14/11/00 - South China Morning Post

An Indian solicitor allegedly discriminated against by doctors at a public hospital told her husband she felt ‘at the bottom of the pile’ hours before her death, an inquest heard yesterday.

Harinder Veriah, 33, a solicitor from England who came to practise in Hong Kong in 1998 for three years, suffered an epileptic fit on New Year’s Day while drinking champagne and celebrating the millennium in Causeway Bay.

She was admitted to Ruttonjee Hospital, where she died the next day.

Her journalist husband, Martin Jacques, told the inquest that Veriah had complained of diarrhoea and fever on December 30 and 31 last year, more than a week after they returned from a trip to Vietnam.

‘At the beginning of the holiday, I was ill in bed for a day. We assumed that the infection was the same thing. So Hari did not feel she needed to see the doctor,’ said Mr Jacques.

On December 31, Veriah’s birthday, the couple went to Lantau Island for a celebration.

But the mother-of-one complained of diarrhoea and the two returned home at 5.30pm. In the evening, they went out again with friends to celebrate the millennium, the inquest heard.

The solicitor, who had her first major epileptic attack in 1995, suffered a fit and collapsed outside the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay at about 1.15am on January 1. She was sent to Tang Shiu Kin Hospital before being transferred to Ruttonjee Hospital at 2.39am.

At Ruttonjee Hospital, Mr Jacques asked a duty doctor twice what had happened to his wife, but she said Veriah was not his patient and did not reply when asked who was taking care of her, the inquest heard.

‘I was very angry with his attitude. If in England a doctor treated me like that I would have given him a piece of my mind and complained to his superior,’ Mr Jacques said, adding he did not complain because he was not sure about the ‘cultural context’ of Hong Kong hospitals.

Shortly before leaving the hospital in the evening of January 1, Mr Jacques talked to Veriah about the doctor’s attitude.

‘She [told me] ‘I am at the bottom of the pile here’. I was very shocked and said ‘what do you mean?’ She said: ‘I am the only Indian here, everyone else is Chinese’. She felt she was being discriminated against in the hospital on the grounds of her colour,’ said Mr Jacques, who wept as he gave evidence.

Veriah had another fit at around 8.35am on January 2 and Mr Jacques was called to the hospital, where he found her lying unconscious in bed. He immediately made a nurse aware of the situation, who then ‘went into a frenzy’ and called a doctor to resuscitate her, but it was in vain, he said.

She was certified dead at about 12.15pm.

Dr Puisy Chan Yau-ng, medical officer of Tang Shiu Kin Hospital, who first received Veriah, said the patient was put on medication in London in August 1995 after she had her first epileptic seizure. She stopped taking the medicine two months later due to its side effects and occasionally had minor attacks, the inquest heard.

Dr Wong Ming-ho, medical officer of Ruttonjee Hospital in charge of Veriah, said the patient’s fits were a result of lack of sleep and two mouthfuls of champagne shortly before the attack on January 1.

The case continues today before Coroner Andrew Chan Hing-wai.

– Shirley Lau