Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Trip to the hospital ... and learning about acceptance

Four days in hospital taught me so much about acceptance this week.

I had so many plans for the weekend. My cousin was coming into town for the big Galway FC game at Terryland, and we had planned to attend the play-off on Friday evening with a few friends. On Saturday, there was going to be a huge protest against Irish Water in the city centre. A cause to rally around, and perhaps some material for my blog. 

On Sunday, my entire clan was set to gather for my dad’s 90th birthday, with people home from London, Tipperary, and Dublin to celebrate a significant milestone.

And, on Monday, I was set to start the full-time Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course which would help me start a new life overseas – and get over the post-redundancy jitters!

I was excited by the prospect of getting out of my comfort zone, meeting new people, and trying something totally alien to me by becoming an English teacher.

But sometimes fate likes to throw a spanner in the works of the best laid plans and I found myself going to the doctor with an infection on my shoulder which appeared to be getting out of hand. By Wednesday, it was the size of a red tennis ball.

On Friday, fearful that the TEFL course was so near on the horizon, I found myself sitting in the A&E Department at University Hospital Galway (UHG) at 2.30pm. Armed with a book, an iPod, and a bottle of water, I expected to be there for about three or four hours. I had been referred there by my GP and hoped to be out for the big soccer game.

Instead of a quick visit, I got my first (and hopefully last) experience of overnighting on a trolley at the Emergency Department at UHG. It’s something I had written about countless times for the newspaper – patients lying on trolleys all night because there were no beds for them in the hospital. 

It still seems shocking that it happens so frequently in 21st century Ireland and the numbers are documented every day across the country thanks to the ‘Trolley Watch’ figures compiled and circulated by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).  
The lump which caused all the trouble!

By 10pm, when the doctor told me I would have to stay the night, on a drip and on a trolley, the only thing that kept me going was the advice of older and wiser patients. They told me not to fight it, not to over-analyse it, but to read my book, relax, and simply accept the way things were.

Halloween night was spent on a trolley, watching the odd drunk girl being escorted along the corridor in the early hours, and then began another long day of waiting. Conversations with patients from Connemara and East Galway, dignified people who bore their frustrations with such grace, forced me to question my own despair.

They told me about their lives as emigrants in America, their families and neighbours, their health problems, and I suddenly began to appreciate just how friendly and down to earth West of Ireland people, my people, can be.

Suddenly, in the midst of pain and boredom, I began to truly realise how pointless all my fears over taking redundancy had been over the previous weeks. I had been full of fear even though I had my health and new-found freedom.

I fasted all day Saturday, in case of surgery, and felt like I’d won the lottery when the nurses found me a bed in a ward at 4pm. Family members came in to help out with clothing and reading material and, as I began to talk to the patients from Donegal on either side of me, I began to realise how lucky I was.

The Donegal man next to me had fasted for eight days in a row, ready for surgery that never went ahead. He was too far from home to receive regular visits and bore his predicament with a grace which confounded me and questioned my own self-pity at the same time.

After a series of tests, I was told I’d be operated on the following day. That meant missing the family birthday celebration but, as the hours passed, I began to see how much pointless anxiety I had put myself through over the previous weeks. Leaving a job can be traumatic, but it is certainly not the end of the world.

On Sunday, I read the ‘paper from cover to cover and managed to concentrate on the FAI Cup Final for two hours. I strolled up and down the corridor a few times and realised how much more fortunate I was than the lads who could not get out of their beds. 

I kept thinking of a friend of mine who survived a horrific motorbike crash ten years ago and how he bore his pain, and months upon months in hospital, with such dignity.

The doctors opened my shoulder up with a local anaesthetic on Sunday afternoon, but soon realised that I would need a full operation. My neighbour doubted the prospect of the surgery going ahead that evening, based on his own experiences, but I was finally operated on after 10pm that night. 

It dawned on me that, even though I had seen little of them, the doctors had been working incredibly long hours all through the weekend.

By Monday, a whole new sense of acceptance had come over me. Yes, I had missed my father’s birthday and had to withdraw from the TEFL course.

Despite all the waiting and frustration, there were valuable lessons to be learned. In hospital, I practiced mindfulness breathing and banished pointless anxieties about the future out of my mind.

It’s amazing how a little kick up the rear end can put previous troubles in their proper perspective.
As I made my way out of UHG on Monday evening, I realised how few troubles I really had in life as long as I had my health. 

That doesn’t excuse the inefficiencies at the hospital. Nobody should have to overnight on a trolley in the A&E department or spend eight days waiting for a routine operation, fasting every day, in the year 2014.

Especially not in a country which spent so much money on bailing out bankers and bondholders at the expense of ordinary, dignified people. I’m not blaming the doctors or nurses, who could not have been more professional, but I got first hand experience that there is an awful lot wrong with our public health system over the weekend.

Yet even the inefficiencies, the boredom, the pain, and the incredibly bad timing of the whole episode, taught me a very valuable lesson about my own life.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Alan, slowly but surely ... have to see the Public Health Nurse every day for at least two weeks, which is stilll a lot better than lying in A&E. The waiting times there are shameful.

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