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|Cry For Help That Led To The Morgue|
Cry For Help That Led To The Morgue
By Stephen Gibbs and Michael Pelly [The Sydney Morning, January 16, 2004]
Awale Mohamed had been pleading for help for days. He knew he was psychotic and was telling anyone who would listen that he was ready to kill himself.
On Monday a GP referred him to a psychiatrist, who said he could see Mr Mohamed in six weeks. St George Hospital said it could not assess him until Tuesday afternoon.
When he finally reached the hospital's mental health unit, he was sent home after an hour's assessment by a nurse with an assurance that he would be OK.
Twenty-four hours later, Mr Mohamed was taken back to St George in an ambulance, having been shot dead in the street by police.
The 31-year-old had attacked 22-year-old Matthew Fitzhenry on the shopping strip in Riverwood for no apparent reason and failed to answer the demands of the officer to drop his knife.
Mr Fitzhenry, an honours graduate in chemical engineering from UNSW, was walking home from doing the grocery shopping for a shared house when he was grabbed from behind by Mr Mohamed outside a video shop.
Mr Mohamed's closest relative in Australia, his cousin Sugule Mohamed, suspects that "when he saw the police there's a high possibility that Awale might have panicked".
After releasing Mr Fitzhenry, he started stabbing himself as he moved towards the policeman. Witnesses reported hearing three shots during the incident.
After visiting his son in St George Hospital yesterday, John Fitzhenry said Matthew was sitting up in bed recovering from wounds to his lungs and other cuts he sustained while defending himself. He thanked police for saving his son's life.
Sugule Mohamed does not blame anyone for what happened on Wednesday afternoon, but he wants to know why the mental health system failed Awale.
"He should have got the help that was asked for, and he should not have died," Mr Mohamed said.
Awale Osman Mohamed was born in Somalia and moved to Australia eight years ago to become an architect.
He was a Bachelor of Applied Science in Environmental Design from the University of Canberra, and was undergoing studies in the nation's capital when the first signs of his mental illness appeared in July last year.
What started as a sense that other students did not like him developed into paranoia that secret cameras had been installed in his room and that others including police were out to get him.
In early December, he called his cousin Sugule in distress after a university counsellor said there was nothing wrong with him.
"He said 'do you love me?' " Sugule said. "I said yes. He said 'come and get me now'."
Mr Mohamed moved into a flat at Riverwood with Sugule, Sugule's wife and their seven-month-old son. His mental condition continued to deteriorate until last weekend, when he first said he intended killing himself.
"Last Sunday morning he said to me 'Sugule, life is not worth living and I'm going to end it. People are staring at me. People are after me. Everybody is after me. Even the police are after me. I can't take it any more. I will finish it up.' "
On Monday, Sugule took his cousin to a local GP, who quickly diagnosed Awale as suffering schizophrenia and prescribed Zyprexa Olanzapine - a drug used to treat schizophrenia and acute bipolar mania. She wrote an urgent referral to a psychiatrist, but the cousins were told Awale could not get a consultation for up to six weeks.
Sugule's brother went to see the GP, who called the psychiatrist herself. The psychiatrist's secretary said he was busy but would call back. "They still haven't called us back and Awale is in the morgue."
At 5pm, Sugule's wife called the mental health service at St George Hospital. A nurse said that Awale could not be seen until Tuesday afternoon, but to take him to the hospital's emergency department if his condition deteriorated rapidly.
The hospital called on Tuesday and confirmed a 2pm appointment. When Sugule arrived with his cousin a nurse began his assessment in a waiting room. "He said to me 'He's getting some psychotic episodes. I don't know what's wrong with him but he's getting some sort of psychotic episodes.'
"I said: 'Well mate, I think we need more than a nurse here. With all due respect, we need to see a doctor.'
"I said: 'This guy is going to kill himself. He could harm me. He could harm my wife.' "
The nurse said Awale had no "plan" to kill himself and told the Mohameds to go home. "Awale had a plan," Sugule said. "And he harmed somebody in the process, didn't he?"
Awale spent Tuesday night at his uncle's home and had lunch with Sugule and his family early Wednesday afternoon. About 2.30pm he left the flat saying he was getting cigarettes.
Sugule has not been told what happened in the next half an hour, and knows only what he has seen on the television news - that Awale stabbed a man in Belmore Road and was shot dead by police.
The assessment of Mr Mohamed will be the subject of an independent review. The acting director of mental health for South East Health, Russell Firmin, said the decision to send him home was endorsed by a medical registrar and a consultant psychiatrist.
"This was a tragic event for the family and friends of all concerned," Mr Firmin said.