Chatting, Josefien and Ferdinand den Haan walk into the MST hospital in Enschede. The man suffers a lot from fluid in his legs. Ferdinand has been a heart patient for years. Nothing serious, it seemed. Five days later, Josefien is a widow. Two years later, the treating physician must answer before the disciplinary board.
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The 84-year-old Enschede resident was given narcotics almost immediately. The man suffered from dementia and the Oxazepam was supposed to keep him calm. According to the doctors, the patient behaved confused and aggressive. His wife was not asked about it. She knew he was allergic to that drug. When she tried to warn the doctors it was too late. The pill left her husband unable to speak or swallow. Then things went downhill very quickly.
Didn’t know he was dying
The eighty-year-old woman tells her story in the middle of the large, old hearing room of the Zwolle court. Opposite her sit the doctors and lawyers of the medical disciplinary board. Her lawyer on the right. On the left the accused cardiologist and her lawyer. A school class listens in as the chairman summarizes the complaint: “Incorrect treatment, communication was not good and neither was the reporting.”
The woman thinks the worst thing is that the hospital started palliative sedation without consultation. Her husband was given medication to ease his last days of life. But she said she didn’t even know he was dying. She blames the cardiologist in charge for this. And himself too, to this day. “I’ve been sleeping. I should have been more on top of it.”
Die at home
“I read in the file that we have spoken to you several times,” says the chairman. She is surprised that the woman says she knows nothing. “The situation is very worrying, it was discussed that the gentleman will probably die, the lady has agreed to morphine for comfort,” she sums up. The woman insists that she was not informed in time.
It disrupted her grieving process and still causes a lot of sadness. She had wanted to take her husband home with her, to care for him or so he could die in his own bed. That was taken away from her, she says. She had been taking care of him for years. In preparation for more difficult times, they had already furnished the entire top floor of the house for this purpose. There could even be a nurse sleeping there.
Emotions ran high
The complaint conversation at the hospital only widened the gap between the cardiologist and the woman. Emotions were running high on both sides. The Enschede resident called it a disguised form of euthanasia. The doctor shouted back that she should look higher up. That happened. The cardiologist shows regret to the disciplinary board. “My emotions were high.”
The doctor acknowledges that mistakes were made in communication. It was not optimal. Medically speaking, she would not have acted differently. However, the specialized heart department of the MST has been working in a different way since then.
Nowadays there is a cardiologist present every day. Doctors also check better whether people understand what is going on, she says. “It does not ease your suffering, but I and the Thorax Center Twente have learned lessons from the death of your husband.”
Verdict in six weeks.