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19 Jan 2022

'The Health Service is broken' - Natasha Crumlish

Donegal mum left in 'unbearable pain'

Moville woman Natasha Crumlish has lashed out at the Health Service

Moville woman Natasha Crumlish has lashed out at the Health Service

A Donegal woman has spoken out about the health challenges she has endured as a result of what she described as the “broken” health service.

In 2015, Natasha Crumlish from Moville in Inishowen, noticed a lump under her tongue. She immediately contacted her dentist and GP and was referred to the Oral Maxillo clinic in Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH).

Oral Maxillo is the diagnosis and surgical care of the mouth, jaws, skull, face head and neck.

Ms Crumlish told her, at times distressing, story in the same week the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) revealed there were currently 7,000 people across the North West on the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) waiting list.

Speaking in a special video released by IHCA, Ms Mary Bresnihan, a Consultant ENT Surgeon in Sligo and Letterkenny said ENT procedures were often subject to delays and have some of the longest waiting lists as a result, which leads to the risk of cancers not being detected.

Ms Bresnihan added some patients may wait five years to be seen.

Natasha said the lump under her tongue grew silently.

She said: “Every now and again it would swell up and go down and swell up again. I would take a bad chest infection, so I was taking antibiotic, after steroid, after antibiotic. The antibiotics made the lump under my tongue worse. I also had slight, accompanying pain in what felt like my my ear. This continued until 2019.”

The mum of two boys said she then checked to see where she was on the LUH Oral Maxillo waiting list.

She said: “In 2015 the lump underneath my tongue was noted to Oral Maxillo and by 2019, I had still not received an appointment.

“Prior to this, I had received a letter to go to an 'overflow appointment' to a private clinic in Belfast. The doctor there looked at the lump and told me it would surgery. I was referred back to LUH.

“When I rang LUH, because the ball underneath my tongue was getting much bigger and I was starting to get flu-like symptoms, I was told I had been taken off the waiting list.

“By this stage, I was weak. I was maybe having five good days and three bad. I just knew there was something wrong with my body. My GP subsequently referred me to a hospital in Dublin.”

An at times emotional, Natasha said Covid-19 was very much present in the two years she was seeking treatment for the lump underneath her tongue.

She said: “On top of dealing with the lump under my tongue, you can imagine how hard it was to get into a hospital that was not even in my own jurisdiction.

“I was coming from Donegal. I was travelling. Dublin took me on as a brand new patient, notwithstanding the fact the lump had been developing since 2015.

“My blood pressure was grand. My bloods were grand. I was so grateful. They saw me for six months. I was up and down. Sometimes appointments were cancelled. Finally they agreed to take me in for surgery in August past. They took me in for three days and on the Friday morning they were going to biopsy the lump underneath my tongue.

“I was prepared for surgery. They told me it was going to be extremely sore because of the location. The lump was right underneath my tongue, running parallel with it, which meant it was running with tendons and nerves. It wasn't just a lump sticking out, it was like a growth.”

Just before the surgery was due to take place, the Consultant told Natasha Crumlish they were not going to operate. She was recommended to seek private treatment, with a Plastic Surgeon in attendance, as it was an intricate procedure.

She was also told the lump was not a cyst. Devastated, Ms Crumlish returned home.

The surgery would have required removing the lump by going in through her neck, under her jaw, which would have required the cutting of nerves and tendons.

“By this stage, the lump was the size of a Brazil nut,” said Natasha Crumlish. “It was putting a lot of pressure on my neck and my jaw and my ear but consultants were telling me there was nothing wrong. My MRIs were clear.

“In January 2021, I turned 40. I was extremely sick. I had no energy, no love for life. I didn't want to talk to anybody. My body was drained. I was in so much pain.

“In March I fell sick. I ended up packing my bags and going down to University Hospital Galway (UHG) because I felt I had no other choice. I begged to be seen in the hospital.

“They saw me in the Emergency Department. I was really ill. I had an infection somewhere. At 7.30pm they said I could go home. They handed me a prescription and told me to get it filled in the morning. Then they asked me to leave, because of Covid-19 regulations.

“This was one of my lowest points. I got a taxi to the bus depot but the last bus to Donegal had gone. The depot shutting up. Everywhere was shut. I was a mess and was resigned to curling up into a ball and sleeping in the street when a fella in the bus depot rang the Harbour Inn Hotel who took me in. I owe him and the hotel a massive thanks. They saved my life.”

Natasha said her family were devastated.

Finally, on May 24, 2021, Natasha had her Sublingual glands removed with a lymph node that was in a cushion of tissue, in an operation at the North West Independent Clinic in Ballykelly, Co. Derry.

“After the operation, I thought, 'That's it. It's all over.'” said Natasha, “but I still had the accompanying ear pain and neck pain, symptoms we are told to worry about if they persist for more than three weeks.

“But I was ready to live my life that I have not been able to live for the previous five years, during which my boys had grown up. I got a new job. I loved it. Inside, however, I did not feel great. I powered on through but six week's later the flu-like symptoms came on me again. They come in waves.

“My body gave up. I was baffled because this time it was really, really bad. 12 weeks later, I had life-changing fatigue. I still had ear pain but every time my ear was examined, nothing was seen. Ballykelly then advised me to seek a referral to ENT.

“I am taking antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories. I have also had nine Covid-19 tests, which have all been negative. I should have been hospitalised the past 115 days. I am constantly in tears. A month ago, I said to my loved ones, I am living my last days. This is how sick I am. The pain in my ear, throat and neck was unbearable. It is modern day cruelty.”

Following a trip to Knock, Natasha Crumlish was referred to Sligo University Hospital (SUH), where, five weeks ago, the consultant noticed a bruise inside her ear.

Ms Crumlish said: “I felt I was not being listened to. Not being heard. Not being taken seriously. When the consultant saw the bruise, I thought, 'I am not going crazy'.

“It felt to me that my left tonsil was trying to grow back. I had them removed when I was six. There was pressure in the cavity of the wall between my ear and throat. The consultant told me it needed to be dealt with urgently and to go home and 'get things in order'. I underwent and emergency CT scan at LUH and prepared for a cancer diagnosis.

“I was so angry. I am on prescription medication for the pain, which is unbearable.

“However, the scan was clear and the consultant in SUH said they would add me to the ENT list and re-evaluate my case further down the line.

“So, I sought a consultation at the North West Independent Clinic. The consultant there listened to me. I left feeling heard. They looked in my mouth and said I needed a biopsy immediately.

“I have endured suffering. I have spent 18 months running the country and now I may have cancer. My left tonsil root has to be removed and biopsied. In the meantime, I have received an 'emergency' appointment for LUH for February.”

The Moville woman, who is currently isolating before going for surgery to Ballykelly said her experience showed the Health Service was broken.

She added: “The Health Service is broken. There is no shame in recognising we have a problem. The shame lies in no-one taking responsibility for fixing it. Why is no-one speaking up? Why is nothing being done?

“My house has mica but I can't even start to worry about that. I am facing demolition, yet, I have had to lie on the couch for 115 days watching the outside world.

“I wanted to tell my story to illustrate the breakdown of the system. The pain in my ear is unbearable, yet I am being treated like I am a bother. I think I would be better off going to a vet.”

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