After her leg was removed at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Mrs May was returned to Dubbo Base Hospital with comprehensive instructions for post-amputation care.
“She was determined to walk,” her daughter, Kim May, said. “She loved life, she loved her family, she didn’t want to die.”
The family wanted the instructions followed to the letter, but said they were ignored by staff at Dubbo Base Hospital.
Kim May said when she complained that her mother’s tight stocking was not being changed at the required intervals, a doctor told her: “I’m not into amputees”.
The family also complained Mrs May’s stump became swollen after it was left dangling off a chair, another apparent breach of the instructions.
Mrs May’s family was horrified when the stump was then rested on an upside-down rubbish bin, with a towel used as a leg rest.
Kim May said the bin’s contents – a full bag of rubbish – was left on the other side of the room. There were still stitches in the leg wound.
“Imagine the germs that could have got in,” she said.
In another instance a wardsman dropped an oxygen bottle on Mrs May’s remaining leg, leaving a painful bruise.
“With no apology … he just took off,” Kim May recalled.
It was decided Mrs May would be relocated to Wellington Hospital while she awaited a bed in a rehabilitation facility.
The move was postponed several times because of staffing issues at Wellington before it eventually occurred at around 11pm on a “freezing” winter night.
The family said when they queried the decision they were told: “We can send her to Bourke if you like”.
In the rush to transport Mrs May, her nightie sleeve was inadvertently left tightly wrapped around her upper arm following the removal of a cannula.
The resulting “tourniquet effect” created a large swelling of clotted blood known as a hematoma, according to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC).
The HCCC noted the “coffee cup sized” hematoma was not discovered for more than five hours because staff at Wellington Hospital failed to perform “follow up observations of the arm overnight”.
The family were concerned about staffing levels at Wellington Hospital.
Kim May said she arrived there to find her mother distressed and sitting in her own faeces after “yelling” and “ringing the bell through the night” to no avail.
Kim May said the hematoma was not treated until it was “unbelievably painful” and like “a hard-boiled emu egg”.
“The hematoma continued to plague Gwen’s recovery … eventually Gwen had to undergo surgery to remove the hematoma,” an HCCC issues document said.
“The pain in her arm also impacted her ability to participate in the planned physiotherapy program.”
Mrs May deteriorated when she began experiencing problems with her heart. Kim May said her mother gave up her fight after a doctor told her she was at the end of her life, passing away on July 22, 2017.
A spokesperson for the Western NSW Local Health District said Mrs May was “extremely unwell and her death was not related to the hematoma”.
But her daughter still feels that the hematoma contributed to the final outcome.
“If this was handled a different way, maybe mum had a chance,” Kim May said.
“I can’t bring my mum back, but hopefully she is watching up in heaven to see that improvements have been made for other patients.”
Ms May’s family received a written apology from Dubbo Base Hospital’s general manager, Debbie Bickerton.
“Your feedback … has highlighted a lack of care that does not align with the Western NSW Local Health District’s core values,” she said.
“We are working with staff to embed our expectation that they will at all-time [sic] display kindness and empathy to all patients.”
The spokeswoman for the Western NSW Local Health District said it acknowledged “that some aspects of the care provided to Mrs May were not at the standard expected”.
The spokeswoman said it had developed a new model of care allowing patients to be remotely monitored to reduce the need for transfers and allow transfers to be better managed.
“A review was also undertaken to ensure transport vehicles are available at high-usage sites like Dubbo,” she said.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.