Tears well in Patrick Healey’s eyes and his lip quivers every time he thinks about the night he thought he lost his wife.
“I thought she was dead,” the 84-year-old said, getting emotional as he looks over at his 75-year-old wife, Loretta, sat in a rocking chair at their Holyrood home.
“I called her name three times and she didn’t answer. … She had two sisters who died with massive heart attacks and that’s what hit me.”
He is relieved Loretta is home safe and sound now, but he still has nightmares about that night — and not just because of his wife’s health scare. The experience was made worse because of horrible ambulance service, he said.
“My wife was handled like an animal,” Healey said, again getting emotional. “I’ll never forget it. … There was no part of this whole situation that was right.”
On Sept. 24 Loretta awoke at 1 a.m. with a leg cramp.
When she got up to walk around, she blacked out and fainted, falling backward on the floor.
“The last I remember was standing at the foot of our bed here. I was around here,” Loretta said, getting up to show the area in the bedroom where she collapsed. “Well, what a crack I gave my head. The lump is still not gone. I had a concussion.”
The commotion woke up Patrick, who panicked when he didn’t get a response. He immediately called 911.
While waiting for the ambulance, Patrick scrambled to collect the necessary hospital information, identification and clothes. He also opened the double main doors of the house and moved all the furniture inside the doors aside to make room for what he thought would be a stretcher. His wife regained consciousness a few minutes later and remained still until help arrived.
They assumed it would only take a few minutes, as Fewer’s Ambulance Service Ltd. was just down the road.
However, the wait was longer — they were shocked when the ambulance finally arrived about half an hour later, with no emergency lights or sirens on.
Two female attendants came in the house and left the stretcher outside on the grass, Patrick said. Instead, they brought a wheelchair in the bedroom.
“I was still on the broad of my back and still half groggy,” Loretta said.
The attendants tried to lift her up, but couldn’t, Patrick said, and he was surprised when they asked him to help them.
“I’m 84 years old and have had three strokes,” Patrick said. “I was afraid something would happen and I’d drop her and hurt her worse. I’m not trained for that.”
He said the attendants asked Loretta to drag herself close to the wheelchair. He said they then took her hands and got close enough and she “half fell into the wheelchair.”
Loretta said they checked her blood sugar level, but didn’t do any more tests on her.
With Loretta dressed in her nightgown, a jacket she had asked Patrick to put over her shoulders and a slight blanket over her legs, the attendants wheeled her across the half wrap-around patio deck to the side that has ground-level access.
When they reached the stretcher, “which had been sitting out in the cold for way too long,” they again struggled to move her from the wheelchair, Patrick said.
“They asked me could I hold the stretcher so it wouldn’t turn over,” Patrick said, walking outside to show the spot where the stretcher had been left. “I couldn’t believe it.
“There was absolutely, absolutely no need of the wheelchair.
“She should’ve been put on the stretcher covered in blankets right from where she was laying.”
When they finally got Loretta to the ambulance, it took several minutes to get a shunt in her hand, he said.
“The ambulance was still sitting in our driveway. I don’t understand why they did not leave for the hospital immediately and done that along the way,” said Patrick, adding that his wife wasn’t even hooked up to oxygen.
“I’d say my blood pressure was gone through the moon,” he said when asked how he was feeling at that point.
When they finally left the driveway, he said, there were no emergency lights or sirens turned on. The driver was about to turn up the Salmonier Line access road toward the Trans-Canada Highway when Patrick told her she was taking the long way. He directed her to take the Witless Bay Line access road.
“They finally turned on the emergency lights on the highway,” he said. “One of them said it was because they frighten the moose — not because my wife needed to get to the hospital quickly.”
During the drive through St. John’s, he said, there was no emergency lights or siren turned on and the ambulance stopped at every red light.
Almost two hours after Patrick placed the 911 call, they finally reached the hospital. It’s a drive that normally takes half an hour, he said.
“In no way was this treated as an emergency,” Patrick said. “Somebody on the floor, it was an emergency.”
“Nobody really knew what was wrong with me,” Loretta added. “It could’ve been anything.”
Their daughter, who Patrick had called before they left, drove from Cape Broyle and arrived at the hospital 20 minutes before the ambulance did. Their son from Conception Bay South was also there.
“When they saw the ambulance come with no lights and saw their father sitting in the front seat, they thought I was dead,” Loretta said, fighting back tears.
“What else would you think?” Patrick added, also emotional.
After several tests at the hospital, it was determined that Loretta’s blood pressure likely dropped, causing her to faint. She’s still recovering from the fall.
But she and Patrick are upset about the lack of care that was taken in the situation, and believe ambulance attendants should be capable of transporting patients.
“This should not happen, in any situation, not this day and age,” Patrick said.
Three days later, the ambulance bill arrived in the mail.
“They made that more of a priority than they made my wife,” he said.
Patrick said all ambulance attendants should be properly trained and physically capable of handling any emergency situation.
“I feel I have to speak up so we, or anybody else, won’t have to go through something like this,” he said. “Changes certainly need to be made. … It could mean the difference between life and death.”
When contacted by The Telegram, Bob Fewer, who heads Fewer’s Ambulance Service, chose not to comment, and instead directed questions to the Provincial Medical Oversight office (PMO).
Calls to the PMO were not returned.
In an emailed written statement on behalf of Eastern Health, media relations manager Tracey Boland pointed out that Fewer’s Ambulance is a private ambulance service contracted by the Department of Health and Community Services and that Eastern Health’s role with private ambulance services is to ensure the operators are compliant with contract requirements.
“Fewer’s Ambulance contacted the PMO, which falls under Eastern Health, to ensure the call was appropriately handled,” it stated.
“PMO reviewed the case with those involved and found the medical response to be appropriate. Due to the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA), Eastern Health cannot comment specifically on patient cases.”
Healey said he requested a copy of the investigation report, but was denied.
“I deserve to know what happened,” he said. “There’s absolutely no excuse.”