‘I had been told I couldn’t be seen for another three months, the reality is I might not have been here in three months’

Caroline Sherwin, from Donacarney, Co Meath, pictured at home with her twin daughters Casey and Mya, 11, and the family dog Toby. Pic: Ciara Wilkinson

A mum driven by fear and frustration at waiting almost six months for cancer test results stormed into her local emergency department and said she would not move until she was seen by a specialist.

Despite a number of efforts by staff to get her to go home, Caroline Sherwin refused to leave and waited there for 13 hours — a decision which may well have saved her life.

Ms Sherwin, from Donacarney, Co Meath, went to the emergency department of Our Lady Of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda last Thursday and stayed there, ignoring what she described as intimidation by medical staff to try and get her to leave, before eventually being seen by a surgeon at 10.30pm.

He immediately realised that her situation was life-threatening and that her lymph node had to be removed; she was operated on the next morning.

Now Ms Sherwin is encouraging other patients who have been placed on long-term waiting lists to copy her actions.

“Do the exact same, you are only a number to these people until they have to deal with you face-to-face. They place you on a waiting list and don’t care when — or if — you are seen, they play God with people’s lives.

“I had been told I couldn’t be seen for another three months, the reality is I might not have been here in three months, but the HSE do not care about that. All they want is to be seen to be doing something and getting the paperwork correct.”

Ms Sherwin, 37, is the mother of twin daughters Casey and Mya. She began getting severe head pains last October and went to Doctor On Call, where she was sent straight to the hospital and remained there for four weeks.

“I had four lumps on my neck, three smaller ones and a large one on my lymph node which tests showed was severely inflamed. They did a biopsy on me and sent me home with a prescription for heavy duty painkillers.

“After three weeks, most of which I spent fretting about the likelihood of having cancer, I was told the biopsy had been unsuccessful and would have to be done again.”

It was at this point that the reality of the current service provided by the HSE began to sink in.

“Firstly I was told I was being placed on a priority list to be seen by a specialist but because of the Christmas holiday period the quickest appointment I could get was early January. I wasn’t best pleased with that but could understand it,” said Ms Sherwin.

After a number of weeks without any sign of an appointment being made, Ms Sherwin contacted the hospital in January and was stunned to be told that her “priority” appointment had been downgraded to “standard” and pushed out to February 1.

During this wait, she was told that more lumps had developed and that she should have another biopsy.

After three weeks of asking when she would get this appointment, she was told it would be another three months — and that was just to see the specialist, not to have the biopsy.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Last Thursday I went into A&E, at 9.30am, sat down on a chair, and told them that I was not leaving until I was properly diagnosed,” said Ms Sherwin.

“After a few hours in which a doctor did come and speak to me, I was moved from A&E to the acute assessment unit, at which point a different doctor came to me, examined the three smaller lumps, and told me I would be put on a waiting list to see a specialist.

“I had to tell her that this was the same specialist whose secretary had already told me I couldn’t get an appointment with him for another three months, and I made it very clear I wasn’t leaving the hospital until this was sorted.

“The next thing five medical staff arrived down and told me that as I had already been checked out and was in no immediate danger, I had to go home as they had no bed for me. I told them that the big lump on my lymph node had not been looked at and I wasn’t budging until it was.

“At that stage I was in tears, I was embarrassed that I had allowed them to reduce me to that state but the tears just kept flowing out of me in pure anger and frustration.”

Despite staff again insisting there was no bed available, Ms Sherwin said she would sleep on the chair but was adamant she was going nowhere. She was told a surgeon who was currently performing an operation would see her in half an hour.

“Fair play, that man did come and see me and, having both read my file and examined me, he told those who were trying to shoo me out of the place that I had to be kept in as I needed immediate surgery on the lymph node. He actually said that I had been waiting so long, doing a biopsy was pointless, the lump had to be removed.

“Magically they found me a bed despite telling me only hours earlier I had to go home because they hadn’t got one. I was kept in, operated on the next morning, and am now back home recovering.

“I certainly don’t regret what I did, I maybe would not be around in three months’ time for that biopsy if I hadn’t insisted on being properly treated. I felt like nobody was giving me the answers I needed. Instead they just kept moving me along and even still I’m left not knowing if the lumps are benign or malignant.

“I’m 37 with twin beautiful daughters trying to do the best I can but I don’t want to tell them months down the line, ‘Sorry girls, they didn’t get to me on time and it’s too late to cure it, I’m sorry.’ Could you even begin to imagine how that would feel?

“I’d advise anyone in the same position to do exactly what I did, until you meet them face-to-face you are just a number to HSE staff, they shuffle the cards around and are playing God with people’s lives.

“If you are being fobbed off by being told you are on a waiting list ignore it, go into the hospital and stay there until you are seen. It seems to me that’s the only way to get anything done.”

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