Part of the package of being a student at Trinity College is the payment of a subscription to the campus sports centre. This fee of €120 is non-negotiable whether or not one ever uses the facility. It is either paid as part of the annual tuition fee or one goes somewhere else to study. Students themselves voted on this matter a number of years ago, and so being exempted from the charge is nigh-on impossible. The upside, of course, is that every student is entitled to use the centre. So on Friday last I decided to put my extorted money to use and go along for a swim. Throwing caution to the wind I invested a further €3.50 in a swimming cap – which is mandatory – and plunged into the freezing water of Trinity’s pool.
Less than five minutes later the casual swimmers were being gently nudged to go away. Lanes were being put down for the serious swimmers to get into the zone. I should have known about this, it’s clearly printed on the schedule – and we all check the swimming schedules, apparently. All that I wanted was to splash about in my inflatable armbands. This pool and sports centre was never actually for the likes of me. This was always about a subsidy to the sporty set. Well f**k that, I thought. I made the decision to get out the pool and ask for my money back.
Never in a million years would I get my €120 back. That was gone, but – on principle – I was sure as hell going to fight for my €3.50. Up I went with my used and wet cap and explained that this wasn’t really my cup of tea, and, as a show of good faith, requested a refund. It was refused.
Later that day I typed up a complaint to the Dean of Students, the Graduate Students Union, my class representative, and the sports centre. No way would I be darkening the door of the centre again, and no freaking way would it be keeping my money. Today I received an email from the director of the centre apologising that I didn’t “enjoy” by visit. Like it was ever about me just not having a good time! Anyway, in the email he said that he would be happy to reimburse the €3.50 – all I need do is let him know when I’ll be dropping in and he’ll be waiting with my cash. My thinking now is that I will add €1.50 to this paltry sum and make it a fiver and donate it to a good cause.
Earlier today, when coming up the hill from the Phoenix Park to James’s Street, I bumped into the family of a new friend. This new friend and I met while I was in St. James’s Hospital, and over the length of my stay we got to spend a good bit of time together. What a gentleman; a real old school sort of chap with a distinguished beard, well-spoken, and a kind manner. Hospitals are strange places at the best of times, and we were all on drugs (not often I ever get to say that), so we all learned to forgive the odd behaviour in others. It may be the effects of the illness, it may be the drugs, or it may just be normal behaviour. We didn’t ask questions. My new friend could be quite forgetful, imagine outrageous things, and often went for walks around the ward in the wee small hours. As I was enjoying rather large doses of morphine I appreciated the company of a forgetful person, I love outrageous things, and – as a seasoned insomniac – I rather enjoyed the late night chats and walks. It was something to do, and wonderful company.
Earlier today I was enjoying my freedom in the park. It was a lightly breezy spring afternoon, and I hadn’t given much thought to my recent extended stay in the hospital. Usually when I go back to the hospital to have a dressing changed I drop up and visit my new friend, but on the last visit he was gone. As I heard that he had been given good news I assumed that he had gone home. That gave me something to be happy about. On the way home today I ran into his family coming from the hospital. I crossed over the road to greet them, and discovered that he had been taken into the Intensive Care Unit. He hadn’t gone home. Tonight he is still in the ICU and is in an altogether poor condition by all accounts. For obvious reasons I’m not going to share my new friend’s name, or the details of his family, but I do ask this of you – that you pray for him and his family. God will know who you mean. He has been in my thoughts a great deal, and I would like to see him pull through. Remember also his family, and all families in a similar position. It is not an easy place to be.
It is great being out of the hospital. Don’t get me wrong – I am delighted that the operation has been done. The staff members in the hospital were brilliant and I do appreciate everything that was done for me in St. James’s, but hospital is still I pretty rough place to be holed up for any length of time. So I am glad to be a free man again. Being out of the ward, however, doesn’t mean that now I am entirely free from the hospital. My surgeon has gone and left a big hole in my backside which now needs ongoing attention from the South African nurse in the Dressings Clinic where I am treated as an outpatient. Reichsmarschall Ellen, I am sure, is a lovely woman to the people in her life whose arses she doesn’t have to repackage every other day, but to patients she has something of a reputation for being something of an ‘ex-military, no-nonsense hard-ass.’ Having now had personal experience of her loving ministrations I can confirm that she is indeed a no-nonsense sort of lady. I don’t know about her past military career, but my bottom certainly does feel like it has been the target of a strategic Spring Offensive.
There was simply no placating this nurse. After being warned by a person whose identity I feel I now ought to protect I did everything in the book to be friendly and polite. Nothing washed. She had missed her break and was about to take out her frustrations on my bum. Two days prior to my appointment with the Dressings Clinic my wound was gauze packed by nurses on the ward who made a point of admonishing me to go nowhere near the dressing. I wouldn’t know what to do anyway so I left it to the care of the clinic. That turned out to be a huge mistake. Ellen took the fact that my seventy-two hour dressing hadn’t been changed in forty-eight hours as proof of my laziness, poor personal hygiene and general moral inferiority. She asked why I had not changed it, I threw the other nurses under the bus, and she wanted to know why I had listened to them. Why in God’s name would I be taking medical advice and directions on the care of a wound dressing from a nurse? The mind boggles. I figured that this was one I just had to take for the team. As she tore away at my open flesh I contented myself – between screams – by whistling Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles.
On a humorous note, this tweet asking for a little dignity from a hospital’s member of staff managed to get @urfhasaidh blocked from following St. James’s Hospital on Twitter or reading any of its tweets. Perhaps it is time to resort to snail mail.
As the Irish economy continues to worsen, and as the government continues to make deeper and deeper cuts into the public services, more and more working class people are finding themselves ineligible for the Medical Card. At the same time, as wages fall and unemployment rises, fewer people are able to afford private health insurance. What we see happening then is the growth in the population of people who fall into the widening healthcare gap. The procedure that I underwent – to remove a cyst on my lower back – was intended to have me in the care of the hospital for no more than two nights. In the end I was taking up a bed in an acute ward for a total of twelve nights. The reason for this long captivity and waste of precious resources was that I live in the gap between the Medical Card and private health insurance. Removing the puss from my large open wound, and speeding up the repair of my flesh, was a wound vacuum which belonged to the hospital and was not – for insurance reasons – allowed to leave the hospital. In order to leave the ward another pump had to be rented by the community health system from a private company at a cost of somewhere in the region of sixty-thousand euros for the duration of my recovery. I would not be leaving hospital.
Rather than the HSE purchase something as simple as this device, it was willing to see much more money squandered and a bed being taken up as it kept me in hospital. Considering that I am not alone in this care gap it can only be concluded that the Irish health system is wilfully haemorrhaging money. In the end – stuck between ethical care and the need to get me out of a bed – the decision was made to remove the wound vacuum from me and change my treatment to the more traditional (‘primitive’) gauze dressing. This tried-and-tested method works, but it will take longer and comes with a slightly increased risk of infection. Do I care? In truth: not really. After twelve nights in hospital with the full use of my body and mind I was pushing as hard as the hospital to get out of there. It is sad that we have to make do with an inferior level of medical treatment and care because of the mess that the Irish political class have brought upon us, but I am young(ish) and healthy(ish). What bothers me the most is that effects like this – right across the board – will have terrible consequences for the poor, the elderly, the sick, and the vulnerable. We are yet to see the true cost of this mess.
Pain relief is one thing, the side-effects of the medicine is quite another. Thank goodness for morphine. When it comes to sheer physical pain opiates are the way to go, but the effects that the drug have on the mind are colourful to say the least. Depending on one’s state of mind morphine takes its captive on a variety of journeys. My first experience was wonderful. I was on a yacht being served martinis by young women in bikinis (says a lot about my psychology this). As the anxiety of being in hospital deepened in my waking mind the trips began to get darker. Gone were the scantily clad goddesses and my boat; now I was in the dream land of the horror and the grotesque. Mediaeval monks were nightly casting demons from me, shadows of primal darkness were shifting towards my bed, and portals to the abyss were opening up in the walls. Every night I dreaded my pills.
Sometimes, when my courage was waning (as often it does), I thought that a night in writhing agony was better than one of psychological and spiritual torture. The little brown pills were digging deep down into the basement of my fears and imagination and letting all the ugliest monsters out to play. Could it truly be the case that this suffering was making me better?
Then something wonderful happened. All that I could do to calm the psycho-spiritual distress was to apply a spiritual balm. I began to pray. Would you believe that?! For the first time in a very long time I moved my prayers from the mechanical to the meditative and reflective – focussing everything of myself (or as much as I could) into a reality beyond myself, and so entered into the mustard mist of morphine talking to angels, saints, and God.
Emerging from my dungeon one morning I was becoming agitated because I couldn’t – for the life of me – remember the words of the Our Father (yes, some drugs do that to you). I would get so far, pause, think really hard, forget, and start all over. I knew I had to say it all the way through as though it had some magical properties, but just couldn’t. Few things have upset me the way this was upsetting me. Then an angelic voice began to pray with me. Our Father, who art in heaven… I opened my eyes and saw a nurse. She was helping me to pray. That was perfect peace.