Family narrates how their father died after doctors failed for a week to test him for Covid-19

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Out of genuine concern for all Zimbabweans, we wish to share the following account of our father’s untimely death in the hope we might just save one life.

Our father Ian Hyslop, 79, was examined by his Bulawayo doctor on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 25, specifically as we felt he needed to see a doctor as he was suffering troubling flu symptoms. Thereafter, in the days leading up to his death on Saturday, April 4 – we believe he was examined by two local general practitioners with utter carelessness and ignorance.

We make this claim based on the fact the chairwoman and management of Qalisa Retirement Village where our father resided with his 77-year-old partner decided he would not be permitted to leave the village even if he wanted to have his own doctor attend to him from March 26. This illogical decision was implemented by the village’s management, simply because he was over 70 years of age in complete disregard of statutory instrument 83 of 2020 covering Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

Under subsection (2) (iv), the SI clearly states that “one can obtain medical assistance on his or her own behalf or on behalf of anyone to whom he or she is related or for whom the individual has a duty of care… provided that such assistance must be sought within a radius not exceeding five (5) kilometres from his or her home, unless it cannot be obtained within that radius, in which case he or she may obtain it from the nearest location to his or her home.”

Consequently, after receipt of this notice dad spent Tuesday, March 24, and most of Wednesday – despite feeling quite ill – stocking up on food, medicines and paying his bills under the firm belief, as he mentioned in his email, that he would have to stay at home and self-cure and hope to god to weather the storm.

My father communicated with me almost every day by email and occasionally by phone, as I am resident in Australia, and employed as an assistant in nursing in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Perth.

Due to misinformation and incorrect dates reported concerning dad’s diagnosis and confirmation he had been infected with the Covid-19 disease, we feel it is vitally important to provide the accurate information as follows:

Dad spent between March 14 and 16 at Ganda Lodge in Hwange, which is frequented by overseas tourists (Editor’s note: the ministry of health says there were no other guests at the lodge during the same period).

On March 21, dad was visited by a friend who was out from the United Kingdom.

On March 25, my sister who resides in Bulawayo booked an appointment for dad to see his doctor in the afternoon after informing us he was suffering from troublesome flu symptoms (cough, sore throat and a slight temperature).

Following his doctor’s appointment, he told my sister, Glenda, “the doctor checked him over and said he had a bit of bronchitis and his throat was okay”. He had been prescribed Ciprofloxacin (a bacterial antibiotic).

I found this account of his examination very worrying, especially with the imminent lockdown due to Covid-19 and his symptoms being typical of this disease. I would have expected this doctor to consider him as a possible Covid-19 case, and at the very least conduct a full blood count that would immediately give him an idea if the problem was bacterial or viral.

On March 27, I received two emails from dad. In the first one he was responding to my email, telling me he was “feeling okay, no fever or high temperature and the doctor cleared him as okay, so not much he could do. And must admit improving. Love Dad x.” About two hours late, another email, this time clearly worried about his worsening symptoms, and asking if the Covid-19 symptoms are the same as flu. “What symptoms are not flu-like? What symptoms would be life threatening? What was doctor looking for when he examined my throat? Sorry kid, have to understand (Old Fart). Hi to all, love Dad x.”

On March 28, a Saturday, he sent an email after reading that several celebrities had tested positive for Covid-19 and are staying at home, and asking me: “How do they test a person to prove they are positive? Nuisance Dad xx.” I replied explaining the procedure and he followed up with another email: “Now I understand, have not seen a swab in Zimbabwe, probably in government hospitals. Thanks Sharon xxx.”

On March 30 when the lockdown began, I was very worried having not heard from dad since Saturday, so I called him. He sounded very breathless and told me he feels he needs a nebuliser (a machine used to change liquid medication into a vapour that you can inhale through a facemask or mouthpiece). After a short chat, I was feeling very distressed over his varying symptoms and particularly his questions, so I called a friend who then spoke to the chairwoman at Qalisa Retirement Village to express my concerns. The chairwoman obviously did not take me seriously as I received a reply at about 5.15PM (11.15PM Perth time) telling me he was fine.

On March, a Tuesday, I received an email early morning from dad, subject: ‘Buggered.’ “Sorry about yesterday, stayed in bed all day. Tracksuit, heavy blanket to try and sweat this out, only looked at my cell 7PM. All the plan did was make me feel weaker! Going to try and see a woman doctor who lives in the village, an American Dr *********. You know Shaz, I have not had one injection; everything is bloody tabs. I think l have got a touch of pneumonia, where is the penicillin, nebuliser etc? I will let you know how it goes. Not allowed out of Qalisa to see doctor ******** or ********, crazy hey! Take care Dad xx.”

I forwarded my dad’s email to a friend, who in turn forwarded it to the chairwoman who took along the resident doctor to visit my dad. The response I got back was “he has a bronchiole infection and his temperature was down. He’s on an antibiotic and should recover back to normal in a few more days. His progress will be monitored by them every day and they will give me a daily update. They don’t feel you have anything to worry about at this stage.” This was followed up by another WhatsApp message stating, “Hi, Dr ***** and I went to see him … ‘How are you Ian?’ 100 percent he answers lol … Anyway, he has seen Dr ******, very pleased with her. She won’t comment to anyone about his health, but he told us she said he didn’t have pneumonia. He’s being very naughty. I suspect he wants attention.”

For obvious reasons, I am now more than anxious and distressed about him. I get another Whatsapp message, “Mmmm, this was not the Ian I saw yesterday. Ian had to call Dr ****** himself. The arrangement with Dr ******* is she sees him and liaises. He saw Dr ******* last week.”

