A Laugh A Day

October 28, 2008

A good laugh will do just as much for your health as a mini-workout in the gym.  Did you realise that 20 seconds of intense laughter can double your heart rate for 3 to 5 minutes, a feat that would normally involve rigorous exercise? There is a symbiotic relationship between health and humour. Humour has an impact on most physiological systems of the body.

The medical world started taking note of the possibilities of therapeutic laughter after Norman Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness, came out in the late 1970′s.  In it, he described how watching comedies and reading funny books and articles helped him recover from a life-threatening tissue disease which left him in chronic pain.

So in keeping with the theory that laughter is the best medicine, here is your laugh for today…


Pearly Gates

October 27, 2008

A doctor dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and checks him in. St. Peter then says to him, “Look at the time, you must be hungry! Heaven Cafeteria is serving lunch, why don’t you get yourself something to eat?”

The doctor goes to the cafeteria and notices the long line. He immediately cuts in at the front, only to hear loud protests. “I’m a doctor” he says, “I’m a busy man, I don’t have time to wait in line.”

The others say, “You’re in heaven now, we’re all the same here, get to the back of the line and wait your turn!”

A few weeks later, waiting patiently in line for lunch, the doctor notices a man come dashing in wearing scrubs and a lab coat, stethoscope around his neck. He butts in at the head of the line and no one utters a peep.

“Hey,” the doctor says to the guy in front of him, “Who does that guy think he is?”

“Oh, that’s God,” says the guy, “He likes to play doctor.”


A Terrible Blunder

October 23, 2008

Last April a young boy was admitted to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin, to undergo surgery to have his defective right kidney removed. It later emerged that his healthy left kidney had been removed in error. Today a report has been released following an independent investigation into the tragedy and it’s revealed a shocking catalogue of contributing factors which led to the mistake.  It was described as “an accident waiting to happen”.

When news first broke of this medical blunder, it seemed incredulous that such a terrible mistake could occur at the country’s leading children’s hospital. It has now transpired that the consultant general surgeon who recommended the surgery, mistakenly listed the wrong kidney on the surgical request form.  When the child was admitted to the hospital, a junior doctor filled out a consent form for the parents to sign without referring to the clinical notes on the child and again the wrong kidney was listed for removal. The child’s operation was carried out by a senior surgical registrar who had not examined the child on the ward before he was brought to theatre. This surgeon proceeded to remove a perfectly healthy left kidney leaving the unfortunate child with one poorly functioning right kidney.

The investigation carried out by experts at London’s renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital, outlined ten contributing factors to the botched surgery. These included delays in filing hard copy x-ray reports in the medical records, patients being regularly admitted outside of working hours and the heavy workload of doctors at the hospital. The report found that there was no policy in place at the hospital to mark the site of the procedure and that the surgeon didn’t have access to scans for reference at the time of the surgery. It also found that there was no fail-safe system to ensure a patient having surgery had their case discussed by a range of experts. It said the operation was carried out by a paediatric surgeon who hadn’t met the patient beforehand and when the blunder became obvious, it was too late to do anything about it. The report made eight recommendations to ensure the mistake is not repeated, including:

* The hospital should formally monitor the hours junior doctors work. Overwork was stated as a contributory factor in the error over the consent form. It’s a well-known fact that junior doctors are expected to work horrendously long hours resulting in serious sleep deprivation and it’s inevitable that mistakes will occur if their workload is not properly regulated or supervised.

* Surgeons should introduce team briefings at the outset of each theatre list to discuss patients. The surgeons at Crumlin Hospital have an enormous workload and are working under huge pressure to reduce long waiting lists.

* Radiology and x-ray systems should be reviewed. No up-to-date scan was available on the child for reference during the surgery.

* Consent processes should be revised. A hospital spokesperson admitted that the family had repeatedly raised concerns and questioned if the correct kidney was being removed, up to and including the time of handover to theatre.

This tragic case will undoubtedly raise concerns for the parents of any child who is presently awaiting surgery. The report has clearly outlined the need for extra safety measures to be implemented for children undergoing surgery. It has also raised the issue of doctors working under too much pressure in a hospital system that is stretched to the limits. Thankfully, the hospital appears to have handled the situation correctly as it’s taken full responsibility for the tragic error and has offered an apology. The child’s parents are happy for the child to continue to receive treatment at the hospital and have requested anonymity. One can only hope that the child will be a suitable recipient for a kidney transplant in the future and that lessons will have been learnt to prevent a tragedy like this ever occurring again.


