September 20, 2012
Horror story a warning to Fiji tourists
Updated 20 September 2012, 12:15 AEST
A woman whose father died in Fiji while they were on holidays has begun a campaign to warn Australian tourists that they should be aware of the problems they could encounter in Fiji if they fall ill.
Presenter: Sean Dorney
Speaker: Clarissa Seeto, tourist
DORNEY: Clarissa Seeto from Sydney was on holiday with her father, aged 73, and her daughter, aged 20, visiting relatives in Fiji when things started going horribly wrong on July the 27th.
SEETO: I am from Fiji. I was born in Fiji. My grandfather was one of the first Chinese farmer migrants to Kadavu.
DORNEY: Clarissa said they were spending the night at the Raffles Gateway hotel at Nadi before heading home the next day when her father, Tom, became very ill of suspected food poisoning from a takeaway meal they'd eaten earlier. She knew he needed serious medical help.
SEETO: So I went to the front desk and explained the situation. And the lady who was really, really vague at the front desk, the Front Desk Manager she made a phone call and she hung up. And she said, 'There's no doctor!' But she didn't speak to anyone. So I'm going through the phone book, my daughter's going back to reception asking them for help saying we need another doctor. They're saying, 'There's no doctors.' So I'm calling all the doctors I can find in the phone book. So then I remembered that the Hotel Handbook had said, 'We provide 24 hour medical service.' So I told my daughter, 'Go up there and tell them that they need to get me medical help because I don't know what else to do. And it says in their Hotel Handbook 24 hours medical service. And tell them to find it right now.' So she went there. She had an argument with the lady at the front desk saying, 'We need it. My grandpa's really sick. We need medical help.' And the lady said, 'No, we don't have it.' She just gave her another phone number. But we'd already tried that phone number ourselves.
DORNEY: They decided to try to get him back to Sydney where her husband was arranging for them to be met by an ambulance. She says Air Pacific asked them to sign an indemnity form before allowing them to board.
SEETO: When we went to board the plane I said, 'Can we have a seat at the front of the plane because he's not well and I need to get him off the plane quickly when we land in Sydney.' And they said, 'No, we can't give you the front of the plane. We can only give you four rows from the back.' They said the flight was overbooked.
DORNEY: So how did they get him on the plane?
SEETO: They put him on an aisle chair and they wheeled him up on an aisle chair and then the airport terminal staff and my daughter and I lifted him and then put him in the seat. Just as the nose lifted he went back into the chair and started gasping for air. And I just ripped my seatbelt off and and I was, like, grabbed his shoulders and he was looking straight at me but he couldn't see me. I just fell apart and my daughter fell apart. And all the passengers could see there was commotion because this was all the way while the plane was ascending up. They put a mask on him. And then they dragged me away because I was losing the plot. And then they asked if there was an Australian doctor on board. And there was. And there was also an Australian paramedic. So they started monitoring him. They gave him IV fluid. The pilot spoke to the doctor and said, 'You need to make the decision. Do we fly to Sydney or do we turn the plane back around.' So she monitored Dad for another 30 minutes and she said, 'We need to turn around. He's become really ill.'
DORNEY: Clarissa Seeto says her father looked dreadful but she never thought he would die.
SEETO: As we were landing he was responding. Like he was squeezing the doctor's hand. He said his name. And I was kneeling beside him saying, 'You know, Dad, I really love you. I'm taking you home. We're going to see the boys. Everything's going to be fine.' And he started crying. And I freaked out when I saw him crying. And I said to the doctor, 'He's crying!' And I got really worried. And she said, 'Oh no, it's really good. It shows that he's responding. It's good. Keep talking to him.' So we landed and nothing! Nothing happens. And so the flight attendants are looking out the windows and there's no ambulance. The Australian doctor is going, 'Where's the ambulance?' She was getting really cranky. 'You know, he's getting sicker. We really need to get him out of the plane. We need to get an ambulance here.' And all of a sudden she started doing CPR in front of me. And I screamed. My daughter, who's 20, they told her to take me away because I couldn't cope.
DORNEY: She says the aircraft sat on the tarmac for what seemed an age.
SEETO: My daughter and I worked it out, it must have been about 20 minutes. And then, all of a sudden, we got told to move. We got pushed up to one side of the Flight Attendants' cabin and then the doors opened, the back exit doors opened and we saw this huge truck come up to the level of the plane and then I saw the female Australian paramedic carry Dad to the end of the isle. And then they picked him up by the scruff of his jacket and his knees and they dumped him on the gurney and then they just wheeled him off into the truck. And then the doctor came to me and she was crying so much and she's going, 'I'm so sorry. I've done everything I can but I don't think he's going to make it.'
DORNEY: Did you go to the hospital with him?
SEETO: No! No! They made us go through Customs. Get out luggage. We were waiting for ages. We were there. My brain had just shut down. I was, like, letting this man guide me through not even thinking. Like I just automatically thought he was taking me to my father. And then, all of a sudden, I said to him, 'Why are we here?' He said, 'Oh, we have to collect you luggage.'
DORNEY: And how did you get to the hospital?
SEETO: By myself. He took us out, when we finally found our luggage, he took us out to the taxi stand and we're waiting there. And I said, 'What are we waiting for?' And he said, 'We're waiting for an Air Pacific Manager to take you to the hospital.' And I went, 'OK.' And we're waiting, waiting. And then I said to him, 'Well, can't I just go by myself?' I said, 'My father's really sick. I need to go to him.' And he said, 'If you do it's going to be at your own cost.' And I said, 'I don't care.' And he said, 'What are you going to do about your luggage?' And I said, 'Can't I just leave it here?' And he said, 'But you have to fill in a report.' I said, 'Why can't I fill in the report later?' I said, 'I need to go see my father. You know, I don't understand.' So he got us a taxi.
