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Hardest part ahead for woman and ill son

Jun 27 2012

A 73-year-old mother banned from seeing her critically ill son in hospital has an even harder road ahead after she was told Tuesday he faces months of rehabilitation and can't work, live alone or drive for up to a year.

Shirley Spence was banned from Victoria General Hospital for more than two weeks on May 17 after she says she leaned over the bedside of her son, Gary Abbott, 52, and tapped a nurse on the head with her forefinger to get her attention. Her goal was to shush the nurse, who was discussing her son's personal banking.

The nurse complained and Spence, who had flown with her partner, Andrew Regan, from South Africa after Abbott fell ill on April 24, was banned by Vancouver Island Health Authority administration.

Spence formally apologized but VIHA stood behind its zero-tolerance policy for emotional, verbal or physical "violence" against staff and did not include Spence nor Regan, a witness to the incident, in a risk-assessment meeting to determine next steps.

In early June, Spence was granted daily visits supervised by VIHA security.

On June 14, her son was moved from the sixth floor neurosciences wing to the hospital's fifth floor for rehabilitation and Spence regained access to her son.

Despite the turmoil of the ban, the doctors and the rehabilitation specialists have done wonders for Abbott, said Spence.

"They are a lovely lot who go out of their way to help you," she said. "Whatever happened recently, the doctors have been wonderful."

But the hard work has only begun for the family. The British couple must extend their stay in Canada to help care for Abbott, who will remain in hospital until at least August.

Having had surgery for a persistent brain bleed and to insert a shunt to relieve water on the brain, Abbott still has double vision and neck pain. Doctors say that's normal, Regan said.

Abbott's long-term memory is better than his shortterm memory - he can easily answer questions on a quiz show, said his mother, but can't be sent around the circular hospital ward and find his room again, said Regan.

Doctors say Abbott may regain more memory and abilities by August, but nothing is guaranteed, Regan said.

Abbott, a painter, was told he couldn't work for at least a year and that he couldn't live alone or drive for the foreseeable future.

"He wasn't happy with that," Regan said.

There was no warning when Abbott, a body builder who was physically fit and worked out regularly, was struck with a brain hemorrhage.

"It's something that can happen to anybody, really," Regan said. "It's one of life's curve balls." ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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