Both sides of Therese Mackay’s family migrated from Ireland to the Upper Hunter area of NSW in the mid 1800’s. She has inherited the wonderful imagination and storytelling capabilities of the Irish. Therese has been writing since high school. Memoir, autobiographical pieces, stories, poetry, letters to numerous editors of numerous newspapers and websites, have rolled from her pen – keyboard I suppose we should say. And now she has written a serious book “Without Due Care” which she hopes will contribute towards righting the wrongs of a failing NSW health system.
She grew up the middle child of five girls. Her parents were deeply in love and their joy in each other spilled over to the family of five. “It was a passionate household,” says Therese, “with lots of noise and laughter. We were encouraged to dream and become whatever we wanted to be.”
Strong family ethics were implanted in Therese, especially a belief that they should “do the right thing because it is the right thing to do”.
When Therese was 15 her father was killed. Childhood was over. But Therese was both humbled and inspired by her mother’s courage and her determination to hold the family together. It was a rude awakening for a young girl, who saw firsthand how the system worked to protect those with means but ignored those less fortunate. It deepened her search for meaning and she began reading prolifically on a wide variety of subjects. Thus the ‘school of life’ became her most powerful educator. It instilled in her the values of compassion and fairness for the under privileged and those who suffered or were treated unjustly by an impersonal system. It grounded her and coupled her youthful idealism with the need for practical action.
In 1972 she met her future husband Don. They were drawn to each other, sharing the same strong values and healthy upbringing. Their two girls were born in 1974 and 1976 and in that year they moved to Port Macquarie.
In January 1982, life changed. Don broke his neck. The specialist told them that his spinal cord was severed and he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.
Though the news was devastating, Therese said that in a way, “we were grateful for the specialist’s bluntness. We let go of foolish, unrealisable hopes, and pulled together to get the best we could out of the situation.”
As they came to grips with the painful reality and looked at what they could do rather than what they couldn’t, they became involved in issues which they believed in passionately. They lobbied the local council in the 1980s for better wheelchair access and struck a deal with them that they would go halves in the cost of construction of wheelchair access at major points around the city centre.
They raised awareness about food irradiation and fought for years against the forced fluoridation of the Hastings Water Supply, when it was threatened in 1989. Therese and Don believed ardently in the right of the individual to freedom of choice regarding fluoridation, and other social justice and health issues. Together this struggle led them to a growing awareness that the actions of governments and the bureaucracy are not always in the best interests of the population. It was a steep learning curve.
When the privatisation of the local hospital was threatened in late 1991, they joined the Hospital Action Group and stuck with it. They worked tirelessly for years until the hospital was finally returned to public hands in 2004. It was an all consuming and bitterly fought battle. But it honed skills which Therese would need in her struggle for justice for her husband after his death in 2007, which ironically was brought about by the very system he fought so hard to maintain.
Before writing this book Therese exhausted all avenues of investigation. She:
contacted local National Party MP, Andrew Stoner, who was very helpful
took part in a Government Inquiry into the Sydney hospital involved
participated in an internal inquiry by the same hospital
began a case with the Health Care Complaints Commission
approached the NSW Coroner’s Court to hold an inquest
presented at all of the above over 100 typewritten pages outlining the torture Don Mackay suffered
took part in the Garling Inquiry into NSW’s public hospital system
wrote letters to editors and placed advertisements about her actions
spent three months preparing and collecting signatures on a petition calling for an independent inquiry into Don’s death and the cruelty of his treatment.
As Therese said, “This struggle has taken its toll on me, but there was no choice. If I had done nothing about the shocking abuse my husband suffered and the medical negligence that caused his death, others too would die.
“We always knew it was unlikely that Don would ever see his grandchildren. We accepted that we wouldn’t grow old together. We lived with this for 25 years but I would never have imagined the horrific manner of his suffering and death. All of which was avoidable.”
Therese admits that writing Without Due Care was the hardest thing she has ever done. “Despite the perception that writing this book was therapeutic, the opposite was true.”
As she re-read and edited it continuously she relived those horrifying days. What kept her going was her love for Don and the girls and the perception that she had no choice but to do the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do. Her daughters Melissa and Alison, helped immensely with Therese’s research and a local writing group the Story Weavers, to which Therese belongs, was a huge support and offered practical help in proof reading and encouragement.
“In the end,” Therese says, “I wrote this book to give Don a voice, to record the injustices done to him and to bring home to those responsible the reality of what their actions did to one remarkable human being and his grief-stricken family.