One Question Quiz
an illustration of a woman with long hair clutching her stomach, with clocks and lightning bolts surrounding her
Image: Getty

SocietyJune 28, 2023

She left ED after a five-hour wait. The next day she needed emergency surgery

an illustration of a woman with long hair clutching her stomach, with clocks and lightning bolts surrounding her
Image: Getty

Becki Moss shares her story of a traumatic two days in and out of Auckland ED, where an overlooked ovarian torsion landed her in emergency surgery. 

A woman who gave up on Auckland Hospital’s emergency department after waiting for five hours in excruciating pain was suffering from an ovarian torsion, and the next day was rushed to hospital by ambulance for emergency surgery. Becki Moss, 27, woke up on a Tuesday morning with pain in her pelvic region that she says was so severe she was nearly vomiting from it. “I’d go from being normal and walking around to a complete wave of stabbing pain that would leave me totally incapacitated.”

Moss has lived with chronic kidney disease since she was eight years old and endometriosis since she was 15, but says she has never encountered anything like this before. “I am pretty used to being in pain, but this was like a whole new level.” Due to being at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19 and having a history of trauma in hospitals, Moss spent the day trying to manage the pain on her own with increasingly strong painkillers. By 10pm, it became too much to bear. 

“By the time I got to hospital I ended up having already had paracetamol, ibuprofen, codeine, and Tramadol,” Moss says. None of it had helped – she was hardly able to walk when her partner brought her into the busy ED at Auckland Hospital. Moss was seen by a nurse, who she told about the pain medication she had taken already, and the fact that she also lived with chronic kidney disease. “I told him ‘this is a serious amount of pain. It’s not normal for me’.”

Becki Moss has lived with pain her whole life, but never like this (Photo: Supplied)

Moss says the nurse didn’t ask many questions about the pain she was experiencing, and she felt she had been “put to one side” by the initial conversation despite her obvious distress. “I was basically lying down on the plastic seats, curled up with a hot water bottle.” She stayed that way for the next two hours at least, until the same nurse called her in. There, she says, the nurse mistakenly asserted that Moss lived with chronic pain, and took heavy painkillers every day. 

“I had to say ‘no, I don’t take any pain medication every day, this is different, this is new. There’s something really wrong here with either my ovaries or my bowels’.” She was sent back out into the ED waiting room for another two hours, at which point a maskless patient arrived with cold and flu symptoms. “So he was walking around this confined space coughing, and I am high risk for Covid-19 so it was just really terrifying,” says Moss. 

After hours of waiting, Moss was now crouched on the floor, in tears, because she couldn’t bear to stand up. Her partner approached reception once more to ask for an indication of how long it might take. A different nurse came over to explain, showing Moss her patient notes that read, in capital letters “patient appears comfortable” across the top of the page. “I was so shocked,” says Moss. “How could anyone look at me and say I looked comfortable?

“Even when I’ve done first aid courses, they always told us the people that are most in pain are not the ones screaming – it’s the ones who are completely silent. Because when you’re in that much pain, you can’t yell, you can’t make a noise.”

Photo: Getty Images

At this point it was now 2.30am on Wednesday morning, and Moss says she needed to leave for her own mental health. “I knew that with that ‘appears comfortable’ statement being the first thing on my notes, every single doctor was going to see that. And every single thing would be marred by that,” she says. Her partner drove her home and she took “double sleeping pills and every pain med that I had” to help her get through the night. 

The next morning, she was still in agony. “I was talking to my mum on the phone and she said ‘you have to go into hospital, you need to get an ambulance or something, this isn’t OK.’ Moss called 111 and an ambulance took her back to hospital, where the doctor immediately sent her to get an ultrasound. He told her she had what appeared to be an ovarian torsion – where an ovary twists and blood flow is cut off – and that she needed urgent surgery as soon as possible. 

After a few more delays and miscommunications about whether she required an internal ultrasound or not, Moss was sent to a ward, taken off pain meds, and was nil-by-mouth. “I had no idea what was going on,” she recalls. “I was only just told I needed surgery today. And now nothing’s happening. And I’m terrified. One moment you’re being told you need to have surgery or you lose an ovary and then no one is doing anything.”

“If you let ovarian torsion continue, it just cuts off the blood supply completely,” she continues. “And then they’re afraid there’s dead tissue, which can lead to an infection like peritonitis or sepsis in your body.” It was confirmed that she had both an ovarian torsion and a ruptured hemorrhagic ovarian cyst, and at 10pm on Wednesday was told she would be operated on in the next available slot. At 2am, she went in for surgery to remove the cyst and untwist her ovary. 

Becki Moss in Auckland Hospital (Photo: Supplied)

When contacted about Moss’s experience, Barry Snow, Te Whatu Ora director of adult medical service for Te Toka Tumai, said all patient concerns were taken very seriously. “We are very sorry to hear about the distress felt by Becki during her time in our emergency department,” he said. “We encourage Becki to get in touch with us directly about her experience so we can look into what happened and help answer any questions she may have.”

Snow also said Te Whatu Ora prioritises ED patients based on most urgent clinical need, which means there can be longer wait times. “All patients are initially assessed when they come to ED to determine their clinical need, and will be reassessed should their condition change,” he said. “While we acknowledge longer waits aren’t ideal for patients and their whānau, we urge patients to wait until they can be seen by a clinician, either at ED or an urgent care clinic.”

If patients have concerns about their care they’re encouraged to get in touch with Te Whatu Ora directly or, if they prefer, to contact the health and disability commissioner for an independent review.

Speaking to The Spinoff while recovering the day after surgery, Moss says the entire ED experience has left her feeling scared and angry. “As scary as it was, I also have an immense amount of privilege compared to so many – I’m someone who fits the acceptable BMI for doctors. I’m white. I have a university education,” she says. “If that was my hospital experience, it terrifies me to think about what it is like for women of colour.” 

This is also far from the first time Moss has had a negative experience dealing with medical professionals. When she had chronic kidney infections and was in extreme pain between the ages of eight and 10, the doctors told her mum to take her to a behavioural psychologist. At the age of 15, she says a male doctor pulled down her pants and underwear without asking her permission. For years, she was told that her endometriosis didn’t exist. 

Auckland Hospital (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Moss believes she wasn’t taken seriously at ED because she is a woman who looks young for her age – she’s 27, but people still think she’s in high school, she says. “A lot of times previously, doctors would talk to my boyfriends instead of talking to me about my own body,” she explains. “Men seem to refer to men in the room and act like I don’t know what I’m talking about, or I don’t know my own body.” 

Given her medical history and the fact she did four years at medical science, Moss also says there is a “precarious line” to walk when it comes to describing symptoms and disclosing knowledge to doctors. “If you appear to know too much, then it feels like you are put in the hypochondriac, drug-seeking capacity. You have to kind of act dumb enough to be taken seriously. Because if you know too much, then that’s also a problem.”

Moss says she is speaking up because she has read too many of the same news stories – just last week it was revealed that a woman died of a heart attack after being sent home from ED in Palmerston North, after presenting with chest pains. “I’ve experienced being shut down by doctors, especially men, before, but this was absolutely next level,” she says. “I’m so sick of reading other stories about how people get sent home with pain, and then end up in worse conditions.

“I think people don’t believe this can happen,” she adds. “But if we continue doing the same thing we always do, then we keep minimising the pain of people around us.”

Keep going!