San Fernando Teaching Hospital

COVID-19 brought many challenges for those seeking healthcare in Trinidad and Tobago.

For one San Fernando man, he thought he was facing his worst nightmare after suffering a stroke.

However, it descended into further horror when he was ultimately diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to one relative, when the elderly man arrived at the San Fernando General Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department in late January, “They told him that they are not going to do any form of treatment unless he’s tested. Whatever the initial test, they said that it could not have been done (processed) in San Fernando, and they had to take the sample to Mt Hope.”

According to a statement from the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) on January 30, 2022, their PCR bulk testing machine went down on January 11, 2022.

Samples were then sent to the Medical Research Foundation labs of Trinidad and Tobago, the North Central Regional Health Authority, and the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory.

However, the SWRHA said these samples were mainly for persons on home quarantine in the community awaiting results and known to the primary care health surveillance teams. In addition, the reiterated, “Overall there is no patient compromise to treatment requiring an urgent diagnosis with these contingencies.”

This was not the experience of the elderly man and his family. Although he was on the hospital compound, according to the family, the only care he received was from his daughter. Facing an agonising wait in a tent outside the hospital, struggling to breathe and depending on oxygen, he spent three days partially exposed to the elements.

The family said, “She left him there with soap, pampers that she had to change, and nobody was feeding him. Nobody was attending to him. Imagine you are in a tent, and you are not considered a patient, and technically you’re waiting on a test result to treat you. So you’re not given any meals, you’re not given any medications, you’re not given any form of attention as a patient, so technically, you are sitting on the pavement of the hospital.”

After 72 hours of waiting, the family’s agony took another turn. He was nowhere to be found.

One relative recounted, “The father was missing from the tent. It was like, ‘Aye, aye, what going on?’ So then she [the daughter] was run out of the tent by a nurse. A doctor told her, ‘No, you cannot be here.’ The father cannot walk, cannot talk, so her father is missing. Somebody said, ‘Oh, he went to the bathroom.’ Again, he cannot walk, he cannot talk.”

After the daughter was shunned from the last place her father was seen, she demanded answers. They found out that he tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred from the San Fernando General Hospital. This brought both relief and worry.

However, according to the family, “Luckily a doctor was very kind enough, he used his phone to call the daughter because the father cannot speak for him to hear her voice and to confirm he is fine and well at Point Fortin.”

This was another case where the family wasn’t advised to quarantine or get tested.

Fortunately, they all did. The mother also became hospitalised due to COVID-19 and, being a dialysis patient, was taken to the Sangre Grande General Hospital.

It’s been a few weeks since their ordeal.

The trauma is still fresh, but they’re thankful to be alive, knowing the outcome could have been much worse.