Stayin’ Alive

October 23, 2008

Did you know that the Bee Gees’ 1977 hit ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is an ideal beat to follow to perform chest compressions on a victim of a cardiac arrest? A research study in the US has found that the fast beat of the song motivated people to keep up the rate of chest compressions needed to make cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) effective. CPR can triple cardiac arrest survival when performed properly.

An author of the study said many people were put off performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as they were not sure about keeping the correct rhythm. The song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ contains 103 beats per minute, close to the recommended rate of 100 chest compressions per minute.

The study by the University of Illinois College of Medicine saw 15 doctors and students performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on mannequins while listening to ‘Stayin’ Alive’. They were asked to time their chest compressions with the beat.

Five weeks later, they did the same drill without the music but were told to think of the song while doing compressions.

The average number of compressions the first time was 109 per minute; the second time it was 113 – more than recommended by the American Heart Association, but better than too few, according to Dr Matlock.

“It drove them and motivated them to keep up the rate, which is the most important thing,” he told the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the American Heart Association, Dr Vinay Nadkarni, said it had been using ‘Stayin’ Alive’ as a training tip for CPR instructors for about two years, although it was not aware of any previous studies that tested the song.

With thanks to BBC News (and Grannymar) for bringing this report to my attention.

Those Bee Gees in their tight jeans were enough to get my heart beating fast. I feel a touch of Night Fever coming on now!



The Show Goes On

October 21, 2008

Do you remember the television series called M*A*S*H?  It was a medical drama/black comedy and the show followed a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in South Korea, during the Korean War. The series won countless awards and the final show was one of the most watched television shows ever.

Now Ireland has it’s very own version of the same show which can be viewed in most A&E departments around the country, any day of the week. The only difference between this show and the real M*A*S*H is that no-one’s laughing at the Irish version as it ain’t one bit funny.

British-based freelance journalist and author, Diane Taylor visited a friend at Tallaght Hospital’s A&E in Dublin last week. She was shocked by what she saw. Here is her account of that experience (with thanks to the Irish Times online).

“I was impressed by the modern, spacious, hospital buildings at the Adelaide and Meath hospital in Tallaght. Sensible health promotion posters covered the walls of the reception area and dispensers of disinfectant hand rub were clearly visible in triplicate throughout the public areas.

Only the huddles of visitors and dressing gown-clad patients at the entrances inhaling deeply on their cigarettes sullied the wholesome image of the place.

I had just flown in to Dublin from London to spend a few days working with Kathy O’Beirne on the sequel to her book ‘Don’t Ever Tell ‘, a story of childhood abuse in various institutions in Dublin.

But the work plans had to be abruptly halted when Kathy called me to say she had been rushed to hospital with complications to a chronic medical condition. I headed straight to Tallaght Hospital to see her.

The hospital has the largest emergency department in the Republic, with 80,000 patients streaming through its doors every year. The A&E waiting area was full, but not bulging the way I’d often seen A&E departments look at London hospitals.

Those waiting to be seen appeared remarkably resigned and those administering the triage system seemed to be working in a calm and ordered way.

I explained to the two security guards that I had come to see someone receiving treatment in the department and was nodded through the swing doors.

What I found on the other side of the doors shocked me. Lined up on trolleys stretching as far as the eye could see along the corridor were seriously ill patients waiting for beds.

Some lay on bloodied sheets, many were attached to one or more drips and quite a few were elderly.

It wasn’t clear who was unconscious and who was sleeping, but what was clear was that everyone on the trolleys – 35 people in all – were very unwell and needed to be in a proper bed in the relatively tranquil environment of a ward rather than in the frenetic setting of a corridor in A&E.

Kathy lay groaning with pain on one of the trolleys. There were some splattered drops of dried blood on the floor under her trolley. She had a tube up her nose running down her throat and into her stomach, a tube in her arm and a bag attached to a tube running from her abdomen draining out some foul liquid, which was causing her intense pain.

