STRASBOURG, France — In pain too agonizing for her to describe, a young woman calls emergency services.
“I’m going to die,” she says.
“You will die, certainly, one day,” the phone operator replies, “like everyone else.”
A few hours later, the woman — 22-year-old Naomi Musenga — dies. And now, officials in France have launched an investigation into why her call wasn’t taken more seriously.
The incident happened in the city of Strasbourg in northeastern France in December. However, there’s new interest in the case after a recording of the call surfaced.
“We are waiting for justice to be done … to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” the woman’s father, Policarpe Musenga, told reporters Thursday. “Whether it was bad will or dysfunctions, it is a serious error.”
In the three-minute call on December 29, Naomi Musenga calls the local ambulance service, complaining of severe stomach pain.
Operator: “Yes hello?”
Musenga: “Hello … Help me, ma’am.”
Operator: “Yes, what’s going on?”
Musenga: “Help me.”
Operator: “Well, if you do not tell me what’s going on, I will hang up.”
The woman can’t fully articulate her condition and says she’s in a lot of pain. In response, the operator tells her to call a doctor.
Musenga: “I’m gonna die.”
Operator: “Yes … you will die, certainly, one day, like everyone else. Call the SOS doctors.” [The operator gives her the number to SOS Médecins, France’s medical emergency service that sends doctors directly to a house.]
Musenga: “Please, help me, ma’am.”
Operator: “I can’t help you, I don’t [know what’s wrong with you].”
Musenga: “I have a lot of pain, I have very bad pain.”
Operator: “And where?”
Musenga: “My stomach hurts a lot … and I feel terrible everywhere.”
Operator: “Yes, well, you call SOS doctors.” [The operator gives her the number again.]
What happened next
Musenga hung up. Eventually a relative called a doctor who came to Musenga’s house, the family lawyer said at the Thursday news conference. The doctor had her taken to a hospital. Shortly after arrival, she suffered two heart attacks, was taken to intensive care and eventually died, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
The exact cause of death hasn’t been determined, the Strasbourg prosecutor’s office said. But her initial autopsy showed symptoms of multiple organ failure and hemorrhaging, BFMTV said.
“There were no questions like: ‘Are you alone? Are you able to dial the phone number?’ ‘How long have you been hurt?’ Or ‘Are you in pain?,” Mohamed Aachour, the Musenga family lawyer, told reporters. “All that she has had as treatment is indifference or cynicism. ”
Jean-Claude Matry, president of the workers’ union for the emergency services, said the operator has been temporarily suspended. He also denounced the staff shortage in the call centers.
“The operators answer calls 12 consecutive hours a day,” he told CNN. “They undergo a lot of stress and it becomes hard to distinguish serious causes from boo-boos.”
French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn told CNN affiliate BFMTV she wants to find out if the call center staff was “under pressure” or if they’d received a high number of calls.
“It will enable me to know if there was a dysfunction in the structure or if it was the case, unfortunately, of one individual who did not respect the procedure,” she said.
For now, Strasbourg Prosecutor Yolande Renzi said officials have opened a preliminary investigation “under charges of not helping a person in peril.”
Using the hashtag #JusticePourNaomi (Justice for Naomi), social media users have banded together to plan a rally. It’s scheduled for Wednesday.