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'If mammy coughed or sneezed or took a fit of laughing she would wet herself'

The case currently being heard in the High Court is the first of its kind against a hospital.

Image: Shutterstock/Pavel L Photo and Video

Updated: 16.11

THE HIGH COURT has been hearing a second day of testimony in the case of a woman who is claiming the Coombe Hospital carried out a symphysiotomy on her without justification in 1963, when she was 19 years old.

The procedure was carried out on pregnant women before, during or after birth in the place of a Caesarean Section. It involved breaking the patient’s pelvis and leaving it permanently enlarged.

Today’s hearing was initially delayed because the woman, who does not wish to be identified, was feeling unwell due to “the stress of the case”. Justice Kevin Cross emphasised that she should not be put under any undue pressure during questioning.

The woman, who is from the midlands, told the judge she suffered leakage since the birth of her first child in 1963. However, citing her GP records, the defence questioned why she never mentioned the issue with her doctor until recently.

They pointed out that her records show no mention of kidney or urinary tract infections from 1984-1994, and show “intermittent” references to them in 1995, 1997 and 2001. The court was told her pre-1984 medical records are not available.

When she went for gallbladder removal surgery in 2004, there was only no mention of any such infections, the court was told. The woman has been seeking help for persistent leakage since 2009.

The defence questioned why the woman had failed to mention the issue to her GP before then, despite claiming to have suffered with the problem for decades. She said this was due to embarrassment.

The woman noted: “It got worse than it was in the earlier years,” adding that she has been “wearing pads the whole time”.

When she told the court she only went to her doctor for “serious” ailments the defence refuted this, saying her records show she attended for coughs and colds.

The woman’s eldest daughter said her mother always brings a spare pair of trousers and a pad with her wherever she goes.

“If she coughed or sneezed or took a fit of laughing she would wet herself.”

She added that her mother could never carry her children up stairs and finds it difficult to walk up steps by herself.

Her youngest daughter said she and her siblings would say “Here comes the duck” when her mother was walking towards them because of her permanent limp. She said that in her 20s her mother told her she had some sort a procedure done after childbirth, but that she “never thought much of it, to be honest”.

‘A different delivery’

Yesterday, the court was told that the woman first heard of the term ‘symphysiotomy’ when her sister showed her an article about it in the Irish Independent in 2012. She then watched a Vincent Browne programme about the procedure and recognised the symptoms. On foot of this, her youngest daughter contacted a solicitor.

The woman’s sister has been a nurse since the 1960s but said she had never heard about symphysiotomy until she saw the article in 2012. Upon reading it, she said she was “almost 90% sure” that it described what happened to her sister.

She recalled her mother telling her and her siblings that their sister “had an additional thing done to her pelvis that would make future childbirth easier” during the birth of her first child. She said the issue was not discussed again until three years ago.

The woman said she became suspicious that something was wrong shortly after her first child’s birth as she didn’t see her baby for “four or five days”. She was also unable to walk during this period, while a woman in the same ward recovered much quicker after childbirth.

When her mother questioned doctors about this, she was told her daughter had “a different delivery”.

The defence asked if she was aware the birth had been “unusual” before her mother spoke to the doctors, to which she responded:

Not at the time, I wasn’t. I just thought it was the natural process after birth.

The woman said she was told the procedure would prevent her from having further C-sections. However, she said she had two sections in the 1970s. Again, she said she did not question this as she believed her doctors knew best.

It wasn’t my decision to have a section. The doctors must have thought I needed it, I was in labour a long time in ’73 … I had all my babies in the Coombe and I thought they knew what they were doing.

The case is the first of its kind to be taken against a hospital but is seen as a test for other women in similar positions. The Coombe denies all charges.

The hearing will continue next Tuesday.

Originally published: 14.50

‘I was just 27 and I was butchered’: Symphysiotomy survivors in their own words

€34 million redress scheme for Irish women whose pelvises were broken during childbirth

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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