DORNEY: At the Nadi Hospital they went looking for her father.
SEETO: They let us in to, like, a triage room and there was someone there and she just started asking us random questions. My daughter and I were looking at each other going, 'Why is she asking us this?' And then she just said, 'Oh, I'm sorry but he's dead!' And I just became very numb, very angry. And I said, 'Take me to him now!' So they took me and opened the door and there he was in the hallway. Because I've seen a lot of family members die just from old age and things like that but none of them looked like this. They all looked really peaceful. And when I saw Dad he looked like he was frightened. And he just didn't look like my father. He just looked absolutely frightened.
DORNEY: Clarissa Seeto said they had no privacy and a policeman started asking them questions. A cousin turned up and convinced them to book into a hotel while an autopsy was done on the body.
SEETO: And then about nine o'clock there was a knock at the door. And it was another policeman and he said, 'You know we want to take a statement about what happened and whatever.' So I said, 'That's fine.' So he came in and sat down and then he started asking us all these questions. And my daughter said, 'Why is he asking questions about Dad?' I said, 'I don't know.' I thought he was leading somewhere with it. Half way through the report I said to him, 'Why are you asking me questions about my husband in Australia?' And he said to me, 'Oh, isn't it your husband that died?' And I said, 'No! It's my father.' And he goes, 'Oh, sorry.' And he said, 'Oh, I'll have to start again.' And I said, 'Do you want my daughter to fill in the report? Do you want us to do the report?' And he pushed the paper to us across the table and he said, 'Yes, please, can you do it for me?' So my daughter started filling out his police report. And he sat there the entire time SMSing God knows who and having a social life while I'm crying my eyes out and my daughter and I are trying to recollect all the things that had happened and put it into words.
DORNEY: She says her cousins came back from the hospital to tell her the result of the autopsy.
SEETO: And they said, 'He died of emotional stress.' And I said, 'What's that?' And they said, 'He died of emotional stress.' And I said, 'You can't die of emotional stress!'
DORNEY: The next day her husband and son flew in from Australia and she went to the morgue to see her father's body.
SEETO: I started looking at him and then all of a sudden I realised his forehead was not put back together properly. They did, when they cut his skull open I don't know what they did but his forehead was shifted to the side. My children had to see him. My youngest son is 17. I was expecting him to have an autopsy. I understood all that and I explained all that to my children. But I wasn't expecting like this. Honestly, it was like, it was like he had no dignity. It was like he was an animal or something like that. I've never seen, it was awful. It was just like he was nothing. You know, I couldn't believe they didn't even have the decency to put his forehead in the right spot.
DORNEY: Clarissa Seeto says they arranged for a cremation in Suva but she was shocked to find that when she looked in the coffin there was blood still seeping from her father's skull.
SEETO: The fellow from the funeral place - he had known the story - he was horrified, he couldn't believe it and he just felt so sorry for me. And he felt even worse because he had to tell me when he gave me the death certificate because I hadn't seen it. You know how they give the notice of death?
SEETO: It didn't even have his right name. The funeral guy he corrected it for me. He said, 'I'm so sorry. But I've just got to let you know I've got to correct it because otherwise you won't get your Certificate of Death.
DORNEY: Ms Seeto said that when she went to the Australian High Commission in Suva they were not surprised at what she had been through.
SEETO: And they said, 'Oh, yeah. We're aware of the poor emergency procedures. This happens all the time.' And I said to the lady at the Embassy, 'So you know about this. You know there's bad emergency procedures. Why do we not know in Australia?' I said, 'We all come here. I run a community based pre-school. All my families come here every single holiday. Because it's a cheap holiday. They come here. They kids eat free flights, fly free. You know, they wouldn't come if they knew the nearest hospital was two-and-a-half hours away - say Nadi from the Coral Coast - and the hospital wouldn't be able to take care of them. I said, 'They wouldn't do it! We have a right to know what's available to us.'
DORNEY: Since returning to Australia, Clarissa Seeto, has begun a campaign to try to get the Australian Government to alert Australian tourists visiting Fiji they could be on their own if things go wrong medically.
SEETO: We've since emailed Raffles Gateway where we were at and asked them. We googled what hotels in Fiji have 24 hour medical service and your's is the only hotel that comes up saying, 'We offer 24 hour medical service. Can you please define what that means?' And they emailed back and said to us, 'That means we have 24 hours access to a doctor. Should anything go wrong we have them on call.' They didn't give that to me!
DORNEY: That didn't happen to you at all, did it?
SEETO: No it didn't. And I've since received a letter from the hotel manager, Harry Sing is his name. It's like he hasn't even read my letter because at no time have I said to them, 'You've helped me.' But in his letter, and I'm very happy to forward it to you, it says, 'Oh, thank you for acknowledging we helped you.' And I'm thinking, 'Who? This guy doesn't understand English. I'm telling him - you've never helped me!'
DORNEY: Ms Seeto says she does not want others to go through the trauma she did.
SEETO: Fiji really boasts its tourism. The country's making a lot of money from tourism which is mainly from Australia. What would those tourists do if they knew what that morgue looked like or what that hospital looked like?
COUTTS: In an emailed response Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says that "When travellers leave Australia they leave behind the support services they expect in Australia, underlining the need for comprehensive travel insurance.