O’Connor case a reminder of how vulnerable we all are

The very sad case of Sandra O’Connor reached a sort of conclusion yesterday when her family settled their case against the Galway Clinic.

Ms O’Connor must have felt, as she should, that there was little risk to her health when she entered the hospital for the fairly routine gynaecological procedute of a laparoscopy. As a result of this, she was found to have peritonitis or an inflamed abdomen. However, she suffered an infection that had not been treated. As a result of this, she went into septic shock, suffered a heart attack, and collapsed into a semi vegetative state in which she remained for three years until her death in February.

The ordeal of watching a loved one die through any sort of prolonged illness is horrendous. I know friends and colleagues who have just endured it. My own father died suddenly after a heart attack 20 years ago, and I often think that his was an end that many of us would prefer rather than the drawn out agony of the inevitable death. For the O’Connors, the horror was multiplied, as they watched the wife and mother cry and scream. They all knew that a full recovery was never possible, yet the horror of the living death went on for them for three and half years. It was tough too for her friends and neighbours who rallied around and tried to come to terms with the circumstances of her sudden descent into serious illness. The way that it had happened and the emphasis too on where it had happened ensured that news of her plight went far and wide.

But yesterday, it reached a sort of conclusion. I say a sort of because Martin O’Connor and his daughters would gladly tear up the €580,000 cheque if they could see Sandra walk back in their front door. For them, the suffering will go on, the trauma at losing the mother and wife will take a while to ease.

The settlement came just days after in a separate case, the HSE apologised to the family of Sean Flaherty who after attending casualty in February, was allowed to go home unaided, even though it was known he would be unable to do so. Mr Flaherty was hit by a car on the Galway -Clifden road as he attempted to make his way home on a dark wet night.

Fair play to those councillors who pushed the case for an apology. Inside this week, his sister told our reporter that it might be too late for Sean but it may save some other patient from befalling the same fate.

And all this came just a week after the revelations of the misdiagnoses at UHG, those that have already been investigated and others that are ongoing. This week, people who thought they were well have been informed that they are not.

All of this illustrates just how vulnerable we all are in the hands of the medical experts who try to ensure we stay fit and healthy. We place so much trust in their judgment — any breakdown in this relationship is terrifying.

Our thoughts this week are with the O’Connor family, and all those patients who have been given the news they dreaded as a result of the misdiagnoses. One hopes that the publication and investigation of these cases will be go a long way in ensuring that they are not repeated.

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