Betty Virgo
Death on a Cruise Ship

My mother, Betty, and I embarked upon a Sun Princess cruise around New Zealand on 18 Nov 2012. On the forth night we met in the restaurant where Mum told me she felt ill. We went to a nearby bathroom where she started vomiting copiously. We then staggered back to our cabin with the help of a young man aiding in supporting mum to walk. 

Once back in the cabin Mum continued to vomit and I had to use the metal bin as a receptacle. She was in severe pain (due to old injuries from a car accident), but despite having her own pain medication went into pain spasms. At 9pm I rang the medical centre and explained the severity of Mum’s condition. A nurse came with a wheelchair and took Mum to the Medical Centre. She was treated with morphine for pain and maxalon for vomiting. Mum has had similar ‘episodes’ and I knew she needed care. Both the nurse and doctor informed me that she could not stay overnight despite there being no other patients in the four bed centre. I was told this was policy

Mum was returned to the cabin at 11pm, still in a very ill state. Accompanying medical instructions were to give her 10mg of morphine at 6 am. The night was a nightmare. Mum kept needing to go to the bathroom. I used the same technique she had seen the nurse use to lift Betty and half drag/half shuffle her to the bathroom. Unfortunately, her need to urinate was frequent and at a point in the middle of the night she wet the bed. After this, I put her into my bed and stripped her bed down to the mattress. I rested on Mum’s mattress on and off during the night and nursed her as she continued to vomit and urinate. She was in a semi-coherent state and had limited muscle control, no bladder control, vomiting, limited speaking ability and her eyes were closed. Communication was very limited.

This situation occurred while at sea and Mum was in need of nursing care overnight while at sea. The ship’s services needs to be able to accommodate this circumstance, but instead were found lacking. Mum needed professional medical care and this was denied.

At 8am I rang the medical centre for help and a steward came with a wheelchair. Mum was exhausted from the events of the previous night and the steward and I had to lift Betty under each arm and drag her to the wheelchair. I was greatly distressed with this procedure as it was causing Mum an infinite amount of pain. She was barely coherent and had no muscle control. There was a brief consultation with a doctor who only spoke to me and did not examine Mum. Once again we were sent back to the cabin and denied care in the medical centre.

I continued caring for Mum in the cabin, carrying her to and from the bathroom and holding up the bin for vomit. Her deterioration continued and there was incoherent speech which could not be understood.

At 12.30pm I rang the medical centre again and spoke again to a nurse. I begged for medical assistance as I was struggling and having difficulty coping with Mum. The nurse harshly and with a very ill mannered tone said, “Why did you bring her on board if she is like this?” I was very upset by this abusive manner as Mum was well when she embarked. On the day of Mum’s death, the nurse refused to come to the cabin to evaluate Mum’s condition. She made not one enquiry into the condition of Mum’s health while on the telephone. 

The doctor’s instructions were to leave her resting as comfortable as possible until 2.30pm and then give her more morphine. 

At 2.30pm I went to give Betty her medication as instructed by the doctor. Now things had changed. I spoke to Mum and got no response. I lifted her arm and it fell limp. She was gasping for breathe. I could not rouse her to give her medication. I ran to the medical centre and told them Mum was non-responsive. This time the nurse came.

She examined Mum, then went back to the medical centre to fetch a stretcher and stewards. She took Mum to the medical centre. I entered the medical centre shortly afterwards and was greeted by the senior doctor’s nasty allegation as she said loudly “So you’re the one who leaves their mother for three hours until they’re in a critical condition”. I was stunned and went into shock. It was not true. 

There was chaos in the medical centre and the senior doctor was running around looking in various cupboards all over the medical centre. I was begging the doctor, to please just listen as I did not neglect my mother. The doctor refused to listen or acknowledge anything I was saying. We were face-to-face in very close proximity, but I did not initiate any physical contact. Instead, the senior doctor shoved into my shoulder and pushed passed. The doctor yelled in my face during the interaction and I was not yelling at her. It was a totally unnecessary confrontation started by an unfounded and inaccurate accusation. The doctor caused the situation in the medical centre to go from calm, assistance from a passenger, with travel insurance documents to a shocking, traumatic event. During this time she should have been attending to Mum. Instead, she was embroiled in a conflict of her own initialising. This conduct was totally unprofessional and produced a situation contrary to the conduct of good medical treatment.

The fact that Mum was critical had caused great stress on a sub-conscious level for me, but it had not really registered until later. Only 10 minutes previously the nurse had said in the cabin that Mum had a pulse and high blood pressure and was in a deep sleep. I still thought of her as sleeping so it really did not register that she was critical and especially that it could lead to death. Nobody took the time to simply sit and explain calmly that Betty, my mother, had become critical and needed emergency care. No medical staff offered any support at this crucial time. The nurse stood in the middle of the medical centre offering no assistance to either myself, Betty or even the doctor.

It was only a short time later that a doctor came out of Mum’s room in the medical centre and informed me that she had passed.

In short:
There are many inconsistencies on Dr Blakeway’s medical report.
No autopsy was carried out when the cause of death was unknown.
Betty was embalmed without family consent.
Gayle was informed that Betty died of a stroke, however, the Death Certificate states angina. This
cause of death is questioned by her GP.
Would Betty still be alive, or the outcome different, if she had received medical treatment requested by Gayle in the first instance?

Lack of health care aboard the Sun Princess is fundamental to the mistreatment of Betty Virgo. Lack of staff and recalcitrant staff are of paramount concern. Death aboard cruise ships is not uncommon and it is clear from this scenario that they are ill-equipped.  

Gayle Virgo

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