Bedside vigil pits husband against hospital he blames for wife's woes
For the past three years, Luo Zhanmiao, a 73-year-old retired engineer, has slept on a "bed" made of three chairs fitted together alongside his 68-year-old wife at a public hospital in Guangzhou. For more than 1,000 nights, he has helped care for her. But his presence is also a protest of sorts against the hospital, which he says has caused his family a lot of pain. And he says their decade-long struggle is just one example of a rising number of medical disputes across the country.
What happened to your wife?
It's a long, sad story. On December 13, 2002, I signed an informed-consent form and sent my wife to the operating room of the No1 People's Hospital in Guangzhou. We thought it would be a simple surgery and that we could go home a few days later.
She walked into the hospital herself, but has never been able to walk out. The operation started at 8.30am to treat my wife's enlarged thyroid gland. The doctors told us they were experienced in this type of surgery, and that my wife would awaken soon after the operation.
The operation was finished and my wife was sent to the recovery room at about 1pm. But she did not come to, as the doctor had said she would. We were scared, and asked for help. But the doctors and nurses insisted it was a normal occurrence after surgery and did nothing but take her blood pressure.
Their carelessness and dereliction of duty destroyed my wife. The next morning, she was diagnosed with a cerebral haemorrhage and her condition was deteriorating. On December 16, surgeons operated on my wife to relieve pressure from a blood clot.
Since then, her speech has been slurred, she is mentally slower, incontinent, and has lost movement on her right side.
Was it malpractice? Who should be held responsible?
It definitely was. My wife could talk, walk and smile before the operation. The doctors also said the operation was successful. So why did she turn into a disabled person who cannot speak, stand or think? It's all the hospital's fault. The doctors and nurses could have done something to help her, but they just let her be. The cerebral haemorrhage might have occurred during the operation, but the surgeons didn't notice it.
We still paid for the operations on time, but we also asked the hospital to take responsibility and continue to treat my wife. But all they did was try their best to kick my wife out of the hospital. Can you believe it? They even stopped giving medication and nursing care to my wife on June 10, 2003, to force us to pay or leave the hospital. Twelve days later, without her drugs, my wife had an epileptic seizure.
Why have you slept on chairs beside your wife for so long?
I sued the hospital in 2003, and it countersued us in 2006. I thought the court would bring justice, but I was naive to think so. There's no justice.
According to the judgment in the first lawsuit, my wife's case was not an accident caused by the hospital, but the hospital still had to compensate my wife 100,000 yuan for negligence in its post-operative care.
The 2006 ruling was a different story. It found the hospital free of liability and ordered us to pay more than 130,000 yuan to the hospital for treatment. The different rulings left me completely lost.
After the verdicts, the hospital tried to drive my wife out. They said they had no responsibility to treat my wife if we didn't pay, and that the courts supported them.
My wife can't speak or move by herself. How can such an old and feeble woman endure such inhumane treatment? That's why I have to sleep on the chairs, to be with her. And it's also the only way I can fight the hospital. I hold my wife and yell: "It's all your fault. We won't leave. If you keep pushing, I will jump off the building."
What do you think about the increasing allegations of medical malpractice across the country?
I have been coming to the Guangzhou hospital for 10 years. As far as I and others in my situation can tell, malpractice is common here. I've seen families of victims burn incense, set up funeral tables and wreaths, and hang protest signs in front of the hospital.
What will you do in future?
I dream that fair, third-party panels will resolve medical disputes. Currently, medical incidents are assessed by associations made up of other doctors, who may favour their colleagues. I hope the law can bring my wife belated justice. Until then, I can do nothing but sleep on the chairs.
Luo spoke with He Huifeng