AN elderly woman waited in agony for almost 10 hours at Shoalhaven Hospital’s emergency department last month.
Elizabeth McMillan, 74, had an extreme case of Bell’s Palsy that had gone viral and infected her mouth, left eye and ear and was spreading.
Initially, the Callala Beach resident thought she had suffered a stroke.
Bell’s Palsy can cause one side of the face to drop. Mrs McMillan’s left eye and mouth were full of ulcers.
Her doctor was concerned the severity of the infection could result in permanent loss of vision and if left too long lead to meningitis.
After seeing her GP, she was directed to go immediately to Shoalhaven Hospital’s casualty department.
Her GP gave her a letter that was for an infectious diseases professor who happened to be at the hospital that day, Tuesday, April 22.
She was taken by her neighbour to the hospital’s emergency department. They arrived at 11am.
Mrs McMillan was directed straight to the triage nurse for an initial examination.
She gave the letter to the nurse, who filed it and told them to take a seat in the waiting room.
Sitting in pain and worried about her condition, Mrs McMillan with her neighbour Anne (who did not want her surname used) were unaware of the nine-hour wait ahead.
“I understand it was a busy time,” Anne said. “But to make a woman in her 70s and in pain wait for more than nine hours is a sure sign the system is broken.”
Mrs McMillan went back to the triage nurse at 7.30pm and asked when it would be her turn to see a doctor.
“I was told I had at least two more hours to wait. That would have been almost 11 hours,” she said.
“I had been sitting there since 11am. I didn’t have any food or money on me.
“I was in bad pain.
“A lot of people in the waiting room knew we had been waiting too long.”
About 8pm a senior member of staff spoke with Mrs McMillan and was told about the letter from her doctor.
Soon after, she was taken into the casualty.
However, due to the long wait the professor had left for the day without being made aware Mrs McMillan was waiting.
“When the registrar opened my mouth he said, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry’,” Mrs McMillan said.
“He was flabbergasted. He apologised three times.”
The registrar then phoned the professor for advice.
Mrs McMillan was given treatment for her condition before leaving the hospital just after 9pm, 10 hours after arriving.
Her neighbour said they did not blame the staff, who were clearly under pressure.
“This hospital needs more money because it is servicing a large and growing population,” she said.
“We met people from Sussex Inlet and even Ulladulla who had travelled to Nowra for help.” Mrs McMillan is now resting at home and recovering slowly. However she could still be at risk of permanent vision damage.
A spokesperson from the Shoalhaven Hospital said staff had contacted Mrs McMillan to apologise for the extended wait and to discuss the concerns raised.
“The hospital’s Emergency Department saw a higher than average number of presentations on the day,” the spokesperson said.