A cocktail of drugs had been administered to her and she was extremely distressed to be so exposed when she was feeling so ill. Sometimes she cried, at other times she appeared to be slipping in and out of consciousness. The other patients on the trolleys appeared similarly discomfited by their surroundings.

Now and again, ambulance staff hurried past the patients lying on the trolleys, dodging the drip stands and other bits of medical equipment as they delivered the emergency cases they had decanted from their vans to the waiting doctors and nurses.

It was distressing for both the patients being rushed in and the patients who were lying, prone, on the trolleys to catch glimpses of one another.

When doctors or nurses examined or administered treatment to those on trolleys, there was no privacy for the patients. Everything was carried out in full view of whoever happened to be walking past at the time.

The nurses kept on shaking their heads when patients and anxious relatives asked them when a bed was likely to become available.

“We just don’t know, we’ve got 35 people waiting. It’s terrible but there’s nothing we can do,” said one.

“I used to work in a hospital in London and people there complained about the state of the NHS – but they don’t know how lucky they are with conditions there, compared with the kinds of things going on here,” remarked another.

“The average waiting time on a trolley before getting a bed is 24-48 hours, sometimes longer,” explained a third nurse.

While all hospital emergency departments expect spikes in admissions at certain times – such as after a major accident or during a winter flu epidemic – neither scenario was in evidence when I was in the hospital.

On the contrary, it was a beautifully sunny October day – nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. The staff said that this situation was not a blip – but, rather, the norm.

When the noxious substance had finished draining out of Kathy’s abdomen, the nurse said that she could remove the tube snaking its way from her nose into her stomach.

“You’re not going to pull the tube out of my stomach here in the corridor, are you?” asked Kathy, aghast.

“Well, where else am I going to take you?” replied the nurse. The tube was duly pulled out of Kathy’s stomach in full view of whoever happened to be walking past. Kathy was mortified.

I’m no health service expert, but during my various visits to A&E departments in London over the years I have never witnessed the kinds of scenes I saw at Tallaght.

After 24 hours on a trolley, with no prospect of a bed on the horizon and only the offer of another trolley in a day ward as a substitute, Kathy could take no more.

Her resistance to infection was low and, with various tubes stuck into different parts of her body, coupled with her extremely close proximity to other sick patients lying on trolleys and the new emergencies being rushed through the corridor, she feared leaving the hospital sicker than when she arrived.

So she opted to go home. She was warned that she was leaving against medical advice and was asked to sign a form accepting responsibility, should any medical complications arise.

She flicked through the “signing out” book and was amazed by the large number of other patients in recent weeks who had also decided to get out before their treatment was complete.

In the six hours that I spent in the corridor I saw nothing but dedicated professionalism and kindness from the doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff in the A&E unit, all working in intolerable conditions.

But it did not stop me from leaving the hospital with the impression that what I had witnessed in Tallaght Hospital’s emergency department was more reminiscent of a makeshift field hospital hurriedly established in the wake of civil war or some other disaster in a developing country, rather than the biggest A&E department in a thriving European country”.

I don’t suppose our Minister for Health will win any awards for this production but you can be sure that her finale will be one of the most watched shows ever.


Make Your Voice Heard

October 20, 2008

Last week the Government caused uproar by announcing plans to scrap the automatic entitlement to a medical card for all over-70′s. Having lulled the elderly into a false sense of security that they would be entitled to free healthcare until the end of their days, they are now trying to claw back on this commitment. There is no denying that this country is facing a serious economic downturn and that harsh cutbacks are required to sustain public finances but this callous plan to target the elderly, is despicable.

Enough has already been said about the bungled campaign to introduce a ‘means test’ for the over-70′s medical card. I have never felt so angry and frustrated by the gross incompetence shown by our Government in their handling of this issue. They are guilty of causing great fear and anguish to those most vulnerable in our society. The comments made over the weekend by our Minister for Health, Mary Harney and our Taoiseach, Brian Cowen have done nothing to allay the fears of the elderly. Now the Government is floundering around trying to find a way out of the controversy created. Our health service is no longer alone in it’s descent into chaos.

