Cape Town - A sickly Lansdowne grandmother, who had just been discharged from Groote Schuur Hospital, died in misery beside the road on a cold winter night just hours after an ambulance dropped her off at the wrong address.
Susan Cloete, 60, died on the pavement in Huxley Road, Athlone, early last Thursday, after leaving hospital where she had been treated overnight for tuberculosis. She was also HIV-positive.
Police and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff allegedly turned a blind eye to her plight despite an Athlone family pleading with them to rescue her.
Ambulance staff reportedly told Cloete they were not a taxi service.
Several calls were also made to the police, who turned up only when alerted that she had died.
A distressed Shihaam Fester of Athlone said that Cloete’s ordeal started when she was dropped off by an ambulance on the pavement in front of the Fester home. This was about 2.5km from Cloete’s backyard home in Rokeby Road, Lansdowne.
When Fester asked the “freezing and coughing” woman why she had been dropped there, Cloete said she had no idea.
“You could see that she was sick. She just lay next to my car. I think she was trying to keep warm. She had the discharge letter from Groote Schuur, indicating she’d been in hospital that day. She knew her address, so we alerted the police and they promised to send an ambulance our way.”
Fester said her family were reluctant to take Cloete into their home in case she had TB.
“I have 76-year-old mother and a 12-year-old daughter at home - we were worried that whatever contagious disease she might have they could catch it because of their weak immune systems. So we phoned the police to attend to her.”
But when an ambulance got to Fester’s home, paramedics allegedly refused to take Cloete to hospital or home.
“They said they couldn’t take her to hospital as she had been discharged. They emphatically refused to take her home and told us they were not a taxi. They said she must find a way home.”
When the paramedics were told that an ambulance had dropped Cloete at the wrong address, they said they couldn’t take responsibility for their colleagues in the early shift.
Fester’s mother, Janap
, said: “We phoned them so many times that I lost count. We just wanted them to take her somewhere safe, even if they kept her at the police station. They never came, but the strangest thing is that when we alerted them to her death, they all flocked here. There were more than three police vans here when she died. It’s like they don’t take life seriously. For them to take anybody seriously, someone must die first.
“One can’t help but feel guilty. We all feel that maybe we could have done things differently. Maybe if we’d taken her into our home or the ambulance took her home she could still be alive.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut confirmed that Cloete died last Thursday, and that a complaint had been lodged against the police. He said he could not say anything more until an investigation had been completed.
Robert Daniels, spokesman for the EMS, confirmed that Cloete had been discharged from Groote Schuur on Wednesday after she insisted on going home.
“EMS personnel attempted to deliver her to the address on the discharge documents, but the patient insisted on being taken to Huxley Road at the Athlone police station. A police station is considered a place of safety. The patient was coherent and completely conscious of her decision.”
Daniels said he couldn’t comment on Fester’s account of the comments made by the second ambulance’s crew.
Neighbours and friends in Lansdowne spoke fondly of Cloete on Tuesday, saying they would miss her lively spirit.
Mikhail Lodewicks, who stayed with Cloete for years, said her health had started deteriorating last year. He said Cloete, a mother of two daughters and originally from Springbok, had spoken openly of her HIV-positive status and battle with TB.
“Before her health took a dip, you would see her all over this area. She was friends with everybody, doing chars in various homes here.”
Warren Henry, who took Cloete to hospital last Tuesday, said she was “very ill” and it was sad she had died a “miserable and lonely death”.
Dr Vivian Cox, a TB specialist from Doctors Without Borders, said while the Fester family were understandably wary of taking Cloete into their home, it was unlikely they would have contracted TB overnight.
“If she was receiving treatment the chances of infection were almost zero, but even if she wasn’t taking treatment it’s unlikely they could have contracted TB, especially if they took the precaution of putting her in a separate room and kept their home ventilated.”