Harrowing COVID-19 tales sneak out of Cornwall Regional
A vaccine roll out has brought hope that the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica might be at an end, but some, those struggling with the ravages of the virus, have told the story of the way the stretching of the health sector has caused more suffering and in some instances death.
Published Mar 14, 2021
‘I SHARED MY OXYGEN’
Recovered COVID patients recall frightful moments, death, gloom on Cornwall Regional wards
TWO RECOVERED COVID-19 patients have painted a terrifying picture of the operations at the Montego Bay-based Cornwall Regional Hospital as it comes under pressure as virus cases spike, a situation Western Regional Health Authority head Errol Greene recently likened to a war zone.
A spike in coronavirus cases since the start of the year has had the hospital administration scrambling to find more bed spaces, converting other wards to treatment areas for COVID-19. Despite this, the St James Type A hospital – the largest in the western region – remains under significant pressure, with talks under way to see if the newly opened COVID-19 ward at the Falmouth Hospital in Trelawny could help to ease the burden.
Carlton Crooks* told The Sunday Gleaner that his recent stay at Cornwall Regional – whose operations are also hamstrung by repair works currently taking place – makes him believe there are significant management issues which need to be addressed urgently.
After waking up feeling unwell one Saturday morning, 55-year-old Crooks visited his doctor and was given a referral to go to the Cornwall Regional Hospital immediately.
“The waiting area was lined with people waiting to get attention, but I could see the fear and uncertainty in the medical staffers, especially the Jamaicans,” he said of his observation upon arrival. “The staff morale is one in which they are afraid because nobody fully understands the virus,” he continues. “I felt it for them because they were trying to administer care at the risk of their own personal health, but the atmosphere became even worse when news that one of their colleagues had contracted the disease began to circulate … . They did not want to come near us. Only the Cubans.”
LITTLE COMPASSION FROM NURSES
He added: “The attitude of the nurses from Cuba was commendable. Our own Jamaican nurses need to be retrained. You are treated like you are a nobody. Only a few nurses have a little compassion.”
According to Crooks, who is renowned in the tourism sector, when he eventually saw a doctor, he was sent to the Accident and Emergency Department, where he spent the night on a plastic chair.
“The next day, I was sent to an area called the patio. I spent another night there with about 40 other persons suspected of having contracted the coronavirus disease seated side by side. No social distancing. People are falling asleep on your shoulder – all suspected of COVID,” he said, pointing to a situation which could have caused persons who were negative to contract the virus.
“It took two days for my COVID test to be done and I was then placed on a ward ... that had no ventilation and the nurses wanted the doors kept closed because they did not want us to spread the virus,” he recalled. “Just one door, and the room was so hot, I could hardly breathe. At one point, I called my family to tell them goodbye, given the way I was gasping for breath.”
Crooks told The Sunday Gleaner that during his 16-day stay there were instances in which patients had run out of oxygen, causing him to share his cylinder with other patients on several occasions.
“When the oxygen that they give you to help you breathe runs out, you have to do without. I saw persons forced to do without oxygen for over 12 hours. In fact, I took the oxygen off myself on several occasions to help save lives, because you are calling for help and no one is there to even talk to you,” he related.
“One night I even called a nurse about a man who was gasping for breath. When I went to check on him, his breathing level was 63. Long after, a doctor came and said he was okay, but within another hour and a half, the man was dead. That’s how bad it is there,” said Crooks, who also charged that Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton might not be in touch with the realities on the ground.
“When Dr Tufton goes to Cornwall Regional Hospital, he paints a picture as if things are okay, but it’s not. People are suffering and dying up there,” he said. “I tell you, something is dreadfully wrong with the administration at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.”
Crooks’ tale was very similar to that of 60-year-old Frederick Wilson*, who was turned away when he first visited the hospital.
“I went to Cornwall Regional Hospital because I was having a severe headache. My eyes felt as if they were popping out of my head and my body temperature was extremely high, but they turned me away, saying it was a simple flu,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
A visit to his private doctor two days later confirmed his suspicion and he was given a document to return to the Cornwall Regional Hospital, where he was admitted.
A businessman who constantly handles cash and has several taxis, Wilson said he could not pinpoint how he caught the virus.
“I went back to Cornwall on Wednesday and they did the test, and by Saturday, my results came back that I am positive and they admitted me,” he said.
“When I was at the section before you go on the ward called First Trauma, I interacted with some fantastic doctors and nurses, but when I was taken to the Nine East ward, it was a different story,” he said. “When the Cubans working, it was a huge difference than when the Jamaicans are working. They (Cubans) are very professional, of a very high standard.”
Added Wilson: “They also ran out of oxygen very regularly, but while it affected others, it did not affect me as I have a niece who is in healthcare, who told me what to do to stay alive, so I did not rely fully on the oxygen.
“I shared my oxygen on three occasions with a man named Campbell, but he eventually died,” Wilson said. “But I did not want to totally depend on the oxygen because my case was not as severe as others, so I had my balloon that I blew to keep my lungs active. Plus, my bed was at a window, so I also got the natural air.”
Now two weeks after being discharged, Wilson says he has constant diarrhoea but he has been told that he should not worry as “it is the medication flushing me out”.
Crooks was discharged one week ago, but continues to experience similar symptoms as he had before being hospitalised, forcing him to visit his doctor on six occasions, but he is hopeful that the feelings in his body are merely a reaction to the medication, as the hospital staff has assured him, and not something more serious.
“One night I even called a nurse about a man who was gasping for breath. When I went to check on him, his breathing level was 63. Long after, a doctor came and said he was okay, but within another hour and a half, the man was dead.”