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A 13-year-old left untreated for 228 minutes following cerebral hemorrhage

A 13-year-old left untreated for 228 minutes following cerebral hemorrhage

Posted March. 30, 2023 08:11,   

Updated March. 30, 2023 08:11


All of a sudden, a life-and-death emergency can shatter any of us. What if you fainted while home alone or got hit by a car? Safety nets have been built around society to save life in such a miserable situation. Once you call 119, an ambulance will rescue you and take you to the hospital where medical professionals are on standby to help you. It is normally expected that this is how things are supposed to work out in case of emergency.

From last October to this March, The Dong-A Ilbo's Hero Content Team interviewed a total of 26 people whose trust was betrayed. Among those desperate for help were Jun-gyu, 13, who was laid down in an ambulance which could not take him to hospital immediately, and Park Jong-ryeol, 39, who arrived at a hospital but could not be taken care of by any surgeon. Left untreated for 228 and 378 minutes, respectively, they had no option but to wait to be properly treated. The first critical minutes went down the drain. Even at this very moment, any of your family, friends, or neighbors may be left adrift with no help provided.

● Common-sense belief

(Lee Jun-gyu)

Right after receiving a phone call, Yun-yeong turned the car around at Gongju Service Area, South Chungcheong Province. "Mom, my headache is killing me,” her 13-year-old boy, Jun-gyu, said over the phone, crying out in pain. He rarely got whiny when sick. Trembling with fear behind the wheel, she told her boss about the situation on the phone to cancel her business trip.

"Mommy is coming.” She hung up the phone at 11:50 a.m. Jun-gyu was supposed to be in class but stayed home. It was different that morning. He found it hard to get out of bed. After he had fun at a swimming pool the day before, his eyes got red and irritated. What’s worse, he must have tossed and turned overnight. The mom did not think it was a big deal, only guessing that it was one of the symptoms of his allergies she was already aware of.

Getting up late in the morning, Jun-gyu was eating bread while watching YouTube. It looked just like a typical morning when he paid little attention to his mom going to work, saying, "Good day,” half-heartedly. Jun-gyu told his mom that he could go to the hospital on his own. Hoping everything would be all right, Yun-yeong kept calling her son on her way home. Part of her got nervous and worried about him not answering the phone anymore. There was a terrible traffic jam on the highway.

Two hours later, she arrived home in Dongtan New Town, Hwaseong City, Gyeonggi Province. Jun-gyu was sleeping on the couch in the living room. Looking at the son sleeping like a baby, she felt relieved and wanted to keep him sleeping until he woke up. However, she changed her mind and raised her son, who waved his hand as if telling her to leave him alone. Right after she went to the room to get him a jacket, Jun-gyu fell down with a thud.

A dull thud was heard when he fainted and slumped on the floor with uncontrollable, rhythmic shaking movements in the limbs, wetting his pants with leaking pee. She could not even dial 119. At 2:27 p.m., she managed to call first-aid paramedics.

Wiping out the pee over his body on the floor, she heard dispatchers from Osan 119 Fire Station knocking on the door. "His blood pressure and pulse are both fine,” said a dispatcher, leaving Yun-yeong relieved.

The dispatchers said that Jun-gyu was not regaining consciousness due to a seizure, adding that he would be tested to find the causes at the hospital. She already knew that seizures rarely happened to children just like his son. She kept trying to stay positive, hoping that he would get better very soon if sent to the hospital right away for further checkups, go to school the next morning; and go on a family trip during this winter break. She imagined a day when she could look back and say in relief, "It was just a horrible nightmare.”

On Dec. 8 last year, she wished him the best. At that moment, she did not know that they would end up being adrift for the next 228 minutes before his son was treated.

(Park Jong-ryeol)

Right after a phone call, Mi-ok also turned the car around right before arriving at the restaurant where she worked. “Jong-ryeol got into an accident. You need to go to the hospital,” said her mother-in-law over the phone. She told Mi-ok that her husband got hit by a forklift while working at a factory. She found multiple missed calls on the screen. It was her husband who called her. Her heart sank. Jong-ryeol, a 39-year-old man who was raised in South Gyeongsang Province where husbands are unaccustomed to expressing affection for their wives, rarely chatted away on the phone with his wife unless he had something to discuss seriously.

