Opinion Analysis

Tuesday 21 May 2019

'He will to his dying day be grateful for your valiant efforts'

BY midnight, Savita Halappanavar was so weak that nurses had to pause after turning her in the bed to allow her heart to settle before they could continue.

Half-an-hour later, medics noticed that her heart was beating erratically on the monitor and she had no pulse and frantic efforts began to try to save her.

Nurse Jacinta Gately went out to the waiting room where husband Praveen stood with friends, to let him know what was happening. She asked if he wanted to be present and he said he did.

She explained to him that it would be very difficult for him and so a friend came with him for support as he stood in the intensive care unit as the doctors worked on Savita.

Nurse Gately's voice slowed and saddened as she gave to the inquest a heartbreakingly stark account of Savita's last moments of life.

She told how their efforts had lasted for around 30 minutes, but at 1.05am the decision was taken to stop. The young woman was not responding to CPR and, four minutes later, she was declared dead.

In his seat, Praveen sat hunched, his hand held to his eyes and he seemed to be willing himself not to cry.

Even when Ms Gately formally expressed her sympathy to him on the death of his wife, he did not trust himself to look up and he kept his hand up, veiling his eyes.

One by one, a steady stream of doctors and nurses who had looked after Savita in her final days and hours all came up to give their evidence and all, in their own words, expressed their sympathy to him – for the loss of his wife, of his baby, his daughter.

Immediately recognising them all from this most difficult period of his life, Praveen seemed immensely moved to see them again and has obviously never forgotten the kindness they had shown to him, and especially to his beloved Savita.

Each received a special word of gratitude from him through his barrister, Eugene Gleeson.

One in particular was Aine Nic an Beatha, who had looked after Savita in the high dependency unit.

"I've been asked to tell you that you're a very kind nurse," Mr Gleeson said sincerely, as Praveen nodded.

Nurse Nic an Beatha had cared for Savita as her condition had steadily worsened and she had acknowledged the loss of her baby. She had also explained to her that it was an infection in her body which was causing her to feel as uncomfortable as she was.

It was most moving for observers at the inquest to listen to these tender ministrations that had taken place amid the urgent hush of the critical care unit.

Anaesthetist Dr John Bates was also singled out for special thanks from Praveen.

"He will to his dying day be grateful for the valiant efforts you and your colleagues made," Mr Gleeson told him.

It must have been extremely difficult for the grieving widower to hear, once again, how his frightened young wife had delivered her dead baby daughter – to whom they had given the name Prasa – during the simultaneously uncomfortable and delicate process of having a central line inserted in her neck.

Lying on her back and having to keep her head to the side, she had found it distressing, nurse Noreen Hannigan told the inquest, but she had held her hand and told her that it was necessary.

During the procedure, Savita had then told her that she "felt pressure down below" and lifting the duvet, the nurse saw that the foetus had "passed from her body".

"None of us anticipated that happening," she later said under cross-examination, her shock evident, at this most unfortunate timing of events.

Nurse Hannigan had continued to hold Savita's hand and afterwards, after the line in her neck was inserted, the young couple had been left alone to allow them to grieve.

Afterwards, Savita had been taken to the high dependency ward and was awake, though weak and distressed.

"I held her hand and wished her well and she thanked me," the nurse said simply. She too had received a special word of thanks through Mr Gleeson for the care she had shown this very sick patient.

It was poignant to observe the nurses go up to Praveen afterwards in the courtroom, laying a sympathetic hand on his arm and offering a private word of comfort.

Earlier, outside the court, there was a deeply touching moment when Praveen, arriving at Galway Courthouse, had been asked about the previous day's admission by midwife Ann Maria Burke that it had been she who had used the words "Catholic country" to explain the refusal to terminate.

Asked if he forgave her, he replied simply: "Yes I do."

Irish Independent

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