A Portland mother is angrily condemning two of the country’s public hospitals, alleging that they turned away her dying son, leaving him without treatment, after he had ingested Gramoxone, a toxic chemical used to kill plants and weeds.
The 51-year-old mother of three, Herfa Thompson, told the Jamaica Observer that her son, 31-year-old Ramone Miller, drank Gramoxone, the popular herbicide, on April 4, but the family only found out two days later after he started vomiting and admitted to it.
According to Thompson, Miller was rushed to the Port Antonio Hospital in Portland and then onto Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), where he later died on April 11.
“The Port Antonio Hospital when mi bring him up there on April 6 they weren’t nice to us. Dem never help him. Dem come and he sitting there until mi start get fussy and tell dem seh mi a go bring him to Annotto Bay [Hospital] (in the adjoining parish of St Mary). Him inna pain and dem wouldn’t give him anything. The whole night they didn’t do anything for him,” she said.
Frustrated, Thompson said that she contacted her neighbour, a nurse, who contacted a friend who is a doctor for her, and, who eventually got her son to be transported to KPH.
“If dem did do what they were supposed to do when mi bring him, mi nah seh him would live or anything, but that hospital is a hospital weh dem need to do something about. They are not there to save lives. The nurse on her phone, the doctor walking around doing him own business and tell me ‘oh, you know him going die though; him going dead . . . ‘Oh nobody never drink gramoxone and live and him not going be the first one. Him a go dead’.
“They gave him no help. Even when the ambulance fi come, it took them like four hours to clean an ambulance instead of save mi son life,” she told the Observer when the team visited the parish last week.
Thompson said that the treatment at KPH was far from different, as she eventually watched her son take his last breath there.
“They told us that it was $100,000 to flush him. We bring the $100,000 and ask them to flush him and them tell me the same thing like Portland: ‘him going die’. We asked them to put him in Intensive Care Unit, they said if they put him in intensive care somebody else going to die. Every time I asked them to put him there they said somebody else is scheduled to go in there but they haven’t reached yet,” she explained.
Miller’s kidneys eventually failed him before his heart stopped, his mother said.
“Dem (KPH) never care for him either. Even when him can’t breathe and me go and tell the doctor, him seh nothing. Yes, he tried to commit suicide, but he was still alive and he was human. They could have even tried to save him,” she stressed, adding that her son had expressed regret about his decision before succumbing.
The Observer spoke with the chief executive officer at Port Antonio Hospital Althea Gardner who, while admitting that the situation was never brought to her attention before, said that a full investigation would be launched into the matter.
Equally, senior medical officer at KPH Dr Natalie Whylie, when contacted by the Observer, said that an investigation would be launched into the matter, saying it was something that the hospital did not take lightly.
In the meantime, Thompson wants to use her son’s death to encourage others to get help for their mental disorders.
She told the Observer that Miller had been depressed since becoming unemployed and refused to seek treatment because he feared that the people of Prospect Land Settlement, the community the family is from, would call him insane.
“The stigma weh surround mental health, anxiety, depression and all these things made him not want to seek help. He felt as if he was doing me a favour by killing himself because I have two other children, my daughter-in-law and grandchildren taking care of. He took himself out of the equation. He sacrificed himself,” Thompson said.
“I want people to know that mental illness in Jamaica is real. It’s a silent killer. It’s a murderer just like cancer, AIDS and the rest. If you seek help for cancer, you seek help for AIDS, you should seek help if you feel you are mentally off before it’s too late.
“The way I feel now losing my son, I don’t want anybody else to feel that way.”
One of the country’s leading psychiatrists, Dr Geoffrey Walcott explained that a mental disorder could strip away the person’s ability to cognitively understand what was happening in their lives. He noted that it was a “very severe illness” and that the risk of suicide was very high among people with mental illnesses.
“Persons will be depressed and not understanding the level of sadness or the level of despair that they are at and commit suicide,” Walcott told the Observer.
He said that while Jamaicans were moving away from the stigma that is associated with mental health and were seeking treatment, there were still pockets that remained “difficult”.
“What you find is that persons in the lower socio-economic group tend to be more readily engaging when it comes to mental health services. So in most of the inner-city communities the impact is greater, but as you go up the social ladder access becomes more difficult,” he said, adding that globally, one in every four persons has a mental disorder.
He said that Jamaica, however, had conquered the classic form of mental illness, psychosis, and pointed out that the greater problems now were post-traumatic stress, depression and personality disorders.
“Personality disorder not only affects the person that is suffering: it also now has significant impact on the community with regards to corruption, decreased productivity, violence, [and] the murder rate. Those are some of the problems of personality disorder that we are just beginning to get a handle on, and we really need a lot more work to be done in that area,” Walcott stated.
He said one of the things Jamaicans needed to do in terms of arresting mental illness was to stop having a threshold and waiting until something happens. “If you see that the person has had a change in their behaviour or in their way of interacting, it doesn’t hurt to get some form of assessment done.”