Wife told to treat aneurysm with ice

LIFE OR DEATH: Judy Raven is calling for a review of 111 triage procedures  after being advised to put an icepack on her husband.
LIFE OR DEATH: Judy Raven is calling for a review of 111 triage procedures after being advised to put an icepack on her husband.

The wife of a man suffering a life-threatening aneurysm says she was fobbed off by the 111 call centre and told to put an icepack on him after he complained of agonising back pain.

But instead of calling back in half an hour, as advised on the phone, John Raven's family drove him straight to Hutt Hospital - where he collapsed in the lobby, his faced drained of colour.

"If we'd been any later we would never have got him to hospital and he would have died," Judy Raven said of her husband, a 79-year-old former air force driver from Upper Hutt.

Daughter Donna Symes said emergency staff at Hutt Hospital were "absolutely appalled" that an ambulance had not been sent for her father.

Five hours later, he had emergency surgery at Wellington Hospital after it was discovered his aorta - the main artery - had burst in his abdomen, causing massive internal bleeding.

Just under half of all those suffering such a rupture do not make it to hospital alive, according to medical reports.

"The surgeon said it was a life-or-death situation and has since said that they did not expect him to survive," Judy Raven said.

He was in a stable condition yesterday, but she said his life still hung in the balance. "It's like a time bomb."

The incident follows that of Kelson woman Karen Archer, whose husband was forced to call 111 four times before an ambulance arrived to treat her dislocated kneecap.

That case was reported in Monday's Dominion Post, the day after Judy Raven's call was rebuffed.

She now wants the 111 triage procedures - introduced in October 2012, in an effort to ensure life-threatening incidents were dealt with first - to be reviewed. "I just don't want this to happen to someone else. I don't want someone to die."

She called 111 about 1am on Sunday after her husband became "doubled over" with groin and back pain.

Because she was flustered, she did not mention to the call-takers that he had suffered a previous aneurysm in 2006, but believed his pain alone should have been enough to justify an ambulance.

The operator transferred her to the Healthline medical advice service, where a nurse told her to put an icepack on his back and ring back if his condition had not improved after 30 minutes.

Wellington Free Ambulance spokesman Daniel Paul said that, based on the information received, Raven's condition was not classified as immediately life-threatening so the call was referred to Healthline, which has been standard procedure since the nationwide triage system was introduced.

Healthline, which is run by the Ministry of Health, is investigating the incident.

Medical director Richard Medlicott said that, although the symptoms described in the call were not typical of an aneurysm, the call should have been handed back to 111, given "it was late at night, his age and the level of discomfort".

"We're glad his condition has improved and regret the suffering to Mr Raven and his family."


An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can trigger a bulging of the aorta – the main artery from the heart. When the bulge ruptures, it can cause massive internal bleeding, resulting in sudden death if not treated immediately. Between 5 and 10 per cent of men aged between 65 and 79 have an AAA – overall, up to 90 per cent of those who rupture will die. Between 30 and 65 per cent of those who rupture die during or on the way to emergency surgery. 

The Dominion Post