Miscarriage patients, husbands say ER failed them

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on November 11, 2013

The compelling story of a woman’s agonizing wait in the emergency room while suffering a miscarriage moved numerous people to tell The Telegram their emotional stories of miscarriages and what they felt was apathetic treatment by some.
“It was the exact same thing we went through,” a Conception Bay South man said of reading the stories. “I can relate to exactly how (the expectant parents) were feeling on the whole situation.”

This story contains disturbing content

His wife had a miscarriage in January.

People have been emailing The Telegram since a story appeared last Tuesday about a metro area woman who said she was forgotten about in the Health Sciences Centre emergency department, suffered a miscarriage in the bathroom and was left alone in a room for hours to deal with it.

Overcrowding affected the expectant mother last August when, at nine weeks pregnant, she waited in the ER, told a nurse her bleeding and pain were getting worse and finally miscarried in a toilet.

Days later the woman, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of her story, said she found out a nurse on duty, backed by the opinion of a colleague, made the decision to flush the remains.

Meanwhile, she waited in a room for hours.

Other stories followed in The Telegram last week and the woman — who had spoken to an emergency room supervisor days after her experience in the ER — emailed to say she felt the stories were more cathartic for her and effective on the issue than “filing a report with Eastern Health that can be buried.”

When contacted about the numerous complaints coming out through The Telegram and how concerns might be addressed, Eastern Health maintained it is continuously reviewing various policies, including services to pregnant women.

A spokesman also reiterated that patients can contact its client relations office.

“Sometimes you think your voice is not going to be heard ... who is going to care about my story? Why even spill your guts to a stranger when nothing is ever going to get done about it?” said a Paradise woman who suffered six miscarriages in four years.

“But when I read this (Telegram) story it really hit me. I was sat in a coffee shop with the newspaper in front of me and I emailed you instantly. (The ER doesn’t) deal with it very nicely.

“She was nine weeks along, the one I read. I was 20. Well, what’s the difference? I was hurt. She was hurt. We were treated wrong. Our circumstances were a little different. It was still pregnancy. She was left there like that. I was sent home with a baby (who did not survive), left inside of me for seven days, never got any help offered to help us emotionally, help us deal with it.

“It doesn’t matter how far you are along. It’s a child you are expecting. You have dreams and you have plans.”

According to Eastern Health policy, women who are fewer than 20 weeks pregnant are first assessed in the ER; women who are 20 weeks or more along in their pregnancy are sent to the labour and delivery unit for assessment. So are women who don’t know how far along they are. Women, of course, are also advised to go to the ER for issues not related to their pregnancy.

The Conception Bay South man’s wife had severe cramping and bleeding in January and he called an ambulance. While he made arrangements for a family member to care for their three-year-old, the woman had — by comparison to some others stories — a shorter wait in emergency.

But she was lying on a gurney in the hallway for three hours, and when she told a nurse she was going to throw up and asked for a bed pan, the nurse replied, “Just don’t be so foolish. Women have been doing this for hundreds of years in Third World countries,” the man said, adding then there was a remark made about the mess she made on the floor.

His wife was put in a room and when the obstetrician and an intern came to see her, the treatment was the complete opposite — compassionate, he said.

Months later, when the woman had a blighted ovum — where an egg implants in the uterus but does not develop into an embryo, according to the Mayo Clinic definition — she opted to stay at home when the discharge occurred, because she did not want to be lying in the ER hallway bleeding again in public view.

“I always thought pregnant women got more respect. … I learned different,” the man said.

The Paradise woman said over the Christmas holidays in 2011, she went to the hospital and was sent home to wait for a call back to go to the hospital to deliver her deceased baby because of what she was told was short staffing.

“It was the most horrible, devastating experience my family and I had went through,” she said.

She had another miscarriage in May 2012.

“Through it all I needed six blood transfusions and almost lost my life because of the horrible care I received during the (December) 2011 loss. I was left for eight hours bleeding after he was born. Then I was rushed into emergency surgery and lost 71 per cent of my blood and required transfusions. To this day our hearts are broken by the care I received, and we have no faith in what we call our health-care system,” the woman said.

Her husband said he feared for his wife’s life.

“I was the one mostly looking after her. The health-care system can do a better job when women are going through miscarriages,” he said in a email, as he commutes overseas.

“I bet the women having a baby are not treated like that. I bet they get the care they need because they are bringing life into the world. … There wasn’t even any psychologist that we could talk to while we were in the hospital.”

A Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s man said his wife had a miscarriage four years ago. She was 11 weeks pregnant when they went to the ER with bleeding and pain.

“After waiting for hours we saw a doctor who told us that she would probably lose the baby and we should go to woman’s health services the following Monday (this was the weekend) to follow up. Then he left with no further advice,” the man said.

His wife started to bleed heavily at home that night, went into shock and passed out. They went back to emergency by ambulance and discovered the fetus was lodged in her cervix.

A year later, they unfortunately had a stillborn baby, but found the labour unit staff to be a great comfort in helping them get through the painful time.

“The difference in the way these two places treated us couldn’t have been more opposite, and the main difference was in the level of  simple kindness,” the man said, adding a labour nurse even wept for their loss.

The man said the idea of the emergency room is to get patients in and out, and it’s no place for women with pregnancy issues, no matter how far along.

“I am a guy, so maybe it’s not my place to say. But women should not be treated like that,” he said.

When a miscarriage occurs, according to Eastern Health, emergency department staff can consult the psychiatric nurse on duty to support a patient who is in crisis and there are full-time social work staff in the city’s hospitals.

Patients are also offered the number for its mental health crisis line where support can be provided and a referral made for counselling.

But most of the people who contacted The Telegram said they were not offered any of those services, not even the phone number.

The Paradise woman said she asked for counselling services and was told by Eastern Health there was a minimum eight-month waiting period. She did find some services through her husband’s workplace employee assistance program, however.