It's been weeks since Wanda Thornhill's daughter was found unresponsive in an Ottawa Hospital.
The 51-year-old says she feels lost and hopeless. But most of all, she's bewildered.
She just wants to know how Renee, a 33-year-old who was aspiring to start her own photography business, died in the early hours of May 21.
And though no one has given her an official cause of death, Thornhill believes — but can't prove — that her daughter died from a medication overdose at the hospital.
The family's nightmare began in March when Thornhill was away in Cuba. She received a call from her son saying that Renee had been admitted to Ottawa's Queensway-Carleton hospital.
Thornhill noted her daughter had been suffering from what she said were "episodes of psychosis." Renee, Thornhill told HuffPost Canada, would sometimes yell that the house she lived in was evil, that her boyfriend was going to harm her. A neighbour who noticed Renee's behaviour called 911 out of concern.
Thornhill suspected her daughter was suffering from psychosis.
Over two months, she had four separate stays in hospital. One lasted for 17 days. She was never given a definitive diagnosis.
When in hospital, Renee insisted she had Lyme disease. She talked about reincarnation. She constantly worried that her dog was not safe. She insisted, despite repeated tests by doctors, that she was pregnant.
"She told me she was having a baby and it'd be baby Jesus," Thornhill said.
On May 18, Renee was taken to the Ottawa Hospital. Thornhill said she was not suffering from any physical illness or conditions. Less than 72 hours later, she died.
Renee began a struggle with drugs, according to her mother, around four years ago when she was still living in Newfoundland, where she is originally from. Renee had been in a car accident and was prescribed opiates for her back pain. She got addicted.
After moving to Ottawa to stay with her mother and seek better treatment, Thornhill joined a methadone treatment program. She stuck to it for about two years before starting to wean herself off.
By January, things seemed to be looking up. Thornhill believed Renee was drug-free and recovering. Her daughter received a boost of motivation after she was notified that the insurance claim from her Newfoundland accident — for $27,000 — was finally on its way. She wanted to use the money to build her own photography business.
But Renee's situation quickly deteriorated.
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Renee, her mother said, was suffering from anxiety — something she'd been fighting since she was a teenager — and lingering back pain. She had no family doctor, so she went back to the methadone clinic she had visited years ago in hopes of receiving a prescription.
'She was completely, completely out of it'
The clinic rejected her, Thornhill said, and said it could not act as her family doctor. Renee then, due to an "irrational way of thinking," obtained two pills of Percocet. Her mother does not know if she bought them herself or had someone do it for her.
With the drugs now in her system, her mother said, Renee was accepted back into the methadone treatment.
A week later, Thornhill said she noticed her daughter's condition was not improving. She was still suffering from paranoia and kept insisting she was pregnant. She claimed a rock that she had given to her mother years prior was "evil."
She refused to go to the hospital.
"She was not my daughter. She was not who I expected to see," Thornhill said.
So on May 18, Thornhill went to a justice of the peace and got an order requiring Renee to be admitted to a hospital for an assessment. After picking up a friend to help her, Thornhill visited Renee's residence, called the police, and eventually took her daughter to the hospital.
Once there, Thornhill told hospital staff that Renee had not taken methadone that day, that her daughter was "clearly not in her right mind" and that she had worked hard on "getting off of that stuff."
She insisted that her daughter did not need methadone.
Over almost three days, Thornhill said Renee was given methadone, Lorazepam and Olanzapine. She said was never given an official diagnosis for her daughter.
While on the medications, Thornhill said her daughter seemed "dopey."
"I just kept waking her up. I didn't know if she was sleeping. She was just passing out. Literally falling forward."
Thornhill was worried that Renee might fall and injure herself.
"I went to the nurses' station several times. If Renee got up out of bed, she would seem like, she would become a little bit alert. The minute she sat down, or sometimes even standing up, she was like nodding off."
"I'm not going to forget it. [A nurse] said 'what do you want me to do about it?' She was very rude to me.'"
Thornhill said she was angry because she worried her daughter was not getting the proper attention.
She was concerned that the other medications she was getting on top of the methadone were "creating this effect."
"I don't know. I'm not a doctor," Thornhill said. "I'm just trying to figure out why she was so out of it."
On the night of May 20, Renee was told she would be moving from the main floor — where she was staying in a psychiatric emergency unit — up to a room on the fourth. Anxious over moving somewhere new, Renee asked for medication.
Thornhill said she believes a nurse gave her daughter Lorazepam, a drug prescribed for anxiety that's sold under the name Ativan. At this point, she added, Renee was nearing her scheduled nighttime medication. Thornhill was worried that her daughter would be receiving a "double dose."
She hugged me at the door. She put her arms around me.
The nurse told her not to worry and assured her it would be noted in Renee's chart.
Once upstairs, Renee started getting upset. She insisted that there was an emergency at her home and tried to call 911.
"At this time the nurse came in and brought her her nighttime medication," Thornhill said.
He said 'we were working on her and trying, but it's not looking very good for her.'
Thornhill said Renee seemed to be doing better.
"She was talking sense. It was the best I'd seen her in a few weeks, for sure," she said.
"She hugged me at the door. She put her arms around me. She walked me to the door at 9:30 when I was leaving. She gave me a hug. She said 'I love you, mom.' I said 'I love you.' I kissed her on the cheek and I told her, I said I'll be back first thing in the morning,'" Thornhill said, adding that she had to leave to go look after her 11-year-old son.
Around 7 a.m. on May 21, Thornhill received a call from a resident at the hospital. He asked her if she was Wanda, the mother of Renee Thornhill. He asked her to sit up before he told her the news.
"I thought the worst case scenario [was] she fell out of the bed and injured herself. But when I sat up, he said 'I just need to tell you that your daughter was found [unresponsive]."
"That was it. He said 'we were working on her and trying, but it's not looking very good for her.' "
With the help of family, Renee's body was flown to Newfoundland, where she was buried on June 2.
Thornhill said an autopsy showed that her daughter did not die of any natural causes, but there's still no definitive reason why her daughter died. She's hopeful a toxicology report will reveal what actually happened, but that could take between three and six months.
She's also been trying to retrieve her daughter's belongings that were left behind in the hospital. She's been told she needs a power of attorney to do so.
Thornhill wants to know if Renee was given any more medication on the night before she died. She wants to know if nurses or doctors checked in on her enough.
"The whole system failed her big time," she said.
"It's very, very hard to go on," she said through tears.
"I'm always going to see that last night, when I saw that nurse give her that last medication that I saw her give. And I'm thinking, was that the pill that killed her?"
"Could I have said something more?"
It's very, very hard to go on.
A spokesperson for the Ottawa Hospital said they could not provide details on specific cases due to patient confidentiality. It noted that its Patient Advocacy office is available to assist patients and their families.
"Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time, as they grieve for their loved one," the hospital said in a statement.
While she waits for the coroner to conduct an official toxicology report on Renee's death, Thornhill wants certain questions answered by the hospital. She said she's submitted a request for more information to the hospital's CEO.
"I would like to know what their opinion is. What do they think happened to her? Did they give her more medication after I left [on the night of May 20], even more? They must have some opinion. Wouldn't they have an opinion? If I went into the hospital and I died tomorrow, they're doctors. Shouldn't they have an idea of what they think happened to me? They're the doctors, right?"
"I don't want her to just be a number."
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