Lack of Dignity in Death: Losing a Loved One During a Pandemic

We’ve applauded our frontline workers on many occasions. The risks they’ve taken during a time such as this. The hours they’re working to ensure that our country is able to come out of this on the other side with some semblance of safety and surety. We’ve talked about the conditions that our workers, specifically those in Abaco and Grand Bahama are working under. The tents that serve as medical wards. The sewage that makes its way into the campsite of said wards. We’ve mentioned all of this, and we should. But two things can and always will be true at once. We can talk about the poor working conditions that our nurses and doctors face while also speaking on the poor bedside manner, lack of patient advocacy, the rarity of emotional intelligence and a glaring disregard for dignity that runs rampant in the Public Health Authority.  These two truths meld together to create an experience where only the patient suffers. 

At 1:30 PM On April 13th 2020, 83-year-old Beryl Marshall Miller was taken to the Rand Memorial Hospital on the island of Grand Bahama. Earlier that morning she coughed up blood, and with a history of Congestive Heart Failure, Diabetes, Pneumonia and Bronchitis, her daughter and granddaughter decided that the risky trip was indeed necessary. As is protocol in the age of a Pandemic, she was screened with a thermometer to ensure her lack of fever. Once she was deemed a non-threat she and her grand-daughter were given instructions to wait. At 2:15 PM Beryl’s hand was roughly grabbed by the on-call doctor to insert an IV, this was followed by a cursory glance and soon,  X-Rays were ordered. They were then ushered under an empty blue tent and then told to wait, again. At 3:15 PM Beryl’s grand-daughter begged for a bed to place her grandmother in. At this point, her ailing grand-mother would have been sitting in an uncomfortable wheelchair for hours.  Nurses and medical staff passed her by giving her terse responses of  “There are no beds.” “The doctor will be here soon” “I’m not working on that case”.  By 4:20 PM Beryl’s granddaughter again asks for assistance for her grandmother. The staff of the Rand Memorial Hospital would be in the middle of a shift change; If Beryl was forgotten before she would definitely be lost in the mix now. “I’m sorry ma’am you have to wait.”.

Beryl’s mind, that was slowly slipping into a state of dementia, was confused. The face mask prevented proper breathing, the tent not protecting her from the well known Bahamian heat, She was miserable and whereas her earlier pleas to go home were quiet she became more audible, firmly requesting that she be allowed to go home. At 6:00 PM with no help in sight and  Beryl at the beginning of her daily sundowning, her grand-daughter wheeled her out of the lonely blue tent back to the car and made the hard decision to take her home. She had yet to be examined by a doctor. 

Weeks would go by and Beryl’s health would begin to deteriorate a bit more. With Covid-19 an ever-present threat her daughter and grand-daughter did what they could with the field nurses that began to visit a few times a week. A little after 10 AM on May 4th 2020, Geriatric nurses accompanied by the Geriatrician visited and recommended that Beryl be admitted to hospital for dehydration among other things. The experience of April 13th  left her daughter weary but she was assured that things would be different this time. They were not just different. They were worse.

Because of protocol set in place due to the pandemic family members were not allowed to visit Beryl on the ward. When calling for updates the family would be met with giggling in the background “She calling about her mother again?!” “Doctor ain’t here. We don’t have no update.”

By the time she was released from the hospital on May 8th, the lack of care she received was clearly shown by her Depends that was beyond filled with urine and faecal matter. Socks that were never removed from her diabetic feet creating ulcers and a bedsore that she was admitted with that got visibly worse during her stay on the ward. 

Every morning at 4 AM, the television at number 12B Plantol Street could be heard blasting old Zion Baptist Hymnals. The ever-present community announcement slideshow acting as a backdrop to the outdated ZNS programming. It’s around this time that ZNS would be getting ready to host their early morning prayer line.  Elderly Christians from across the country would call the station’s hotline in anticipation of saying their own special prayers for the nation. Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Great Aunts and Uncles from the outer islands would have their radio stations tuned into this broadcast hoping to hear the familiar voices of their loved ones lifting them up in prayer. The Silent Generation’s version of “I wanna shout out my homeboy…”. 

Beryl Marshall of Plantol Street used this programming as the soundtrack to her morning. By the time as these prayers were done, she would have donned her finest linen shirt adorned with a broach I’m not too sure you can purchase anymore. With her wooden cane in one hand and her utilitarian purse in the other, It’s now 5 AM and she is ready to walk to Mass at Our Lady’s Catholic Church. 

By 7 AM she could be seen having a leisurely stroll along Bay Street, quietly contemplating which restaurant she would sit at for breakfast. By 1 PM she would have caught the bus to Super Value to pick items for lunch and dinner on that specific day. If you sat quietly enough in your living room, you could hear the rattling of the grocers’ trolley making its way through the intersection of Windsor Lane and Plantol Street back into the busy yard of Number 12B. The trolley manned by an all too astute packing boy and the procession led by a larger than life woman. Until she physically couldn’t, this was Beryl Marshall’s daily routine. Fiercely independent, insanely witty, in tune with a community that she watched be ushered out of colonization and into Bahamian Independence. She was the last of an impeccably trained generation of hoteliers. She would proudly state that she was taken out of school at the age of 13 to take care of her family and it was with this pride that she would purchase The Nassau Guardian, The Tribune and The Punch on her daily outing. Beryl was a literate woman and she wanted you to know it. 

On May 15th 2020 after being found unresponsive, Beryl was readmitted to the Rand Memorial Hospital. Her family would again be given little to no information by her assigned doctor as to what would happen. Because of understandable protocol, she would again not be allowed to see her family. On Sunday, May 17th at 11:10 AM Beryl’s daughter sat in the waiting room of the hospital and made the decision to discharge her mother, She was able to speak with Beryl’s assigned Doctor at 1 PM and finally at 2:15 PM she walked through the doors of the hospital and headed home to prepare for Beryl’s arrival. At 2:30 PM Beryl’s Daughter and Grand Daughter received a call from her assigned nurse, Beryl had passed away, her time of death? 2:11 PM.  

Beryl Marshall died in isolation. She was surrounded by strangers in a hospital that has been overlooked and forgotten. She was not allowed the comfort of family or friends.  While she took her dying breaths  her daughter stood in the waiting room begging to get the smallest glimpse of her. She was shown a severe lack of empathy and even more so an insane lack of dignity.  She didn’t deserve to die in this way. 

My Grandmother Beryl Marshall Miller of 12B Plantol Street, Nassau Bahamas died. Her end was inevitable and I am so happy to have spent these last couple of months with her. However, The lack of respect she was shown at the end of her very full life at the hands of many members of the Rand Memorial Hospital has left a lasting impression on me. 

When Beryl Marshall left Plantol Street in March she knew that it would be goodbye. Summer evenings sitting under the tree at the front of the yard watching children play would be a thing of the past. She knew this yet still she came to live out the remainder of her days on an island she could never truly call home. During this Pandemic, Over the Hill has lost a cornerstone of its community and my family has lost its matriarch.  

To Henrietta Carey and Nolan Beneby, I would like to thank you, the medical personnel that provided your advice, assistance and moral support during what has been one of the most challenging times in mine and my family’s life.

What my Grandmother suffered at the Rand Memorial Hospital, It is my hope that no one ever has to experience that.