Debbie Abraham told an inquest Thursday into the death of Brian Sinclair that she knew "something was seriously wrong" when she saw him at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre in September 2008.
Abraham first saw Sinclair on Sept. 19 in the emergency room and again when she returned the following night. The 45-year-old double-amputee was in the same spot, slumped over in his wheelchair.
"I just had a feeling something wasn't right," said Abraham, who has worked for 35 years as a health-care aide in a nursing home. "Twenty-four hours had almost passed and I thought it was strange he would still be sitting in the same spot."
Abraham, who was checking on her stepdaughter, said she told a nurse that Sinclair had been waiting for at least 24 hours and someone should have a look at him.
"It was just passed off," she testified.
When she went outside for a cigarette, Abraham watched Sinclair through the window for signs of life, but didn't see him breathe or move, she said. Her husband tried to get someone to check on Sinclair and was told they would when "they could get to him," she added.
When no one came, Abraham approached the same nurse again and told her that she was "dead serious," she recalled.
"There is something wrong with that patient in the waiting room," Abraham said she told the nurse. "I believe she just laughed."
Under questioning by the lawyer representing the nurses union, Abraham said it's possible the nurse didn't laugh, but she didn't seem overly concerned about Sinclair.
Abraham said she went to a security guard outside on a smoke break and asked him to check on Sinclair.
"His response was, 'I think he's here to watch TV.'"
Late in the evening, Abraham said she told a security guard to "get off your ass and check this fellow. There is something seriously wrong."
"He hesitated for a minute. I'm sure he thought I was out of my mind," Abraham said. "I couldn't leave there without somebody looking at him."
By that time, Sinclair was "very blue" and rigor mortis had set in. He died of a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter.
A clinic doctor had referred Sinclair to the Health Sciences Centre after he hadn't urinated in 24 hours. In video from a hospital surveillance camera, Sinclair is seen approaching the triage desk when he first arrives and talking briefly to a triage aide.
The triage aide writes something down on a piece of paper and Sinclair wheels himself into the waiting room. The piece of paper has never been found and the aide has testified he doesn't remember Sinclair at all.
Sinclair would remain in the waiting room for the next 34 hours, vomiting several times as his condition deteriorated, before he was discovered dead.
He was never triaged or examined by medical staff until it was too late.
Glen Abraham, Debbie's husband, said he also asked two nurses and a security guard to check on Sinclair's well-being.
Glen Abraham, Debbie's husband, said he also asked two nurses and a security guard to check on Sinclair since he hadn't moved since the night before.
"It's like he was frozen in time," he said.
The first nurse, whom his wife also had spoken to, "started laughing" when he suggested someone check on Sinclair, he said.
"She laughed it off," he said.
The second nurse told him she would check on Sinclair when she got a chance, he said, but no one did.
Glen Abraham said he asked a security guard who was having a cigarette outside to go check on Sinclair.
"His reply was it takes too much paperwork," he said. "People come in all the time to watch TV."
Debbie Abraham said she eventually told hospital staff about her nursing background in a bid to get them to take her concerns seriously.
"Everybody was dismissive," she said. "It felt to me like nobody believed anything I was saying. It felt like I wasn't being heard."
The Abrahams weren't the first people in the waiting room who tried to get help for Sinclair. The inquest has heard that another couple who were at the hospital with their son told security several times when Sinclair began vomiting.
He was given a bowl but wasn't examined by medical staff.
"Nobody should die like that," Glen Abraham said.