Ms Dhu 6a - A Non-Diagnosis


A Non-Diagnosis

On the day that Ms Dhu was taken into custody she described her rib pain level as being ten out of ten. While she waited to be taken to the Hedland Health Campus (HHC) she could be heard constantly moaning and crying. Upon arrival, Nurse Lindsay recorded her pain score as three out of ten and allocated a triage score of 4 (low acuity).

‘Can you help me?…It’s hurting like hell.’

Ms Dhu, 2 August 2014

When Ms Dhu was examined, she was groaning in pain and recoiled when Nurse Dunn touched her. The Nurse responded with words to the effect of ‘I didn’t touch you’ or ‘I hardly touched you’, and allegedly rolled her eyes. Ms Dhu was immediately treated with suspicion and had her credibility questioned. During the Inquest, both Nurse Lindsay and Dr Lang suggested that an escorting police officer had told them that Ms Dhu only appeared to be in distress or pain after she was informed that she would have to spend time in the lockup overnight. Dr Lang said that she thought that Ms Dhu’s limp was ‘a little bit artificial’ like she was ‘playing up her symptoms’. She recorded an impression of ‘behavioural gain’ and a discharge diagnosis of ‘behaviour issues’.


‘The persistent assumption was that Ms Dhu was ‘faking’ her symptoms and was malingering, addicted, manipulative and hysterical. These entrenched racist stereotypes underpin and licence the physical ill treatment of Ms Dhu; indeed, it is only this framework of racist preconceptions that makes intelligible the inability of medical and custodial staff to recognize that she was seriously ill and to treat her with due care and respect.’

Suvendrini Perera (Statements for Ms Dhu)

Despite this non-diagnosis, Ms Dhu was given Endone, a strong analgesic, and Diazepam, a sedative agent and deemed ‘fit to return to police custody’. Much of Dr Lang’s evidence, including her description of Ms Dhu as ‘disruptive’, was unsubstantiated. The issue of Dr Lang’s reliability and credibility was given little attention.

‘When she cries out we want to come to her

or for others to do the same if we can’t be there’

‘Julieka’, poem by Tracy Ryan   [imagecaption][/imagecaption]



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