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'My COVID-positive dad was sent home from ICU too soon. They needed his bed.'

After five days on a ventilator in the ICU of a major regional Victorian hospital, Natalie’s dad, Ron, was sent home last week. 

“We were told that because he didn't require a ventilator anymore, they needed to free up the beds,” she tells Mamamia.

But while Ron – a “very young” 70-something – had improved, he remained seriously ill with Coronavirus, and now, a resulting heart condition too. He still struggled to breathe and could barely talk. 

Watch: Here are some signs to use when talking about COVID. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

With no patient transport organised to take him home, his wife Bev – also in her 70s and suffering from COVID – was summoned to wait outside the hospital to collect her husband. 

Alone, Ron shuffled out of the hospital and on to the street with his bag, with no assistance.

“I just don't understand how somebody can get discharged from ICU to go straight home without any support, without anyone, without patient transport. My brain can't comprehend it.”  

Ron still required an oxygen tank, and it was meant to be delivered to their home on the afternoon he was discharged – but it didn’t. 

The oxygen didn’t arrive until the next day.

“Mum stayed awake that night, checking in on dad to make sure he was still breathing,” Natalie shares, choking back tears. 

Ron was sent home with medication, but without any information. Bev called the hospital for answers, and it was then she learned of her husband’s new heart condition.

With no resources for after care or support shared with the family, Natalie, based in another city, took it upon herself to seek it out – “even just someone to help with the medication, to help my dad groom himself, to just take the pressure off mum while she is sick too”.

She called six different providers, until one levelled with her.

“She basically said that until my parents test negative, no one would agree to come in.”

And so, Natalie’s parents have been left without care.

“If my parents don’t answer the phone when I call, you can imagine where my mind goes…”

This is the reality for many; those who’ve slipped between the cracks; the collateral damage of an overworked and understaffed, crumbling health system.

“This isn’t about the people working in the system – the doctors and nurses. They are doing all they can. It’s about the system itself,” Natalie insists.

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“But it is frightening. I don’t want a nurse who has been working for long, extended hours looking after my loved one. They need to look after themselves too. We always talk about how you can’t give from an empty cup. But then we expect our health professionals to just keep going. It’s all so wrong.”

Victoria's Acting Health Minister. Image: Getty.

Indeed, on Tuesday Victoria’s Department of Health declared a Code Brown – allowing hospitals to cancel and call staff back from leave and defer less urgent services for the next four to six weeks – in response to staffing shortages and furloughing, as COVID admissions continue to climb.

With 1,152 current Victorian COVID hospitalisations, Acting Victorian Health Minister James Merlino suggested the number could soar to 2,500 coronavirus hospital admissions over the next few weeks. 

“It’s terrifying,” says Natalie, “Even when dad finally let mum call the ambulance when he first got really sick, she was told it would take an hour for them to come, and they asked if she could bring him into hospital. 

“She did, and they came and took dad away from the car.”

Home now for almost one week, Natalie shares her dad is sleeping night and day. 

“I’m still concerned for him. That, if something happens, is the ambulance going to come on time? Does my mum need to take him? Will there be enough ventilators?

“Because never in my life would I have thought that this could happen. It's something that I never thought I would have to deal with – that anyone would have to deal with.

I've always had trust in the health system; that, if you need the care, you can get it when you're sick. But now I know, when that's stretched, there’s only so many people that can really access it.”

Want to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @rebeccadavis___

The feature image used is a stock image from Getty. 'Natalie' is known to Mamamia.

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