‘They put him up there and left him a dark room and forgot about him,’ she says
Forrester’s Point — Gloria Barrett’s voice cracks mid-sentence.
She’s talking about Gordon, her husband of 39 years, telling stories of who he is or, more to the point, who he was.
From his base in Forrester’s Point, Gordon Barrett — known in these parts as “The Fishman” — was a travelling merchant whose refrigerated truck could be seen all over the Northern Peninsula.
The 66-year-old seemed to know everyone and everyone knew him.
When the stories of the past shift to the present, the fondness in Gloria Barrett’s voice is replaced with fury.
Gordon is bed-ridden, confined to St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s until a bed can be found at St. Anthony’s Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital, closer to home.
That’s not what makes her voice crackle with anger and despair, though; it’s how he came to be in that situation that infuriates her.
“He was as strong as a horse. He was so strong, and to see him like he is, it breaks my heart,” she says.
“They left him there to die. It’s just cruel what they’ve done.”
Gordon suffers from fibrothorax, which creates thick mucus in his lungs and means he needs a tube in his throat to remove the fluid.
He can breathe unassisted during the day but requires a ventilator to help him breathe at night since he doesn’t have the strength to cough to remove the fluid.
It’s the need for the ventilator that Gloria says forced her husband into the intensive care unit at St. Clare’s.
“They put him up there and left him a dark room and forgot about him,” she says, adding Gordon has been there for more than seven months.
“Read it,” she says, handing over the letter about her husband’s treatment that she wrote in despair.
She sent it to Eastern Health, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy and other politicians, including NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.
In it, Gloria pours out her grief and disenchantment with the health-care system.
“My husband has no quality of life,” she wrote.
“Because he is in the intensive care unit he is cut off from friends, and immediate family is only allowed to visit for seven hours per day. He cannot come home because of his condition and has lost his will to live. He is essentially institutionalized.
“It is unthinkable that with the technology in place a patient like my husband is not receiving all the care he requires to have any quality of life.”
As hard as it is for her to admit, she knows her husband doesn’t have long to live.
“I know they can’t cure it,” she says of his condition.
“I know that, but they said right from the start that he wouldn’t live long and that was eight months ago and he’s still alive.
“What does that say?”
She’s adamant that if her husband had not been moved into ICU — where she contends physical therapy is minimal and the lack of physical activity diminished his strength — he might have a will to live.
“Right from the start, even if he was getting up and mobile, walking
“They put him up there and left him a dark room and forgot about him.” Gloria Barrett
An Eastern Health spokeswoman could not get into the specifics of Gordon’s care, but said that, “generally, there are patients who require a specific level of care that is only provided within an intensive care unit and not on a regular ward. That is due to the required equipment and the skills the care team requires.
“However, within the last month or so, we have made some changes to the care of patients with specific needs, such as ventilation, recognizing that there may be more appropriate options for certain ventilated patients,” her emailed response read.
“Through additional training of staff and availability of equipment, we can now care for some ventilated patients within the general inpatient areas. Further, Eastern Health has established a chronic ventilator unit at Hoyles-Escasoni, a long-term care facility in St. John’s.”
The health minister promised that a transfer between St. Clare’s and Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital would “take place in the near future.”
The NDP leader brought the Barretts’ plight to the attention of the House of Assembly in late March.
She said Gordon Barrett should never have been kept in ICU for seven months an said it appears he “fell between the cracks.”
“It worries me that this may not be an isolated case,” Michael said. “There may be other people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador that this may happen to.
“It is unacceptable that not only did it take seven months for him to be taken out of ICU but it is unacceptable that he’s still not closer to home in St. Anthony.
“As far as I can tell, this isn’t a bed shortage issue but a resource issue. He was kept in ICU and treated like an ICU patient when he need not have been and it most certainly added to his vegetative state he’s now in.
“The question is, why did it take so long?”
As snow falls outside the big bay window in Gloria Barrett’s house, she looks around the room, her hand grips the arm rest and her voice cracks again.
“He’s so depressed,” she says, weeping. “You can tell, you just have to look at him.
“He has no will to live anymore. He was put up there in ICU in St. John’s away from his family, and his friends couldn’t visit him because he was in ICU. He was up there all alone. What do you think that does to someone’s mental health?”
Gloria takes a deep breath.
“It’s too late for him; it’s too late for him, I know that, but if only they had given him a chance to get better. This is not right. I just don’t want this kind of thing to happen to anyone else.”
“We need more facilities. If there were more nursing homes or chronic care (facilities), this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.
“People like Gord need to have quality of life.”
The Northern Pen