At 11:10 a.m., Mi-ok arrived at the emergency room of Kyung Hee University Medical Center E&C Jungang General Hospital, located in Gimhae City, South Gyeongsang Province. Jong-ryeol was lying on a bed that was pale as a sheet. Its stark contrast with his ash-covered face made it look even darker. Moaning in pain with a frowning look, he said that his leg was broken. He managed to show insurance stuff on the mobile to make sure that she contacts his insurance company to cover hospital fees. Cleansing his face with wipes, she felt relieved because he did not seem critically bad.

An orthopedist explained that his left thigh bone was broken, saying that it did not require any serious emergency surgery. They were told to move to a sick ward and schedule an operation. Mi-ok was finally reassured.

Relieved, they started talking about their two sons. They tried to figure out how to explain to a six-year-old and a two-year-old that their dad could not play with them for some time.

She received a call from parking lot staff at the hospital, saying that the parking lot would be closed five hours later. She told the staff that she will be leaving soon. On Oct. 25 last year, she expected that she would.

● Unnerving signs

(Lee Jun-gyu)

The inside of the ambulance felt smaller and more confined than she imagined. The windows were covered, and the walls were full of medical devices – apparatus to maintain the patient’s breathing and free airway, intravenous injections, fixed oxygen supply device, etc. All had names that sacred Yun-yeong.

Paramedics were busy, laying Jun-gyu, putting his finger into a test device that looked like forceps, and rubbing his chest hard to see his reaction. Then, they made a call somewhere. Yun-yeong sat next to Jun-gyu near his feet with her knees close to each other. She made her small body even smaller not to disturb the paramedics.

“This is the Segyo ambulance of the Osan 119 Fire Station. We have a 13-year-old male in Hwaseong who is stuporous. His mother saw him having a spasm. Can you take him in?”

Yun-yeong focused all her attention on the sound coming from the phone. It sounded like a hospital. The paramedic asked her when Jun-gyu began to feel sick and if he was infected with COVID-19 and had any preexisting conditions and delivered that information to the other person on the phone.

She didn’t quite understand why the paramedic was making a phone call instead of heading straight to the hospital but she assumed that they were necessary procedures and that Jun-gyu would soon arrive in a safe place.

The phone call ended. Now they would leave. Yun-yeong fixed her posture in a folding chair, even without a seat belt. She put more pressure on her hands holding Jun-gyu’s knees so that his body wouldn’t be shaken too much. The paramedic who was on the phone, however, said something unexpected.

“We can’t go to Hallym University Hospital. Their pediatrician is off duty today.”

(Park Jong-ryeol)

Jong-ryeol was waiting for surgery in room number 607. It was 2:20 p.m., four hours after he hurt his leg. The doctor who came to examine him looked underneath the bandage on his leg and got flustered. The doctor said Jong-ryeol must be transferred to a bigger hospital because his veins were either cut off or blocked on top of his broken bones and there was no doctor who could connect veins at this hospital.

The doctor said Jong-ryeol’s leg might have to be amputated if he didn’t get surgery soon. Jong-ryeol thought such a misfortune would not happen to him, assuming that the doctor was saying the worst-case scenario. He tried to move his left big toe. It wiggled. The rising anxiety subsided. There was no way that the leg would have to be amputated.

Jong-ryeol returned to the emergency room on the first floor. An emergency room doctor had a phone against his ears about four steps away from Jong-ryeol. “We have a patient who suffered a forklift accident. Can you take him in?” It sounded like he was looking for a hospital to accept Jong-ryeol.

There was a piece of paper listing nearby hospitals and their phone numbers on the desk of the doctor. They were all large hospitals that Jong-ryeol was familiar with. Busan is in the east of Gimhae where Jong-ryeol resided and Changwon is in the west. There were over 10 university hospitals in the two cities alone. Jong-ryeol thought to himself that there were quite many hospitals and wondered to which one he would be taken.

‘I hope it is Gyeongsang National University Hospital. It’s only 15 minutes away from home so it will be easier for my wife to travel back and forth. Pusan National University Hospital is not so bad either. I can ask my mom living in Busan to help take care of me…’

“There is no available hospital in Busan or South Gyeongsang Province.” The doctor’s words interrupted his thoughts.

● Unexpected betrayal

(Lee Jun-gyu)

Ambulances were often seen in Dongtan New Town of Hwaseong where Yun-yeong resided. There were four university hospitals and 12 emergency rooms within a 10-kilometer radius, which takes about 20 minutes by car. Whenever she saw an ambulance car zipping through the roads with a siren blaring, Yun-yeong wondered who got hurt so badly.

The ambulance that Jun-gyu was in was different. They didn’t turn on the siren and had not moved for over 20 minutes. It simply stood there with hazard light flickering. Paramedics were constantly making calls. Only one of them was making calls at first and now another joined him. It felt unnerving.