A public rally has been organised outside the Dáil at lunchtime on Wednesday to protest against this Government’s attempt to mug the elderly. If you too have been outraged by this medical card débâcle, I would urge you to show solidarity with the elderly and support this protest.

Assemble @ 1pm on Wednesday 22 October in Kildare Street, outside the Dáil.


Vive la France

October 17, 2008

Okay, so here’s how the Irish health service could/should operate if it was properly resourced and managed. The following article was published in the Irish Times and documents the experience of an Irish person who required emergency care in a hospital in France.  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Vive la Différence

“No waiting room, no trolleys, no queues, no admission fee and free parking. It was very strange indeed”, writes Michael Foley

“It is 1.30 in the morning, the first night of the annual Feria, when Beziers, in the south of France, goes en fete for a week of partying. Getting to A&E through streets thronging with revellers is a feat in itself, but arriving at the hospital is an even more unusual experience.

I rushed to hospital, with what later turned out to be a blocked artery.

Where is the waiting room? And where are all the corridor trolleys gone? Well, there is no waiting room and no queue, no line of people drunk or groaning with pain, and facing a 12-hour wait, just a woman at a desk and a sliding door that lets you straight into your own single-occupancy examination room. Parking is free and there is no €60 admission fee either.

Very strange indeed. It is so strange that we waste valuable time assuming we are at the wrong place. Why no waiting area? Goodness me, said a French nurse, urgence, the French name for the A&E, means someone requires urgent treatment; you could hardly expect someone in need of immediate treatment to wait, now could you?

It has to be said that when I last attended a Dublin hospital, eight months previously, I did not have to wait either. As I pointed to my heart and handed over the €60 casualty charge, a wheelchair almost buckled my knees as it wheeled me into triage, but behind me were others who would be waiting and waiting and waiting – unlucky enough not to have chest pain.

Back in Beziers, and two-and-a-half hours later, I had blood taken, a brain scan, a chest X-ray, and all the test results returned, and was tucked up in bed. At no stage did I see anyone on a trolley in a corridor.

Trolleys were used to ferry people. Patients slept in beds. My room, in a public ward, was for two patients, with a toilet and shower en suite. The equipment was new and worked. The bed was high-tech and moved in almost every direction.

What followed were days of tests, done without delay, and all ordered by specialists, who personally delivered results, usually within the hour. I was given scans, X-rays, MRIs and investigations I thought I might have been given eight months previously in Dublin. “Should I have had this test before?”

The doctor was non-committal.

The first specialist was a neurologist. The Centre Hospitalier de Beziers has three (as opposed to a dozen for the whole of Ireland). The doctor was a quiet, respectful woman who was available throughout the day, and who delivered the test results she herself ordered.

There was no entourage, no one to fawn and laugh at her jokes. She even had office hours when family could call in for information or advice – no need for intervention, divine or otherwise here.

We kept checking as to her status with the nurses, because her availability was akin to that of a registrar or a junior doctor in an Irish hospital, but yes, she was everything one could possibly want in one’s neurologist – professional, available and attentive. Extraordinarily, if a test was required, it was done immediately, and she delivered and discussed the results in person.

The second specialist, a vascular surgeon, again was one of three. When surgery was decided, I was moved to another floor and opted for a private room. Cost €40 a night.

Surgery was successful and after a period of recovery, I was out. When discharged, I was given a slip that was officially stamped, this is France after all, and that was it; I paid not one cent.

Under the EU health insurance regulations, I received the same treatment as a French person – 80 per cent of the cost borne by the state – and like a French person, my insurance (in my case, the VHI) paid the rest, including the cost of the private room.

One of the most remarkable features of the hospital was the level of hygiene. And not a nun in sight. The corridors were completely clear. The cleaning trolleys, with their colour coded buckets for every individual surface, plied up and down the corridors.

Masks and sprays were used as appropriate, from one patient to another. Head-to-toe disinfection twice before surgery . . .

In the Dublin hospital I attended recently, there was one shower for some 50 patients. This was in a room with a bath fitted out for disabled use. There were cracked tiles around the shower. The bath/shower room was also used as a store. If you were able to walk, you washed and shaved at a row of washhand basins, like a 1960s boarding school.