Finally, I got an email same day, March 31, from dad informing me, “Doctor very pleasant, gave full check. Lungs and ears okay. Throat still infected, couple of pusy spots. Prescribed penicillin tabs, stronger than ciprofloxacin, hope that it’s done. Will let you know the name of tablets. Dad xxx.” I then followed up asking why change of medication, and he told me: “The doctor said I have throat infection, let’s change antibiotic. Blood taken to test for malaria!”

This answer was enough for me to realise the resident doctor my father had been placed in the care of, was evidently negligent and not following medical protocol at this stage specifically as my father had obviously not responded to initial treatment. But also, because she had still had not considered he was more likely a Covid-19 case!

Firstly, she should have ordered a full blood count to assess if infection was indeed bacterial or viral before changing antibiotic. She should also have immediately called a specialist physician to take over, given he had not responded to ciprofloxacin for more than five days.

Since then, I established that she prescribed augmentin, another bacterial antibiotic. Common side effects of this medication include nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhoea, stomach pain and white patches in your mouth or throat!

On April 1, dad sent me an email around 6AM Zimbabwe time with subject: Australia. “Hi Sharon, God do I wish I could be in Aus for the medical. Got the paracetamol. I am not improving, let’s hope the latest tabs work. Losing weight, no real appetite, tired and shagged out, starting to spend more time in bed. Promise trying hard but no strength. Keep safe dad xx.”

On April 2, a Thursday, I got the last email communication from my father. “Hi Sharon, Bed all day sweating it out. Hope it breaks this time. No malaria – blood test. Must admit the doctor is covering all bases, she is very thorough and visits every day. Sharon nobody is allowed to phone the Dr – medical ethics etc you know the story. Jackie is the Queen here. Will be in bed all day again tomorrow. Take care. Keep safe, I promise I will tell you when I am in real trouble. Love Dad xx.”

Later that evening, around 6PM, my sister Glenda is called by Mater Dei Hospital and informed that our father had been admitted and was in Room 15 on the First Floor. Obviously very upset to hear this, Glenda immediately called me to let me know. She was on her way to see dad.

I then called the Qalisa resident doctor to find out why dad had been admitted. She was extremely rude to me and would only tell me he had a chest infection and he was fine. She refused to provide any further information, despite the knowledge I was his daughter calling from Australia, saying it was a confidential matter. I asked how my dad got to Mater Dei, to which she bluntly told me: “In my car!” I again tried to ask a few other things and she told me emphatically that she didn’t have to disclose them to me, citing patient confidentiality. Later she sent me an SMS message stating: “Your sister should have the number of the doctor from Mater Dei who phoned her. Otherwise the referral doctor was a Dr ****** who is his GP.”

Glenda called me back sometime later to let me know she found dad struggling to breath, a bit hypoxic (confused), his blood pressure was low, and he had diarrhoea (a side effect of augmentin). I was not only beside myself with this news, but also livid that this resident doctor unacceptably removed our father from Qalisa Retirement Village at about 10AM to be admitted to Mater Dei without informing his “next of kin”, my sister in this instance, and then transported him in her personal vehicle as opposed to having him taken by ambulance.

On April 3, at about 10AM, Glenda found dad to be a bit worse. His doctor then called her and advised a specialist physician had been spoken to and would see him around lunch time. Later that afternoon, I called the specialist physician who was fabulous, informing me he was moving dad to ICU as he had pneumonia after reviewing X-rays, and was ordering full blood count tests.

On April 4, my sister as an immediate family member, was permitted to see dad in the ICU about 10AM. He had been placed in a fully glassed cubicle, but she was not permitted to enter. However, she was able to see him struggling with his breathing although on oxygen, and his saturation was poor.

I then called the specialist again to be informed dad’s kidneys appeared to be failing and he was also arranging for him to be tested for Covid-19 FINALLY (although he didn’t think the test would come back positive). He said he would be back at the hospital at about 4.30PM to assess dad further. Glenda was advised to come back at 5PM.

Sadly, dad passed away that late afternoon at approximately 5.20PM from cardiac arrest. We would not know he had the coronavirus until late on Monday, April 7 – apparently because the sample was collected before a weekend and there was no transport to take it to Harare, where all lab tests are carried out. He came to be known as ‘Patient 11’ – the second person to die from Covid-19 in Zimbabwe.

During the period when all this was unfolding, I was obviously very stressed hearing it from Perth, knowing I could not do much but ask the relevant people to assist as best they could. I was constantly told to stop panicking. I do not panic, working in an ICU here in Perth I am aware of upsetting circumstances and emergency protocols.

We know that the resident doctor did not wear any protective personal equipment (PPE) when she examined dad on more than one occasion prior to finally deciding to drive him to Mater Dei Hospital. Her claim that she always wore PPE in a WhatsApp message to some of the residents at the retirement village on the night of April 7 is a complete fabrication.

We know she visited dad with the chairwoman on the first occasion for a mere check-up without PPE, or on follow up visits still clearly not recognising he could be a Covid-19 case, insisting he just had chest infection, but more so deciding to test him for malaria!

I know resources in Zimbabwe are scarce, but good medical and nursing care is imperative. I also know people will say dad was 79 years old and had stents, but his friends will confirm he was a healthy fit and a very independent man who played bowls often.

As a family, we cannot understand how two doctors, if not three, fully aware the lockdown was due to Covid-19, did not once consider him to be a typical case and hospitalise him on March 25 or at least March 31 when he clearly needed to be. As a result, there is no other way of describing them but careless, ignorant and negligent medical practitioners. The chairwoman and management of Qalisa must also take responsibility for illegally preventing the old folk from leaving the complex to see their preferred practitioner if or when the need arose during the lockdown period.

It’s shameful. We have lost the love of our lives. He didn’t deserve to be subjected to these tragic circumstances.

Rest in peace dad!


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