“Nearby hospitals are all unavailable…”

“There is no doctor…?”

Hospitals asked several questions before they could answer a simple question of if they could take in Jun-gyu. Paramedics repeated the same words and waited for a long time after someone on the other side of the phone became quiet after saying, ‘please hold on.’ There was no answer that they were looking for at the end. Every call ended with paramedics saying okay in disappointed voices. Another long phone call began and the voice of two paramedics repeated like a round song while Yun-yeong listened to them, hoping it would be different this time.

(Park Jong-ryeol)

The doctor’s expressions fell as he put the receiver down. “There is no hospital in Busan that can perform the surgery. We may have to go to Daegu or further than that.” The doctor picked up the receiver again before Jong-ryeol could reply.

The emergency room was quiet. When Jong-ryeol arrived, it was crowded but there was only his moans and the doctor making phone calls. It turned out that the nurse was declining all of 119 calls. The only emergency doctor was preoccupied with making calls, so naturally they could not receive any new patients.

Jong-ryeol had many questions. What would happen to his leg? Why were those hospitals in Busan refusing to take him? Would it be possible to contact hospitals that could perform the surgery? However, he held back the questions. He feared that holding the doctor back would only delay the surgery. It was already 3:20. Five hours had passed since he broke his leg.

Mi-ok was also on the phone. She had asked her mother-in-law if she had any contacts at hospitals, as the doctor advised. She recalled a relative working at a major hospital in Busan. Mi-ok did not like asking favors but at this moment she had no choice. Her husband, the father of her children might lose a leg.

● A choice without options

(Lee Jun-gyu)

Yun-yeong was forced to make a choice in the ambulance. The ambulance departed north without any planned destination. It changed direction as the paramedic made calls. Then the paramedic asked Yun-yeong a question. There was a pediatrics doctor at a hospital but there was a very long waiting line. Another hospital could perform first aid but could not offer a detailed examination. Where would she go? She had no choice but to head for the first aid treatment.

It was 3:32 p.m. when the ambulance arrived at Ajou University Hospital. There was something wrong with the photo of Jun-gyu’s brain. A black dot was growing in the brain, like black ink spreading in water. It was a cerebral vascular injury. Jun-gyu’s brain was bleeding as the ambulance searched for hospitals.

“Brain hemorrhage. He’s lost too much blood. The neurosurgeon will be here shortly.”

The word ‘brain hemorrhage did not sound familiar. ‘What will happen to Jun-gyu? When will the neurosurgeon arrive? Will s/he arrive?’ Yun-yeong, who had suffered so many rejections in a day, found all this hard to believe.

Yun-yeong received a pile of papers titled “consent to surgery’. While signing 41 sheets, she tried not to pay attention to the section describing ‘possible side-effects’. Cerebral infarction, cerebrospinal fluid leak, paralysis, loss of consciousness, multiple organ dysfunction, the possibility of death due to serious complications… she could not bring herself to consent to this, but there was no other choice.

It was 6:15 PM when Jun-gyu disappeared into the operation room, 228 minutes after he was reported to 119. Yun-yeong stared at the tightly shut door of the operation room, trying to convince herself that this was only a bad dream, that Jun-gyu was simply deeply asleep. But no dream lasted this long. This incident happened to a mother of a young child on Dec 8, 2022.

(Park Jong-ryeol)

It was 4:05 p.m. when the emergency room doctor said that s/he found an emergency room that would accept Jong-ryeol. Hel didn’t even ask where it was when he said that he would go. The hospital was Chungbuk National University Hospital which was 260 kilometers away and three hours away from the Gimhae Central Hospital. He could no longer feel his toes and he had switched his IV five times. Still, he had no choice.

It was 7:01 p.m. when he arrived at the hospital. Mi-ok met with the doctor who said s/he would perform the surgery. But there was a white line on the screen that the doctor pointed out. The white line, which was the blood vessel of Jong-ryeol’s leg, disappeared at his knee. The doctor said that they had missed the golden time and there was a 90% chance of leg amputation. Mi-ok was at lost for words.

The doctor said that s/he would try anything and do her/his best if she signed the papers. There was no other choice.

It was 8:38 p.m. when Jong-ryeol entered the operation room. 378 minutes had passed away since he was informed of blood vessel surgery. The doctor held his hand as he went under anesthesia. “Please save my leg,” said Jong-ryeol with all his strength, as he nearly fell asleep. “Please save my leg.” This happened to a father of two children on Oct 25, 2022.