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Brian Sinclair (top right in wheelchair) is shown in a screengrab from surveillance footage of his time at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre in September, 2008.

The Canadian Press

A man who tried to help Brian Sinclair, a fellow patient who languished for 34 hours in a hospital emergency room before he was found dead, says Sinclair was obviously in distress.

Dennis Grant was in the waiting area at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre on the afternoon of Sept. 20, 2008 – 24 hours after Sinclair first arrived in the emergency department. Grant told an inquest into Sinclair's death that the double-amputee was sitting beside him and his family when he started vomiting.

"I thought he was blind because he didn't seem to focus on anything. His eyes looked glazed over," Grant said on Thursday. "He was fidgety, rolling back and forth in his wheelchair. He was always looking around, but it was a vacant stare.

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"He was obviously agitated."

Sinclair vomited twice, Grant said. Both times, Grant went over to security and told a guard that "his buddy" was sick. Both times, he said, Sinclair was given a bowl and housekeeping was called to clean up the mess.

No one appeared to talk to Sinclair after he vomited and he was not approached by a nurse, Grant said. The emergency department was "extremely busy" and Grant was not even sure Sinclair was a patient, he added. Sinclair was "exceptionally dirty" and could have been simply taking shelter in the waiting room.

Sinclair's family and others have alleged that racism played a part in how he was treated, but Grant disagreed. "There was no racial discrimination," he said.

Sinclair was pronounced dead just before 1 a.m. on Sept. 21. The aboriginal man had arrived at the emergency department 34 hours earlier after being referred there by a clinic doctor because Sinclair had not urinated in 24 hours.

Video surveillance shows Sinclair speaking to a triage aide when he first arrives. The triage aide is seen writing something down on a piece of paper. That piece of paper has never been found and the aide has testified he doesn't remember Sinclair.

Video footage shows Sinclair wheeled himself into the waiting room, where he sat until he died of a treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter.

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A doctor who tried to revive him said Sinclair had been dead for hours.

Travis Minish, the emergency physician who was working when Sinclair was found dead on Sept. 21, told the inquest the 45-year-old was extremely stiff when he was brought into the resuscitation room by a security guard and nurse.

Sinclair's jaw was clenched shut so it was impossible to insert an oxygen tube, Minish said. Sinclair's torso was cool and blood had begun to pool in his thighs, he said.

"At that point, we realized Mr. Sinclair had been dead for some period of time," Minish said. "We stopped trying to resuscitate him as we realized that would be unsuccessful."

Manitoba's medical examiner has testified that Sinclair required about half an hour of a doctor's time. He needed his catheter changed and antibiotics prescribed.

An internal hospital review found 17 staff members observed him while he deteriorated in the waiting room, but no one asked if he was waiting to see a doctor.

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The review said they all made different assumptions about why he was there. Some assumed he had been triaged already and was waiting for a bed in the back of the treatment area. Others assumed he had been treated and discharged. Some thought he was drunk and was waiting for a ride or just needed a warm place to rest.

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