Seven weeks ago, a very dear friend of mine was admitted to hospital in Melbourne for ‘routine’ hip replacement surgery.
After being on the hospital’s waiting list for many months, although anxious, she was happy that finally something would be done to alleviate her dreadful pain and inability to walk without a stick.
The scheduled date of the operation was to be the day before her 79th birthday.
‘That will be the best gift ever to receive this year’ was how she saw it.
The surgery was estimated to last an hour. It went for longer than that. It lasted for over four hours.
She was told later, after regaining consciousness, that she had endured a heart attack during the procedure and that is what had lengthened the surgery time.
But that was not all.
As she stirred back into reality, my friend noticed a strange feeling—or, more accurately—a non-feeling.
‘What has happened to my leg?’ she enquired of the nurse watching over her.
The nurse knew nothing.
My distressed friend reached down to touch her right leg. It was numb. Completely numb, from hip to toes. She told the nurse.
‘I’ll put a note for the doctor.’ Was all she said.
Hours went by.
Days went by.
Nurses came and prodded and poked. A junior doctor hummed and haaa-d over it.
‘My leg feels like a piece of dead meat’, my friend complained to anyone who would listen.
All feeling in her right leg was gone.
She could not get out of bed.
She could not wrangle herself into a wheel chair without the aid of two nurses.
There was nothing that could be done to alleviate this situation. My friend was now crippled and had to face the fact that she may never walk again; she would never again drive her precious little car. Worst of all, she may never be able to return to her home.
Plus, she was in horrendous and continuous pain.
Tests were ordered, revealing that her sciatic nerve had been severed during surgery. There would be no improvement in her mobility.
The future was bleak.
So, what did the hospital do?
My friend was moved to a rehab hospital, and wheeled to physiotherapy sessions twice a day.
Her ‘dead’ leg was fitted with a stiff plastic brace.
She still could not walk.
One day she was summoned back to the original hospital to see (confront?) the operating surgeon.
She was conveyed by ambulance to hear (what she hoped would be) an explanation of how this tragic mistake had happened and what would be done to help her.
There was no apology.
The surgeon spoke of how (maybe) the nerve was not completely severed and (maybe) it was merely stretched. This would mean there could be some improvement in her condition, but she would have to be patient, as this occurrence could take up to two years!
Time passes. The rehab place continues to offer twice a day physio. They help with wheel-chair use and encourage ‘walking’ practice with a walking frame, but, for my friend, there is still no idea of what her future life will involve.
She has been instructed to wear suitable shoes. Her ‘dead’ leg and foot do not cooperate with shoe putting on. She asks the hospital if they can assist her in purchasing shoes that will suit her new situation.
The reply is negative.
Her daughter investigates various types of shoes and brings them to the hospital for my friend to try.
Many hundreds of dollars later, they find some orthopaedic shoes that will fit the lifeless foot and my friend is almost able to put them on with little help.
But they are not magic—and they do not make her walk!
Legal advice is sought, but soon discarded, once my friend discovers what it involves and how long it will take to even appear like compensation could be accessed. Although her case would most likely be settled out of court, with the hospital’s insurance paying any award, it would be a laborious process that my friend cannot bear to face.
So, what can she do?
Right now, nothing much.
She is still in hospital.
Of the two promised visits from social workers, who might offer her some helpful advice, neither has eventuated.
She has been fobbed off by the surgeon; the hospital offers nothing in the way of compensation.
And so, her life continues; twice-a-day physiotherapy, awful hospital food and sleepless nights, only interrupted by nightmares of what the future holds.
(That special birthday was nearly two months ago!)
Hip replacement anyone?
Do not brush my friend off as ‘just a little old lady’. This is not what she is. She is (or was!) a strong woman. She has been a teacher. She is an author. She is an ardent and well-known advocate for carers of the mentally ill and disabled. She is what is known as a ‘pillar of society’
If you wish to know the name of the Melbourne hospital in this story, message me in the comments section (below), or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.