Lessons learned from mistake

JONATHON HOWE - CHIEF OF STAFF
Last updated 11:43 28/05/2012

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OPINION: The plight of Feilding woman Aleshia Davy, whose viral meningitis was initially mistaken for the flu by ambulance officers, is a prime example of why it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Ms Davy is now living with partial brain damage and dealing with expensive medical bills after contracting the life threatening infection last August.

As she was suffering from a severe headache, a high fever and delirium, Ms Davy's partner called St John Ambulance, who advised her to stay in bed.

It's not surprising paramedics failed to recognise her meningitis, which is notoriously difficult to detect. Paramedics aren't doctors, so they contacted medical staff at Palmerston North Hospital for advice, before telling her to sleep it off. Ms Davy was also not suffering the tell-tale red rash commonly associated with meningococcal infections. Ms Davy went back to bed, but eight hours later her health deteriorated and she was taken to hospital, where she lay in a coma for two weeks. She was in hospital for three months and now suffers memory loss, nausea, impaired social skills and is deaf in one ear.

The telling of her story in Friday's Standard is not part of a crusade against the paramedics concerned. St John apologised to Ms Davy and gave the staff extra training, despite ruling that she had received an "adequate" standard of care.

St John provides the region with a great ambulance service and, thankfully, incidents like this are rare. But it is a reminder to us all of just how fraught with danger such oversights can be.

No doubt there are people who call for an ambulance when they've suffered a paper cut or a runny nose, so some degree of discretion must be taken. But someone with severe flu symptoms is unlikely to make such a call without having a genuine cause for concern.

It is unclear if the delay in getting to hospital caused any long-term damage to Ms Davy's health, though earlier treatment surely wouldn't have hurt.

The biggest upshot is that St John staff nationwide have now been given better access to advice from clinical staff. It should come as a relief to hear others might be spared from similar ordeals, but unfortunately Ms Davy's life may never be the same.

ONE MORE THING

One lane of the State Highway 3 road through the Manawatu Gorge should be opened to the public from the Woodville end this week. There may be some trepidation from motorists about the possibility of further slips but it will be a huge relief to those people who have used the subpar Saddle Rd and Pahiatua Track detours for nine months. The chance of getting hit by a piece of debris is so minor that people will no doubt put any fears aside to save 15 minutes of travel.

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- Manawatu Standard

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