Hospital's shame

Ordeal: June Webster recovers after surgery to her shoulders.
Ordeal: June Webster recovers after surgery to her shoulders.

How could they miss this?

JUNE WEBSTER is not the sort of woman to complain.

But after waiting 10 days for her two broken shoulders to be diagnosed at Shoalhaven District Hospital, the veteran journalist decided it was her duty to speak out about the lack of resources and what she sees as a system in crisis in the region in which she has lived for decades.

Mrs Webster has written countless stories for the South Coast Register on behalf of other people in the community who have found the public health system has failed them.

Never did she think she would be the subject of one herself.

It took Shoalhaven Hospital 10 days to diagnose two severely broken shoulders on a woman who had been admitted to the emergency department following a suspected fall.

And that diagnosis happened only by accident when the patient was having a routine chest X-ray to see if the pneumonia she had been admitted with had cleared enough for her to be considered for discharge.

Mrs Webster was admitted to the Shoalhaven Hospital on October 23 after being found semiconscious in her home by a friend.

At first, her friend, a retired nurse, feared Mrs Webster had suffered a stroke up to two days before she was found and immediately called an ambulance.

Upon admission Mrs Webster was diagnosed with low-grade pneumonia and a suspected fall which had damaged her knee.

Friends and colleagues who visited Mrs Webster that day, including myself, noted with concern that she was in pain and complaining of not being able to move her arms.

Mrs Webster was not admitted to the hospital until later that night when a bed had been found in the medical ward.

After being unable to move for two days prior to her discovery, she was dehydrated and delirious, and unable to communicate effectively with the nursing or medical staff, but her pain was obvious to all those who visited her.

By the following morning, severe bruising had already started to appear on Mrs Webster's upper arms and shoulders, and her pain had increased.

When colleagues went to visit her on the Monday afternoon they found her in an even more distressed state, unable to reach the glass of water on her bedside table, or pick it up when it was given to her.

Friends also had to feed her, as she was unable to lift her hands to pick up the utensils that came with her dinner.

Mrs Webster told me on the Tuesday morning, two days after her admission, that the pain in her shoulders was excruciating yet she was given minimum pain relief and was urged to get out of bed and use a walking frame on which she had to put her full weight to get to the bathroom.

The bruising had darkened and it was clear to even an untrained medical eye that there was something more drastically wrong than some sprained muscles and bruising.

On the Wednesday, four days after her admission, a rehabilitation specialist was allocated to assess Mrs Webster. Despite her protestations that she was not suffering from arthritis and never had, the doctor proceeded to lift Mrs Webster's arms above her head and insist that she had to move them regularly.

By Friday afternoon, Mrs Webster's emotional and mental state was beginning to deteriorate as she struggled to move her arms with no sign of improvement in movement or in pain.

It wasn't until the following Wednesday morning when she was taken to have a follow-up X-ray of her lungs to reassess the state of the pneumonia with which she had been admitted that doctors saw on the X-ray that both her shoulders were actually severely broken.

"I could tell there was something wrong by the reaction of the doctors when they looked at the scans," Mrs Webster said.

After a second X-ray on her shoulders it was confirmed that Mrs Webster would need immediate surgery to repair the injuries.

However, despite being a private patient, the hospital began procedures to have Mrs Webster transferred to Wollongong Hospital to have surgery as there is no orthopaedic service in the Shoalhaven.

With her closest family member at least two hours away it was up to friends to organise to get Mrs Webster transferred to Nowra Private Hospital and insist on an examination from one of the two orthopaedic surgeons who operate only through the private medical facility.

The following day, Mrs Webster was transferred by ambulance to Dr David Cossetto's surgery and was immediately admitted to Nowra Community Hospital for surgery.

Her right shoulder was so badly damaged that both the ball and socket had to be replaced and the physiotherapist has told Mrs Webster that she will be lucky to achieve 90 per cent movement back in that limb.

Her left shoulder was replaced yesterday morning, and it is now a long process of rehabilitation before Mrs Webster will once again be independent or be able to return to work.

"The surgeon said that he had to spend longer on the right shoulder because there was so much gunk in it," Mrs Webster said.

"And that because the injury had been left for so long untreated it has caused a number of complications.

"I am frustrated that these injuries could have been treated up to two weeks earlier if there had been a proper assessment when I was admitted to the emergency department in the first place.

"They have said I was admitted as a physicians' patient rather than a surgical one because of the belief I had had a stroke, but as far as I know, there was no neurological scan done to assess whether that was the case.

"I thought I was going mad and that I was being weak, in that my pain was not getting any better as the days went on.

"When I complained of the pain I was told the only way it was going to improve was if I moved my shoulders. Not once were my shoulders examined by a doctor.

"And if I had not had a second X-ray on my chest, who knows if they would even have discovered I had broken my shoulders?"