A grieving husband whose wife died after waiting for almost seven hours to receive emergency care at a hospital does not want his partner’s death to be in vain. Gunter Holthoff took his wife Allison to hospital on New Year’s Eve after her condition worsened from what was first thought to be an upset stomach.
Mr Holthoff said they got to Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in the town of Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, at 11am local time before they spent hours waiting to see a doctor.
His wife’s condition gradually worsened and she thought she was going to die in the waiting room.
He told Canada’s CBC News: “She was obviously in pain.
“I was rolling her in the wheelchair and she could hardly sit up.”
They waited for more than six hours in the emergency department’s waiting room and then in a room inside the unit as her pain got worse.
Mr Holthoff said they did not see a doctor until after 6pm and he said it was too late by then.
After they were triaged the nurses asked Mrs Holthoff for a urine sample.
When he took her to the toilet he could not support her on his own and she fell to the floor. Two security guards had to help get her up.
Mr Holthoff says that when he took his wife back to the waiting room the pain had got so bad that she was not able to sit in the wheelchair the hospital had provided. Instead she ended up lying on the floor.
He added: “I told the nurses and the lady at the desk there a couple of times, ‘It is getting worse,’ and nothing happened.
“So the security guards, in time, they brought a couple blankets out and they brought us a cup of water and I used it to put some ice on her lips.”
As time went on Mrs Holthoff told her husband she felt like she was dying.
He said: “I think that she actually started saying that she thought she was dying in the waiting room outside.
“She said, ‘I think I’m dying. Don’t let me die here.’”
They were taken to a room with a bed, but no medical equipment, at around 3pm, and Mr Holthoff said he had to help his wife use a bedpan and used paper towel from a roll on the wall to clean up.
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He added: “At some point there, she was getting worse and she started to scream out in pain.”
Mr Holthoff says there was only a sense of urgency from the medical staff after a nurse checked his wife’s blood pressure and saw it was alarmingly low.
And when they finally saw a doctor they still had not received any test results.
He tried to assure his wife the doctors would find out what was causing her suffering but as she was being prepped for an X-ray she was in so much pain she could not breathe.
Mr Holthoff said: “The next thing is [her] eyes rolled back in her head and her chest started rising. Something started beeping.
“The next thing you hear is over the PA, ‘code blue, code blue in X-ray.'”
He was sent out of the room while medical staff tried to rescuscitate his wife three times – to no avail.
He said: “Even if she would have survived at that point … she had too long a time without sufficient blood flow to the brain and vital organs. It would have been not a life worth living.”
The results of Mrs Holthoff’s autopsy have not been released and her husband did not hear from anyone in government, except his local MLA, for at least a week after her death.
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He says the healthcare system failed his wife and he does not want her death to be in vain.
Mr Holthoff said: “We need change, the system is obviously broken. Or if it’s not broken yet, it’s not too far off.”
“Something needs to improve. I don’t want anybody else to go through this.”
“I want a spot where if my kids break their legs, we can take them to the hospital if anything happens.”
His local MLA, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, has written an open letter to provincial Health Minister Michelle Thompson, asking for an “urgent investigation” into the situation.
The letter said a request to meet earlier in the week had been denied.
Mr Holthoff said: “The government doesn’t seem to pay any attention.
“I don’t know what needs to happen … or how many more people need to die. It’s just a shame.”