The following events unfolded yesterday evening (8 February 2014). Samira, a Tamil torture claimant since 2004, was at home throwing up. She had stomach pains and was in great agony. Her two young children were very upset. They were crying. Her husband Raaj became so worried that he decided to take her to Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s emergency room (QEH).
Samira had previously seen a doctors and was prescribed medicines for stomach problems. These had had little effect. Last night Raaj had to leave the kids at home momentarily to rush their mother to hospital. He couldn’t stay with her after she was admitted, but a representative of Be the Change came to assist.
Late last night, Samira informed Raaj over the phone that she had an infection in her fallopian tubes. She was worried and scared. The doctor had called for emergency surgery. However, doctors and nurses refused to speak to either Raaj over the phone, or to the NGO rep who came to assist.
The QEH nurse could not speak English well and tersely said to the NGO rep, “The doctor just explained everything to the patient.” No interpreter was ever called. Nobody paid attention to the NGO rep. The nurses turned a deaf ear to her pleading that Samanti was in great pain and, given such severity was probably unable to comprehend what the doctor had told her.
On instructions from a solicitor firm, a barrister communicated with a Tamil interpreter and the NGO lady on the scene, arranging for an interpreter to visit Samira first thing in the morning. It was late in the evening when Samira went under the knife without any idea what was happening, besides her acute sensations of pain.
This morning at 9am the QEH nurses refused to allow any access to the patient. Upon the interpreter arriving, a nurse said that the doctor had already left. The interpreter informed the nurse that the barrister had asked the interpreter to assist Samira. The interpreter reminded the nurse that it was protocol that an interpreter be immediately called to the hospital when the woman was admitted. At least they should have called one over the phone.
The nurse readily admitted they had made a mistake last night. She then confirmed that they had operated on Samira and she would have to remain in hospital at least for three days. Despite being repeatedly asked, the nurse refused to inform the interpreter and NGO rep exactly what surgery had been undertaken.
Nevertheless the nurse allowed the interpreter to enter the ward and meet with Samira for five minutes. The patient confirmed she did not know what the surgeons had done to her. The only thing she knew was that she had an infection in her tubes. As of today she has no idea what happened and what was said to her last night. She had effectively been compelled to sign documents the content of which she did not understand and had not been interpreted to her.
Under the Bill of Rights and the Basic Law, the government is not to discriminate against individuals based on ethnicity, skin colour, country of origin and, most significantly, on the basis of language. Samira’s rights of security of the individual, meaning not just the physical, but the psychological integrity of the individual, was also fully engaged under the circumstances.
The rights of the security of the individual also extend to Raaj who was kept in the dark and remains in the dark. He was completely traumatized last night having emotionally broken down when he was told that his wife was to undergo unknown surgery. He did not know what was wrong with his wife, what was done to her and the QEH refused to tell him.
Furthermore, the security rights of two minor children were engaged, having witnessed their mother being taken away from their home in severe pain, and the mother not returning home, seeing their father sobbing and traumatized, and not knowing what had happened to their mother in hospital.
It should be noted that even though Samira signed some hospital documents, the NGO rep confirms she was in such pain that there is no way she would have understood their content. Her English is not strong enough and she was writhing in pain, brought to Emergency and dealt with doctors without the assistance of an interpreter. All she understood was that there was something wrong with her tubes.
In third-world countries it is common for emergency surgeons to remove the entire uterus because women lack the money and sophistication to return for follow-up procedures. Vision First is deeply concerned that QEH might have proceeded with invasive surgery to cut or remove organs without the patient’s understanding and express, interpreted consent. After two and a half days the hospital is offering a glimmer of hope that the woman might finally understand what surgical procedures were undertaken on her and why.
One can imagine a Hong Kong woman falling sick in Sri Lanka. She might be taken to hospital to sign documents in Tamil. The hospital might tell her husband in Tamil that doctors will not talk to him. The lady might be aided by a Tamil NGO representative, but kept in the dark. The woman then undergoes major surgery without being explained why, what was removed, whether it was a life-threatening situation. What would Hong Kong government do? Would it ask the Sri Lankan government to apologize and pay lots of money in compensation?
Hong Kong is not a third-world country. Interpreters can be called on the phone at any time, day or night. It was an arbitrary decision not to bother calling one. Refugees are a defined social group that is battered and traumatized by Hong Kong government, often for a decade. They come here for protection and receive none. They entrust their safety and wellbeing to the government and are left in a state of destitution and despair. The authorities need to step up and recognized fundamental refugee rights.