The VHI was amazing, constantly phoning me and my wife to see if I was alright. Did I want a second opinion? Was I was satisfied with the doctor? Was everything explained adequately? It also had a French-speaking doctor contact the hospital doctors who came back to explain what was going to happen.

Isn’t it extraordinary that the VHI pays no such attention to the interests or concerns of their members in Irish hospitals?

Would I have returned home for treatment if it had been feasible? Not if the advice I was given was to be taken seriously. Proof of the serious lack of confidence there is in the health service in Ireland was evident in the number of calls I had, from friends, colleagues and family, telling me how lucky I was to be sick in France and not Ireland: “Stay where you are. It’s the best place to be.”

If I returned, they thought, I might not get a bed, and if I did, I would be at risk from MRSA. “MRSA is a given,” said one friend, whose mother recently contracted it.

For the next two weeks, a local nurse visited to clean the scar and eventually remove the staples holding the surgical opening together. Cost for a home visit, €5.50 a day. But it is not just money that is the main difference between the two systems as experienced by patients. I was treated as a critically ill patient, the same as if I were French, by nurses, doctors, specialists and home visits,

I even have a GP in France now, who gave me a free consultation, just to get to know me. I only hope we don’t get to know each other too well.”

With thanks to the Irish Times for their online publication.


Birthday Buddies

October 16, 2008

Today marks the dual birthday or two very fine blogging pals indeed.  For me, a day is not complete without a visit to Baino at Baino’s Banter or to Ian at For the fainthearted where it’s guaranteed you’ll find a daily dose of intelligent, thought-provoking and often hilarious entertainment. The fact that this pair share the same birthday, is just a happy coincidence. They’re not even the same age but I think I’m right in saying that between them, they’ve clocked up a cool 100 years!

Grannymar gave me a wink and a nod a couple of weeks ago to remind me of this upcoming celebration and so I put on my thinking hat to come up with some suitable presents for these faithful friends.

Ian recently admitted on his blog, to being a rather messy eater. He bemoaned the fact that he has to pack extra clothes when going away, in order to keep up with his troublesome eating habits. I was therefore very pleased to come across this smart new stock which will help to protect Ian’s clerical garb.

I hope he’ll be pleased with my choice of gift!

Baino, as many of us will know, is a very hard worker.  No task is too great for Baino to undertake but now her bones are beginning to show their age. I’ve therefore chosen this little number for her to indulge herself in on her birthday.  I’ve been assured that the accessory in the tub is optional!

Cheers! Baino, I hope this helps to ease those aches and pains!

Now did someone mention birthday cake?  I’m off to Grannymar’s to see what’s cooking…

Congrats to you both!  Enjoy the day.


Need I Say More?

October 14, 2008

Orla Tinsley suffers from cystic fibrosis. Earlier this year, Orla received a People of The Year award for her campaigning in the Irish Times on behalf of cystic fibrosis sufferers.

Ireland has the highest incidence of CF in the world and to it’s shame, it can also claim to have the highest mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy for CF sufferers. The critical issue here is the limited availability of suitable isolation facilities in Irish hospitals. For optimum management of cystic fibrosis, patients require isolation in individual en-suite rooms to prevent cross-infection occurring but CF patients are being denied this opportunity. Instead, these vulnerable patients must present themselves to A&E where they are exposed to high risk infections while they await admission to a hospital bed. They are then transferred to a mixed ward to be nursed alongside mainly geriatric patients with a variety of illnesses. This practice beggars belief. The high rate of MRSA infection in Ireland has done little to ease the plight of the CF population. Not only is MRSA a constant threat to immuno-compromised CF patients, it’s prevalence has meant that the extremely limited supply of isolation rooms have instead been prioritised for MRSA infected patients.

I’ve written about Orla before to document the appalling hospital conditions which she and many other cystic fibrosis patients must endure.  CF patients have been waiting for more than a decade to have a dedicated CF unit built at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin and they are quite literally sick waiting.

Here is her account of her recent visit to hospital as published in today’s Irish Times.

“Dear diary: It’s Tuesday and I’m back in hospital for another blast of treatment for my cystic fibrosis, writes Orla Tinsley

I … ENTER St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin as I need treatment for an exacerbation of my cystic fibrosis. I have two options. I can go to A&E and wait on a trolley for a bed, or I can go home and wait on a waiting list.

