Grandmother suffered chemical burns after bleach treatment at Sydney nursing home, inquest told
In early 2014 she developed a rash which did not respond to antibiotics or other treatment. Dr Lance Bear, a dermatologist who examined Mrs Pahiva in mid-July, diagnosed the condition as a type of bacterial infection and told staff the best way to treat it was with bleach diluted in water.
Mr Aitken said during this treatment, which was carried out from July 11 to July 14, one of the nurses was splashed with bleach which turned part of her black trousers white. Some of the liquid also splashed on her arm, which she said “stung a bit”. Another nurse recalled her saying “ouch that hurt”.
“Neither the bleach spot or the sting appears to have raised any alarm bells,” Mr Aitken said.
On July 13, one nurse observed Mrs Pahiva’s skin looked “angry and raw” and she was found “shivering” with an elevated temperature. Two days later, a nurse who had been on leave returned to the nursing home and was “shocked” when she saw Mrs Pahiva. She immediately called triple zero.
Mrs Pahiva was admitted to the burns unit at Concord Hospital for second-degree chemical burns. She was discharged on September 1, with the burns largely healed, and died 18 days later.
On Tuesday, a nurse gave evidence that she was told by Dr Bear to use “half bleach half water” in treatment of Mrs Pahiva.
Dr Bear disputed this, telling the inquest he specified “half a cup of bleach to half a tub of water” as the optimum treatment in a bathtub. The facility did not have a bathtub.
“I actually felt absolutely shattered when I found out what happened to this lady,” Dr Bear said.
“The whole thing unravelled because there wasn’t a bath.
“I was not anticipating this calamity to happen.”
A second dermatologist is expected to give evidence that a bleach bath, using the correct concentration of the chemical, was an appropriate treatment.
Mrs Pahiva’s daughters Epe Tutoka and Sasai Pahiva said their mother, who was born on the island nation of Niue in the South Pacific, was a loving woman who was strong, outgoing and worked as a school teacher in the islands.
“We loved her dearly and we miss her,” an emotional Ms Tutoka said. “She was an amazing woman.”
Ms Tutoka said it was “tragic” that her mother didn’t have a way to defend herself or communicate about what was happening, and the pain of her death remained very raw.
“Her birthday and Mother’s Day and just general celebration of the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren, it just reiterates the fact that mum was stolen from us,” Ms Tutoka said.
The inquest continues.
Georgina Mitchell is a court reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.