Survivor stories : Theresa Devoy

One of the survivors of symphysiotomy in Ireland is Theresa Devoy who was seventeen when she went into hospital. Here is her story.

Watch a video of Theresa discussing why we need our Bill to become law.

image of SOS Ireland Campaigner Theresa DevoyI met my husband on my 17th birthday. We were married in July 1962 and I had a symphysiotomy on the last day of April in 1963 at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny. No cesarean was offered, there were no options, I wasn’t asked would I like a cesarean or would I have a symphysiotomy. There wasn’t any consent either sought or given, it was simply done.

I had never been inside a hospital but in April of 1963 the GP that I saw when I was about 6 months pregnant suggested that I could go into the hospital a week early because he obviously knew that there were going to be difficulties. I weighed 7 stone 10 pounds when I married and I was having a 10 pound baby.

When I got to the hospital, I don’t remember much of it until I went into labour, which was about 5 days after going in. I started labour on a Sunday afternoon, nothing was done, I didn’t see a doctor. By Monday afternoon I thought I was dying, the pain was unbearable.

Eventually, they brought me to the labour ward about 11 o’clock on the Monday night. At that stage I was just begging them to call a doctor, I thought I was dying. They refused point blank all that night to call a doctor. Early on Tuesday morning, the Sister who was in charge came in and lit candles on a table beside the trolley that I was on, and a priest came in all the vestments. At that time there was no such thing as a Sacrament for the Sick, if you were anointed you were dying, it was as simple as that. I thought I was gone.

I have no memory of even seeing a doctor. Now, I was a public patient, and I’ve always felt that may have had something to do with it. Plus there were nuns who, I think they just assumed because I was so young that I must have been pregnant before I got married. I felt that I was sort of isolated, for whatever reason, because I was so young. When I went into labour I begged for two solid days for them to call the doctor and they wouldn’t.

Some time after that a doctor put his head around the door and said, ‘calm down pet, I’ll help you, but I have to do my rounds first’. He didn’t come near the trolley, he just said it to me from the door. So he went away and he did his rounds and the last thing I remember was my feet being pulled up into the stirrups and I don’t remember anything after that until I was being wheeled out of the labour ward. I was strapped from my knees to my boobs, and I was lying flat on a board for about 5 weeks. I couldn’t move. They actually split my pelvis bone and it had to be bound and re-knitted. The difficulties started after that. Walking is a major difficulty, even to this day. I sort of have to think, ‘which leg will I try first?’.

When I went in I was 18 and a half, I have been incontinent all my life, all my life since then. And I heard some comment that really annoyed me. Dr Neary was interviewed about the Drogheda ladies at some stage, and the interviewer asked him, ‘what about these women now, that have had symphysiotomy?’ and his reply was, ‘they smell the money’.

I want to tell him that I’m not looking for money, up until seven years ago I knew I had a symphysiotomy but I simply didn’t know what that was. I would still not know if a new doctor hadn’t arrived at my practice in Co Wicklow. For 49 years, I was paying for my GP visits, I was buying incontinence pads, I was paying for medicine, and just luckily the new doctor said to me, ‘Mrs Devoy, tell me your history?’. And when I told her I had a symphysiotomy, she was just gobsmacked. And she organised that I would get a medical card from then on.

I’ve been offered no help, no counselling.  There have been times in my life when I was depressed. Right now, we’re talking almost 50 years, the good side of it is my husband and I are celebrating 50 years of marriage in a couple of weeks time. But for a lot of that time the symphysiotomy directly impinged on my life. I don’t know what else I could say.

I was let out of the hospital about 4 or 5 weeks after the birth, on condition that I would go home to my mother’s, that I would sleep downstairs, because I couldn’t walk up steps and my husband had to carry me from the car into my mother’s house as there were a couple of steps. I physically had to learn to walk, as in, try to walk. and the pain was just unbearable. I remember saying to myself, ‘My God, you must be able to walk’, and talking myself into trying. I’d walk maybe 50 yards and I would stop and have to wait for somebody to come and bring me back. So the pain that we women have gone through over that number of years, I couldn’t even describe it.

I certainly believe symphysiotomy has impinged on my life, to the extent that, I’m one of ten children in my family, there were six of us girls, and I’m the only one who has had surgeries; I’ve had an ovary removed, I’ve had my womb removed, things wrong with me and I do believe it’s because of that, that all my life I’ve been susceptible to illness. I joke with the nurses out in Vincent’s that I own the hospital, that I have shares in it. They say, ‘Not you again Theresa!’. It’s just been a constant nightmare.

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4 comments on “Survivor stories : Theresa Devoy
  1. Catherine Kenny says:

    I understand how you feel. I am also one of the unfortunates who put our thrust in our medical profession, I had my baby in Hollis St. I, like you, was in hospital before my baby was due, I firmly believe that they (the Dr’s) had decided what they were going to do.I am all of 4ft 10 and weighed all of 6st 7lbs when I was married I was and still am a very tiny person. I didn’t understand what had happened to me until 2 years ago. I spent my life blaming my self for all my medical problems and even went so far as to look at the genetic side of my family. I couldn’t walk after the birth, I had one of my overies removed and developed DVT from which I nearly died I had a hysterectomy. They even had the cheek to put me in a wheelchair and wheel me to the auditorium to have a discussion about what they had done. after being asked to get up and walk (which I couldn’t do) as I was being wheeled out I heard one of them (DR) say ” I will not apologize for this operation”. I have spent years with pain both mental and physical. I have incontinence, and lower back pain. I cannot sleep as the memories are so vivid and disturbing. I like you am so angry and upset at what has happened to my life and will continue for the rest of my life. They must be made to answer and accept responsibility for what they ( the medical profession ) have done.
    I live in Australia and am finding it very hard as the DR’s here know nothing about symphysiotomy and therefore do not understand my problems. Also the idea that I have to prove to the hospitals legal reps that I have suffered for so long is insulting. I say that the hospitals MUST accept that they were wrong and also cruel.I could go on and about how I feel about what was done to me and how it has effected my life. I would just like to face these people and speak my mind to them. How would they feel if this had been done to their wife’s or daughter??????
    Thank you Theresa for sharing your story with me.

  2. Cathryn Weatherill says:

    I know this means nothing in real terms, but you ladies are an inspiration. Youre so brave to have lived all these years like this and now to still have the strength to do this? Youre better women than i. I wish you so much luck and love in your fight, not only legally but on a day to day basis. Your courage and fortitude is incredible.

  3. Kaywalsh says:

    I’ll never forget that day .i was 20 years old in 1962 they told me I had to have this thing-a couple of weeks before my baby was born .a nun held me down i cried I was afraid she said my baby would die.if I did not.i couldn’t walk after .i was three days in labour .my mother thought my baby would die in distress.its never far from my mind .i have never met anyone else who went through it.i tell people all the time.i went on to have five more children .no birth control .i nearly died before I had a hysterectomy.

  4. maria kalnars says:

    Even just reading your horrendous accounts of the suffering and abuse you suffered at the hands of medical experts, hospital staff, collusion of all kinds of medical people since, makes me so sad and angry. It’s like an Irish holocaust. Your continuous pain and suffering is truly awful. You survived and had to then be responsible for a new baby reliant on you. I admire your ability to survive. We all must be made aware of this, people who committed these crimes must be brought to justice, and you must be paid amounts that account for every day,week, month and year of destruction of what should have been healthy, pain free lives. I support your campaign.




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