Anaesthetist facing charges after ignoring woman's pain during caesarean

An anaesthetist is appearing before the Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal on charges of failing to treat a ...

An anaesthetist is appearing before the Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal on charges of failing to treat a woman's pain during caesarean surgery.

A mother has told how she could barely focus on her new son after enduring excruciating surgery without enough pain relief.

Speaking before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in Wellington, the woman said her anaesthetist repeatedly told her it was "pressure not pain".

"I said words to the effect, 'This isn't just pressure, this hurts'.

"I started feeling something wasn't right. It was at about that point I started to cry."

The anaesthetist told her more drugs could harm her baby and refused to provide pain relief, even after the baby was born, she said. 

The doctor, who has interim name suppression, faces three charges relating to care of the woman in February 2013.

In particular, he is charged with failing to ensure enough pain relief before the procedure, failing to communicate with his patient to assess her pain, and failing to alleviate her pain.

The woman, who was visibly upset while giving evidence, said she felt the anaesthetist was "rude and disrespectful".

Doctors later told her she could never have a natural birth, and the prospect of another C-section "terrified" her.

"I still get really upset about thinking about that day. I struggle that the memory of his birth is so difficult from me to recall."

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But the anaesthetist's lawyer, Harry Waalkens, questioned the woman's recollection of events, suggesting time and her anxiety over her child had distorted her memory. 

He said the anaesthetist's evidence was that he had repeatedly checked in with her, and she in turn assured him that she was able to cope with discomfort. 

However, the mother said she would have remembered any offer of pain relief. "I would have jumped at it."

Nicola Wills, lawyer for the prosecuting director of proceedings, told the tribunal that the doctor never gave the woman enough drugs to block out the pain of her upcoming surgery.

There were also many warning signs that drugs hadn't work before the operation, and more pain relief could have been administered.

These included the woman being able to feel pinching, ice and, later, involuntarily kicking one of her legs. Expert witnesses will argue that all these signs should have told the doctor the pain had not been blocked and further relief was needed, she said.

The woman herself, another doctor, midwife, and a nurse also repeatedly raised concerns about the pain.

However, the anaesthetist remain "disinterested", insisting the woman was experiencing pressure, not pain, and a natural birth would be worse, Wills said.

"It is not for an anaesthetist to determine their patient's true level of pain... if a person complains of pain, they are accepted as being in pain."

In an earlier decision from the Health and Disability Commissioner, the doctor was found to have failed to properly care for the woman and displayed a "striking lack of empathy".

At one point, while the baby was being delivered, the woman told the commissioner it was as if her ribs were being crushed.

"My pain was very real and of a totally unacceptable level during abdominal surgery. To have my complaints downplayed as 'pressure' is unacceptable," she told the commissioner.

The hearing is expected to continue until Friday.

 - Stuff

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