The spokesperson urged the family to do so as speedily as possible so the matter could be thoroughly investigated.


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