When Coral Wilkinson, a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), fell and severely injured herself at the hospital, Tom Adams was Prime Minister of Barbados, Lady Diana Spencer had not yet married Prince Charles and researchers were yet to find the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic.
Today, seven Prime Ministers later –– including Adams who died in 1983, Wilkinson’s life has virtually been wrecked by the seemingly everlasting, intense pain from the fall and the mental anguish she suffers trying to collect from the Office of Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards, some $400,000 which she and her lawyer, Richard Cheltenham, QC, estimate she needs for surgery in the United Kingdom to bring back some form of normality to her life.
So depressed has she been, so acute the pain that Wilkinson has attempted to commit suicide at least once by taking an overdose of pills and has flirted with the idea of ingesting a household cleaning substance. And she has not ruled out trying again.
Wilkinson was walking up the stairs in the antenatal clinic in April 1981 when she fell and damaged her neck. She suffered a slipped disc which still presses against the nerves and the bone in her lower back which supports her upper body weight.
She sued the State the following year in order to get compensation so she could take care of her medical needs.
Relating her story to Barbados TODAY, the pain and discomfort were obvious and her eyes were swollen with tears.
She said she raised funds on her own to travel to Britain to have the lower back problem repaired “since that was the worse”, and was forced to put off the cervical surgery “for a later date” because she simply could not afford it.
Thirty-four years later and counting, that slipped disc in her neck continues to cause the former QEH nurse unbearable physical and mental trauma.
Wilkinson told Barbados TODAY she has utilized the services of at least five lawyers and still cannot get a date from the court to have her case heard. She has written to, or contacted, the offices of everyone in authority possible, including Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General’s Office and Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave.
“The Prime Minister has been helpful, signing off on my file and passing it to the Solicitor General’s Office for payment,” recounted Wilkinson. Showing further signs of discomfort, she asked for additional pillows to support her back while she sat on her bed during the interview.
“Having received no response to my last letter I have decided to write again to find out what is the latest development regarding my case,” the former nurse wrote in a letter dated November 28, 2014 to the Solicitor General’s Chambers. “You promised I would have been going off to England towards the end of September and this is now the end of November. My mental and physical conditions are worsening and I am at a loss. The way things are progressing, I am afraid that when I get to England, I will be told it is too late,” the letter continued.
While the back-and-forth continued between the Solicitor General’s Chambers, Wilkinson and her lawyers, the matter of payment remained a contentious issue. Principal Crown Counsel Roger Barker, who is handling the case on behalf of the Solicitor General, wrote Wilkinson on February 24, 2015 offering her $145,159.70 so she could have the cervical surgery done in Britain. But her attorney Sir Richard replied in correspondence dated March 12, 2015 rejecting that sum and proposing $400,000 instead. He argued that “to offer the meagre sum [of $145,159.70] in full satisfaction of her case, is virtually to condemn her to remaining in her presently helpless condition”.
In rejecting the offer, Sir Richard advised that the Solicitor General’s offer did not even cover the cost of the medical team in England, whose maximum fee is £33,000, neither did it include the expenses of going to England, which comprised such things as air travel, food, accommodation, internal travel and per diem allowance.
“After the surgery, I will need physiotherapy and rehabilitation to teach me to walk on my own again,” Wilkinson told Barbados TODAY.
Barker has asked for a breakdown in the $400,000, but Wilkinson argued that it was impossible to itemize every single thing down to the last cent. When contacted and asked what was holding up the payment, the Solicitor General responded through her secretary.
“It is being dealt with by the Government of Barbados. That’s all she has to say,” the secretary said.
Meantime, Wilkinson said she continued to wait in pain, with the thoughts of suicide not far away.