Woman in ER where man died after lengthy wait says it was obvious he needed help

WINNIPEG – A woman who was in a hospital waiting room where a man died during a 34-hour wait for treatment said it was obvious he needed help.

Lakhwinder Pannu told an inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair that she took her daughter to Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre on Sept. 19, 2008 — the same day Sinclair came in seeking care.

Sinclair smelled of urine and obviously needed some attention, she said. But Pannu didn’t tell anyone about his condition, she said, because she was afraid nurses might get irritated and take it out on her daughter.

“Some people take advice right away,” Pannu said Wednesday. “Other people say it’s none of your business. That’s what made me stay quiet.”

She said she was bothered a lot by Sinclair’s condition and the fact he was still in the waiting room when Pannu returned the following day to check on her daughter.

“We all have a right to live in dignity,” said Pannu, who is a health-care aide. “That wasn’t there for that man.”

She said she is still haunted by the fact she didn’t speak up.

“How come I didn’t ask somebody to help him?” Pannu said, her voice shaking.

The inquest has heard that a clinic doctor referred Sinclair to the emergency room because he hadn’t urinated in 24 hours. The double-amputee spoke to a triage aide upon his arrival and then wheeled himself into the waiting room where he languished for the next 34 hours.

Sinclair vomited several times and was given a bowl, but no one asked him if he was waiting to see a doctor or whether he was OK.

By the time the 45-year-old was discovered lifeless, he had been dead for at least a few hours. He was rushed into the resuscitation room, but within a minute it was clear there was nothing that could be done.

Sinclair died from a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter.

Manitoba’s chief medical examiner has testified Sinclair needed a simple catheter change and a prescription for antibiotics.

Michelle Samagalski was also in the ER the evening of Sept. 20, 2008. By that time, Sinclair had been in the waiting room for almost 30 hours.

Samagalski said she noticed a double-amputee slouched over in a wheelchair while she waited for her husband to be admitted.

“He looked a bit dishevelled,” she said. “I assumed he was a homeless person.”

Samagalski said she also smelled urine on Sinclair, but didn’t think it was unusual “given I thought he was a person who might not have access to a shower on a regular basis.”

When she was in a treatment room with her husband, Samagalski said she heard a “code blue” over the hospital loudspeaker shortly after midnight. She assumed there had been a bad car accident with multiple victims because of all the commotion.

“It wasn’t until the next day when I heard what had happened.”

The Health Sciences Centre emergency room has changed following Sinclair’s death, Samagalski said. Chairs in the waiting room now face the triage desk so nurses can see the faces of people seated there, she said.

The last time she and her daughter were there, they were asked numerous times why they were there, she said.

“Some improvements have been made.”

The inquest is to sit until Thursday and resume in January.

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