This blog is one of Sinn Fein's cadre of athletes. Aside from Martin Ferris who believes he still has a promising GAA career I am one of the few practising athletes in my peer group. But fitness comes at a cost as I discovered once again.
Last week I badly wrenched myself while cycling. Nothing unusual in that and I never paid much heed to it at the time. But the pain in my arm and chest continued for a few days so eventually at the behest of your man I nipped into the hospital for a check up. And thus commenced yet another adventure.
It ended you, like me will be relieved to know, with an all clear for yours truly. That is the most important personal outcome. But that to one side I also had a very useful and uplifting insight into the wonderful professionalism and kindness of our health workers from the tea ladies to the senior medical staff, and everyone else in between.
From the minute I arrived at The Minor Injuries Unit at the Louth County Hospital, in Dundalk, I was hugely impressed by the quality of care of the nurses and doctor on duty there. The only problem was they did not have the facilities to treat me at the Louth. So despite my protestations Kitty the duty nurse ruled out me driving myself and I was transported by Tony and Eric in an ambulance to Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda. That's where I became acquainted with a hospital trolley.
Again the care and professionalism of the health workers was impressive. The problem is the system is failing them. And the patients. I arrived in Drogheda at 7.25 pm and I didn’t see a doctor until 12.15 am. I got an x-ray at 1.15. I spent the night on a trolley. But at least I wasn't in a corridor.
I was in a cubicle and had some privacy but others weren't so lucky. The corridors in Our Lady of Lourdes are like O Connell Street. Noisy and busy. People constantly coming and going. No privacy whatsoever. Other patients told me they waited 7 and 8 hours on trollies waiting for a doctor. They included very elderly men and at least one young woman.
And it isn't the doctors’ fault. They and especially the nurses work under totally unacceptable pressure. And they do so with grace and good humour. The problem in Louth and Our Lady of Lourdes is a capacity issue. The removal of services from the Louth was a mistake. To do so before an alternative was in place compounds this. And patients suffer. When I was released the next day I was in Drogheda and my car was in Dundalk. Not a big problem for me but what of others from up the county dependent on public transport?
I had to return for tests and again the quality of care was extraordinarily good. The craic was also ninety. People, in some cases with their family members, dealing with illness with great fortitude and good humour. This blog got lots of slagging.
When I finished my range of tests in the Lourdes my extremely kind and thorough consultant decided I needed one last test. She also advised me not to travel to an event I was en route to in London. So I had to reluctantly stand aside from the inaugural Redmond O Neill Lecture. Thankfully Pearse Doherty stepped in, and by all accounts, he did a better job than me. Go raibh Maith agat P.
Meantime I was travelling back and forth from the Dáil to Our Lady of Lourdes. No big deal. The last test was for The Mater so that at least was handy. Only thing was I had to go to Drogheda to be admitted there and to be taken, this time by Michael and John, by ambulance to The Mater in Dublin. Again the craic was ninety. And again the care was first rate.
And I was extremely delighted to be given the all clear. And so into the ambulance again to Drogheda. So why am I telling you all this. For the record I suppose. Some media heads have been nosing around this story and it has already made its way on to the BBC and RTE websites.
But I am also very pleased to pay tribute to our hard pressed health workers. I ended up in three hospitals and the staff in all of them were first rate. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.
My abiding memory is of great kindness allied to terrific commitment and tremendous skill. My sojourn with the trolley? An insight into how others suffer. It is not the way to treat sick citizens. Especially the elderly and vulnerable.
And the blame for that - and the solution - lies with the government.