Distress of dying woman goes viral as Covid-19 overwhelms hospital
Rowena Hawkey’s family were home praying for her recovery, unaware that the 69-year-old was dead and that a video of her pleading for help at Durban’s Wentworth Hospital was trending on social media.
The family is now planning to take legal action against the KwaZulu-Natal health department.
The province’s health MEC, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, has described how under-staffed the hospital has been. On the day Hawkey was admitted, the hospital had an influx of patients, 11 doctors were in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 and 17 nurses were off because of the virus. Only six nurses were on duty at the casualty unit and also overseeing a 28-bed short-stay ward with “very sick patients”. A team is investigating the situation at the hospital in the hope of alleviating the pressure on the hospital and staff.
Hawkey’s nephew Allon Pretorius told the Sunday Times that his aunt was not Covid-19 positive, but asthmatic. She had gone to the hospital because her inhaler was not helping.
In the video on social media, Hawkey is shown pleading for help. Other patients close by are lying on the floor and another is slumped in a chair. They were waiting for Covid test results. The video shows no sign of help from the hospital’s staff.
“I can’t breathe. Please get me out of here. Please get me out of here. I am going to die like this. Nobody wants to help me. I can’t live like this,” an anguished Hawkey begs.
Hawkey was taken to the hospital’s emergency unit on Monday, January 4. Her daughter Teresa sat with her until her mother was admitted to a ward the following day.
Pretorius said Teresa returned to the hospital on the Friday, January 8, because she had not heard from her mother. She was told her mother had died on the Wednesday. The family was not told if a Covid test had been done. At the time, they were unaware of the video. On Monday, Pretorius was told by a cousin that there was a video circulating on social media “and he thinks it shows my aunt Rowena”.
“When I watched the video I went cold,” he said. “We have not shown my mother [Rowena’s sister] or the eldest sister as she is in frail care in Port Elizabeth.”
Simelane-Zulu condemned the video-recording of a patient.
“Naturally we are concerned by the circumstances that led to this situation and are investigating.”
I can’t breathe. Please get me out of here. Please get me out of here. I am going to die like this. Nobody wants to help me. I can’t live like this.Rowena Hawkey
She said that on the day Hawkey was admitted, the hospital had received a “particularly high number of patients”.
She said a team from the province’s department of health had since helped the hospital to manage its patient flow more efficiently.
The team had made changes at the hospital’s emergency unit that created space for more beds to ease congestion following the influx of patients.
KwaZulu-Natal health departmental spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said a meeting of the hospital’s management with Hawkey’s family had been cancelled on Friday “after the complainants indicated that this will now be a legal matter”.
Mahisa said two senior managers had been appointed to conduct an internal investigation.
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