Although my home is safer, I choose the A&E. I can’t continue in college or do the things I want to do if I am unwell, so I wait on a trolley.

A special type of needle, called a gripper, is used by most CF patients who have frequent infections. I need one now, but no one in A&E is qualified to put it in. A nurse from the designated CF eight-bed ward is called and comes down to put it in for me.

I am on a trolley in A&E and this procedure requires a certain amount of exposure. The porters are nice, the nurses are nice – they are both busy.

We ask if there is somewhere private for me to get my needle put in. There is nowhere. The specialised nurse and I think of what to do, she decides to take me out of A&E to try and find a room in the main hospital.

The A&E nurse stops us.

For a procedure that requires the utmost cleanliness, she says we can use the bathroom. The toilet in a busy, infection-ridden A&E is open to us.

We leave the department for the main hospital. It is after hours, treatment rooms are closed and wards pose a cross-infection risk. We eventually find an open door in a room that we know is clean and use it.

I go back to my trolley in A&E wishing I could have slept in that room. In A&E a nurse comes to give me my nebuliser through an O2 cylinder. I tell her that there are nebulising sets on the CF ward; if she could just ring them up she could get one. I’m sorry I didn’t bring my own, but she doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I explain twice more, then a porter who had been listening steps in. He tells her to leave it and goes up to the ward to get it.

There is no plug near the trolley I am on and so I have to wait before I can have it. I get moved to another square of the wall so that I can take my nebuliser. I then get moved into a curtained area for the night, and I am relieved.

The next day I am moved out to another curtained area. The nurse minding me is nice but busy, and late giving me one of my drugs. I ask her three times over the next few hours. Being on this drug long-term can affect kidney function, so the morning time is the best time to have it.

I use my mobile to call my CF nurse, who calls the A&E department and asks them to give me the drug. I still do not get it. I try calling my CF nurse again, but then my battery dies.

I walk up to their office and they call again, frustrated for me. They should not have to sort this out. I go back to A&E and get it.

Late that night I get a bed on the semi-private ward. It’s Wednesday night. I am in a room with a young girl, a lady with cancer and two elderly patients.

I am aware from the time my aunt was dying with cancer that I am not allowed to be around immune-suppressed cancer patients. Over the next few days I find out that the lady is in fact immune suppressed.

I am a danger to her, and I don’t think it’s a good thing to tell her.

One night the breathing of the elderly lady in the bed beside me gets worse. The next day her family are by her bedside and they keep apologising to me that it’s happening in my room. They are so, so sorry.

I tell them please, it’s not your fault. And I feel guilty that they feel so bad about it as they watch their mother die.

Another woman comes in, a new patient replacing the young girl. She is coughing violently, but seems pretty happy. She makes a phone call to a friend to tell her that at least she doesn’t have double pneumonia, like her neighbour, she only has pneumonia.

I feel the room shrinking.

She tells her friend on the end of the line: “Don’t get the sliced melon from Marks and Spencer . . . It’s right inside the door, I want the diced one,” she giggles down the line.

At that same moment a relative behind the curtain of the lady beside me says: “Is she gone? Yeah? Oh God.”

The other woman continues to talk on her phone. After the lady passes away her body stays in the room for three hours.

That night, another lady with cancer moves into the bed beside me. Her temperature has gone up so she had to come in. Both ladies with cancer are so much fun to be in a room with.

The lady who had just moved in is only starting to lose her hair, the other lady had already lost hers. She wants a “Posh Becks” hairstyle, like Victoria and David Beckham when her hair grows back. We giggle at the thought.

At every opportunity I leave the room to talk to the nurse about trying to get moved. Bed management are aware of the situation, but there is nowhere to move any of us.

I talk to the ladies about it and tell them I might write about it. They are meant to be in isolation, but they are not. I am a risk to them, and then there is the lady with pneumonia in the corner, who poses a risk to us all.

I try to sleep with a mask to protect myself and the people in the room, but it is sweaty and a bit restricting for breathing.

On Monday I am given the option of moving to a two-bedded room on the same ward. I accept and find myself in a room with one the kindest, most vivacious elderly ladies I have ever met. She is chatty, but knows when to leave me alone. She is a pleasure to share with, but even our camaraderie can’t disguise our different needs.

As she is unable to leave her bed, she needs the commode two or three times during the night. She is the nicest woman in the universe, but my cough is already making it difficult for me to sleep.

The rattle of the commode at 12.30am, 4.00am and 6.30am rips into my ability to rest. There is a smell too. It is not her fault, but I cannot sleep properly.

One day she is complaining of discomfort and extra swelling in her legs. I only become aware of it because this woman is not a typical patient.

She never complains, even though she has a chest drain in, which makes it impossible for her to walk around. That morning she complains a lot about her feet.

It is three hours at least since someone has been at her chest drain and I notice that it is clamped. I tell the nurse, he comes in straight away and deals with it. I ask a medical person about it later – chest drains should never be clamped unless they are about to be removed.

She feels better, we’re getting on well, but I’m still not sleeping well. We keep in good spirits chatting, and she tells me about how her handbag was taken while she was in hospital. Luckily her daughter was with her to cancel her cards and keep her afloat.

It wasn’t her bank card so much, but being without her reading glasses really upset her. She was told a member of security would come back to investigate the situation, but they didn’t.

There are 28 cystic fibrosis patients in as I write this, and there are eight single en-suite beds. The beds are allocated on the advice of the microbiologist. There is a long list to get into them. The eight single en-suite beds are on a new ward, but there are also general beds on that ward too for patients who do not have cystic fibrosis.

In February this year former junior minister for health Pat Gallagher said 14 single en-suite rooms would be available by the end of the summer for CF patients. I remember being told early this year that there would be six more, in another area in the hospital.

I ask a person in officialdom what is going to happen with the six other beds we desperately need until our unit comes at the end of 2010. This person tells me that there are no plans for six beds, that they have heard nothing about it. They have no funding; they have other things to sort out first. They want to see how the eight single rooms work.

Meanwhile, the winter months are coming, the number of cystic fibrosis patients needing inpatient treatment will rise. Some will refuse to go into hospital and risk damaging themselves, some will come to A&E, and risk damaging themselves.

Others can be treated at home, but if that doesn’t work they will have to come in anyway. Those who are not in the eight beds will continue enduring cross-infection, exhaustion and fear every time they are in hospital.

We will all think of the recession and what that means for us. We will comment to one another that 2010 seems like a lifetime away, and feel sick to our stomach that some of the 1,100 people in Ireland with cystic fibrosis will not see it.”

This article is published courtesy of the Irish Times online.


A Life of Struggle

October 12, 2008

Do you remember the drug thalidomide?  It was first launched in 1957 by a German company, Grunenthal.  It was sold in 46 countries and marketed to pregnant women around the world as an anti-morning sickness pill.  The drug was banned in the early 1960′s after it was found to cause deformed limbs in the children of women who took it in early pregnancy.  Around 10,000 babies around the world were born with defects caused by the drug, ranging from malformed limbs to no arms or legs.  An estimated 3,500 survive worldwide, and 31 of these are in Ireland.

Thalidomide sufferers are a tenacious bunch of people. They have lived all their lives  with pain and disability and now as they enter their 40′s and 50′s, they are noticing a sharp deterioration in their physical condition and want the government to improve their ‘meagre’ compensation. In 1975 a settlement was made with the Irish government which comprised of a lump sum and a monthly pension for life to supplement the compensation awarded by the German government, which eventually accepted liability.  While Irish authorities never accepted liability for the tragedy, the Department of Health was the regulatory authority for drugs when it was on the pharmacy shelves. The lump sums at the time, when those affected were around 12 years old, amounted to a few thousand euro.  Depending on the level of disability, the pension now ranges from €16-€35 per day.  A lot of sufferers are now in crisis and are having to leave work or are struggling on in jobs they can’t afford to leave.  They are facing difficult life choices and need financial security as they struggle against rapid decline.

Governments all over Europe are sitting down with those affected by thalidomide to sort out a proper financial package and Irish survivors are hoping that the Department of Health will look sympathetically on their case.  The Irish Thalidomide Association hasn’t gone back to the government for support in 33 years.  Surely it’s not too much to ask that they should now be afforded the dignity and justice they so rightly deserve?

With thanks to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times, for her informative article on this topic.


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