A voice for the dead


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Category: Health Care 27 Mar 11

Dear Dr Shehenaz Mohammed, general secretary of the Medical Professionals Association of T&T (MPATT), Words fail me.  After 15 years of writing this column, words fail me. A burden...because the truth is as glaring as the midday sun. But silence is deadlier. Yet I have to write, to give a voice to those dead at the hands of health professionals—for Chrystal Boodoo-Ramsoomair, the 29-year-old mother who should be nursing her newborn, playing with her two older children, but lies dead on a cold slab because a house officer, reportedly with no supervision from a senior doctor, conducted her routine Caesarean section after which Ramsoomair reportedly bled to death on March 4 at the San Fernando General Hospital. Ramsoomair was not, it is reported, a high risk case. She only became high risk in the face of incompetence. I write with a heavy heart for 25-year-old Nekisha Caine (dead from choking on her own vomit) and her unborn baby in the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. I write for the teenage boy who died last year waiting to be treated for dengue, for the dozens and dozens of grieving relatives and loved ones. I write for the victims among us waiting to happen.

I write for the scores of rich and poor, in public and health institutions who have just had to lump it.  To shut their mouths, bury their dead and swallow the poison of neglect administered to them by our health professionals with no recourse available to them. We don’t have a tradition of litigation, the complaint system is opaque, doctors are reluctant to testify against colleagues, so “investigations” go nowhere. I write for Jerome, built like a footballer, dead at 20, whose mother came to me 11 years back, claiming her son died because he wasn’t given oxygen on time. She came to me along with a dozen others whose stories I have relayed on these pages over the years, because like us all, she had nowhere else to go.

She, like Nekeisha’s mother (who buried her daughter and unborn grandchild four months back) was daunted by a solid wall of men and women in white, who instead of using the power conferred to them with medical knowledge responsibly, discharge it with an unrepentant arrogance all the more repulsive because like bullies, they are kicking us hard in the teeth when we at our most helpless: ill, afraid, weak, frail, knocked out in a theatre, fighting for our lives, giving birth, or outside, in waiting rooms, a quavering mess, abject sycophants, begging you doctors to save the lives of our children, wives, husbands, parents, loved ones.

There are many exceptions, the doctors and nurses who refused to support your “action” on Blackout Monday,” brilliant doctors who I have personally met who discharge their duties with humanity and diligence and do not see their knowledge as a source of power, but a vocation. I am not writing of them now. I am writing of the ones responsible for negligent deaths who are hiding behind your skirts now, the ones who support this system of unaccountability.

Were you and your lot of medical supporters required to take the Hyppocratic oath that dates to the 5th century BC? The promise to do no harm...  I quote:  “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. And...I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” I think of us all, now held hostage by bloody minded (that phrase was never so apt) medical “professionals” so arrogant, so full of hubris, so enraged at being called to account for the death of a young woman, during a routine C-section that they do the following.


Boycott the inquiry set up by the Health Minister into Ramsoomair’s death, claiming “major breaches” (and what of breaches of procedure that killed Crystal?)


Bring surgeries at the San Fernando General Hospital to a standstill (“indefinite hold”) by withholding services under the deliberately obtuse and insulting guise of being “fearful” (where was your ‘fear’ when you got a house officer to perform Ramsoomair’s surgery, or allowed pregnant Caine to choke on her own vomit.)  Instead of repenting, learning from your mistakes, you are making sick people wait for surgeries to teach patients, the Health Ministry, everyone a sound lesson.

Effectively, by refusing to do surgeries you hold a gun to the head of the Minister of Health to get her to back down on an independent inquiry, replacing it by one “constituted by the RHA.”  Are we speaking of the same RHA that for the last four months failed to contact the parents of Nekisha Caine who died at childbirth even after taking responsibility for their deaths.  Why are you afraid of an independent inquiry? Let’s not open that Pandora’s box.

Finally, I can barely breathe when I think of the pugnacious denial of responsibility by you, Dr Shehenaz Mohammed, even in the face of the autopsy results that reveal that two of Ramsoomair’s arteries were severed. So what happened?  A Martian severed those arteries and left no trace for the doctors who attended to her. The autopsy is flawed? What? I have a few questions of my own.  I asked them of the Medical Board and Medical Association 11 years ago.  Today, I ask this of MPATT.

• What is the complaints procedure at the RHA’s?

• How many complaints have you processed in the past three years?

• What penalties are given to health professionals for malpractice/negligence?

• Do you have a code of ethics for doctors?

• Do you have a bill of rights for patients?

• Are doctors and patients aware of these?

• How many malpractice suits have you had over the years?

The ill, vulnerable, helpless people of this country look forward to your response.

Best wishes.

To Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, the country salutes you for trying to get an independent inquiry going. Madam, do not be intimidated by MPATT. Push for an independent inquiry. Put together an independent Malpractice Board. Appoint a Medical Ombudsman, and get a Data Bank on doctors.

Stop the butchery now Madam Minister.  Stop the deathly silence.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur