We all like to think that our loved ones receive the best possible care when they’re ill. They become much more vulnerable and need more attention. We expect the professionals in charge of caring for them to do their job and provide them with everything they need in the last stage of their life. However, there are times when that does not happen, and we have to face complicated situations that will push our patients to unexpected limits.
John Callahan was a retired sergeant who spent the last years of his life with his family on the sunny Gold Coast of Australia. John had always boasted of being a very strong and healthy man. He hardly caught a cold, and when winter came, he had never broken a single bone in his life, not even while serving in the army. He felt he was truly indestructible and liked to brag about it, which is why he used to sing to his grandchildren, calling him “Grandpa Steele.” For his family, he was a true superhero.
However, not even a man as strong as Callahan can prevent time from passing and his body from deteriorating. So when he was told during a routine medical checkup that he was seriously ill and needed urgent treatment, John’s first reaction was to laugh and refuse to accept the diagnosis. But even if he refused to accept it, the reality was that the doctors were right and that his life was coming to an end much sooner than everyone expected.
“Mr. Callahan, I fully understand your reaction. I’d do the same if I were you, but I’m very serious. You have advanced ear cancer, and we must intervene as soon as possible to try to save your life,” his doctor told him, trying to make him see reasons so that he would understand the seriousness of the matter.
This time, John did not laugh. Seeing the doctor’s pale and serious face, he understood that it was no joke and that he had to start assimilating the news and act accordingly. “So am I dying?” he finally asked in a trembling voice as he clutched his seat.
The next few months were a real ordeal that Jon could never have imagined he’d have to go through. However, despite all the physical pain and exhaustion he felt, the old man’s only concern was his family. He didn’t want his children and grandchildren to see him languishing on a hospital gurney. To them, he’d always been indestructible, and right now, his appearance said just the opposite.
He was 80 years old, and although for most of his life, he had enjoyed excellent health, during the last few months, he had experienced pain in all its phases. Doctors tried everything possible to remove the tumor from his left ear but found it impossible. They had only managed to shrink it and slow its growth through a combination of chemo and radiotherapy sessions, but nothing more. By the time it was detected, it was too late. The tumor had spread from the ear to the brain. It was only a matter of time before the symptoms worsened drastically, worsening Jon’s quality of life.
The family was devastated, and although Jon was able to hide the pain very well thanks to his training as a soldier, he was also suffering both physically and emotionally. He’d never felt so exhausted. “I can’t take it anymore, honey. And I’m not saying it for me, you know I have a high tolerance for pain. But for you, I can’t stand to see you fight for me. I don’t want to give you false hope because the truth is that there is none. I’ve not reached the end of my life to see my family suffer because of me. It hurts me too much to put you all through this,” the old man confessed to his wife very determined.
He was exhausted, but his mind was very clear. He did not want to continue with the treatment. “Are you sure of what you’re saying, John? Are you giving up?” his wife said to him, upset when she heard him say he was going to give up on the hospital and any avenue of treatment.
“The doctors have told me, honey. I’m dying sooner or later. It’ll happen. The only question is when, and I don’t want to stay here waiting and torturing myself with treatments that only manage to leave me without strength. If I have months to live, I want to spend them in peace and without bothering anyone. Take me to one of those beautiful residences that our friends in the club recommended. They’ll take care of me, and you can go on with your lives while I get to the end of mine,” said John calmly while he looked at his wife with affection and caressed her hand.
John was at peace and knew exactly what he wanted for the last few months of his life. He knew that in a couple of months, his abilities would be very limited, and he’d need permanent assistance. But he refused to put his family through the whole process. He preferred to leave his care in the hands of professionals accustomed to dealing with the terminally ill. They would know how to take care of him.
His family listened to his wishes, and after several days of negotiation, since the eldest of his daughters, Laura, refused to leave him in a nursing home when he could stay at home with them, they managed to reach an agreement. He would be admitted to the prestigious Bupa Tuga nursing home everyone raved about. The place was the only one they all agreed to go to.
A month later, with his health quite deteriorated, John Callahan officially joined the Bupa residence. The day of his admission was a mixture of smiles and tears, especially when it came time to say goodbye to his beloved wife. They’d been married for over 50 years, and he had never spent a night away from her. The pain he felt parting from his wife outweighed that of any cancer.
“Promise me that you’ll call me every day and that if anything goes wrong, you’ll tell me. I will get you out of here right away,” his wife told him through tears as she pushed her husband’s wheelchair toward the entrance of the residence.
“I promise, but you have nothing to worry about. Everyone seems happy here, and the employees are lovely. You’ve already met them and liked them. I’ll be fine here, my love. I will think of you always, even when I stop knowing what I’m thinking about. I’ll probably be thinking about you,” John told her warmly.
“I know it, love. I leave you in good hands. I know you’ll be fine here; otherwise, I wouldn’t agree to leave you here alone. I would never leave you,” his wife confessed sadly as she helped him settle into his new room.
And although they were both right, the place was not as wonderful as it seemed, nor as helpful as all its employees would have you believe. Unfortunately, it would take too long for his family to figure it out, and it would be too late for Jon.
For the first few weeks of being there, everything seemed to be going well. John was receiving the palliative care he needed, and his condition remained stable. However, two months into his hospital stay, something changed. One afternoon, Mrs. Callahan visited the Bupa facility and was really upset by her husband’s condition.
He was disoriented, which was normal given the advanced stage of his cancer, but he was also dirty and barely responsive. John was very serious and barely looked her in the eye when she saw him enter the room. Her husband had never behaved like that. He was the most talkative and cheerful person in the world. This put her on alert, and she asked John directly what was going on.
She knew her husband was very weak, but she was still aware of what was going on around him, and if something bad was being done to him, she wanted to know right away. John honey, look at me, please tell me, are you hurting? Has someone misbehaved with you? You can tell me, it’s all right,” she asked her husband in a calm voice, looking him straight in the eyes and caressing his face.
Her husband just shook his head and changed the subject. He was very weak and disoriented. Faye decided not to bother him anymore, but she was not going to let it go and would investigate the residence thoroughly to find out the whole truth. However, her inquiries were too slow, and she could do nothing to prevent what would happen a few days later.
The following week, Faye decided to visit her husband again, but this time she would be accompanied by the rest of her family. She told them what had happened, and they decided to go and see what was going on together. What they found when they arrived was truly shocking and left them all shocked.
John Callahan’s family was furious when they went to the Bupa nursing home, where their father was being cared for, and found him with earworms in his ears. Mr. Callahan could barely open his eyes. He was in very bad shape and was clearly in a lot of pain. Seeing him in that state, the family decided to immediately take him out of the place and take him to the hospital for emergency admission.
Unfortunately, it was too late, and John Callahan died at Hopewell Hospital five days after he was admitted in a pitiful state and suffering severe pain.
After Mr. Callahan’s death, the family decided to take legal action against the residence. They wanted everyone to know what was going on in that center and decided to make a public statement on social networks. The social networks exploded with comments of all kinds, many against the Callahans, but many others in their favor. Apparently, there were many people trying to make the same point as them, but the system had managed to silence them.
John’s family was determined to get justice and would not let anyone do that. He was not an easy man to look after. He was in a lot of pain and was battling cancer in his ear. When I went to visit him, the worms were coming out of his ears. I don’t know much about medicine, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with cancer,” Mrs. Callahan told the Daily Mail in her interview.
After receiving a complaint from the Callahan family and seeing the uproar they caused on social networks, the Bupa Association was forced to issue an official statement to explain itself and calm the rest of the families and residents it had registered in its center. At the time, a Bupa spokesperson referred to the terrible incident in statements to the Mail.
“This was a serious but isolated incident that occurred at Arabatugan Home. The problem was quickly addressed by the home’s nurses, and Mr. Callahan was transferred to the local hospital. At the time, we conducted our own independent investigation and strengthened our Wound Care Management process, including partnering with external Wound Care Specialists and conducting spot checks,” they stated calmly. They seemed to be very used to having to deal with similar problems.
Unfortunately, after many months of litigation and after the appropriate checks had been carried out, the jury was unable to prove the center’s guilt for Mr. Callahan’s death and dismissed the case for lack of evidence that could directly incriminate the center or any of its employees. It was a tremendous injustice that made John’s family even angrier. They knew their father was going to die; they had assumed it a long time ago. But they also knew he shouldn’t die in this way.
After learning of the unfavorable ruling, the Bupa Tuga residents decided to reissue a statement in which they made it clear that they were innocent and apologized to the Callahan family, offering their sincere condolences.
The statement, which was written in a cold and calculated manner by someone used to getting out of such disputes, said, “Ubatugen has passed five external audits by the regulator since October and is fully compliant with all aged care standards. This particular case was also investigated by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission earlier this year and was closed after consultation with Bupa and Miss Callahan. We are obviously very sorry that this initial incident occurred, and Bupa has apologized to Miss Callahan.”
The family was very angry when they learned of the court’s decision, but they were not going to sit idly by. Mrs. Faye knew that her husband had not died from cancer but from severe infection he developed during his stay in the nursing home, and she would prove it. However, it was also clear to her that without help, she wouldn’t be able to do anything. After all, Mrs. Faye was already 83 years old and very affected. She needed the help of all her family and friends to succeed in overthrowing such a prestigious and corrupt institution, and she did.
Although it took her two years to do so, when one of Mr. Callahan’s attending physicians agreed to testify again on his behalf, convincing the court to reopen the case and conduct a new investigation, apparently that same doctor received a generous bribe two years earlier to hide the evidence that would give away the residents and prove that Jon died because of them. The doctor felt very guilty about what he did and wanted to redeem himself with the family. Thank goodness he did.
Thanks to his testimony and the new forensic evidence presented in the new judicial process, they were able to prove that John Callahan did not die from the ear cancer he was suffering from but from severe septicemia caused by a badly wound in his ear. The nurses in charge of John were shown to be at fault, and the owners of the center were charged with malpractice, involuntary manslaughter, and abandonment of a person in need.
After the judgment and the whole case became public, the Bubituga nursing home received hundreds of new complaints and was forced to close the center permanently. The owners of the center went to jail without bail, and many of its employees ended up with a permanent record that would make it very difficult for them to find work again.
In short, John Callahan did not get to die as he wished and was one more victim of the system. But his family managed to ensure that his death was not in vain, managing to imprison the wrongdoers and freeing hundreds of innocent people who could have suffered the same fate if they had continued to reside in that horrific place.