Overworked, undervalued: the angels saving our lives



A Friday in July last year, the summer sun two hours from going to bed. I made my way home through crooked country roads from a neighbouring town where I had had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years. I was driving with just one eye on the road. I had gone blind in the other, having had a stroke an hour earlier over the dinner.

I was erringly calm. I had no disability or pain whatsoever, other than the eye completely shut down. I wasn’t even sure it had been a stroke, though I suspected so. Once home I rang 999.

A considerate operator assessed my predicament. “It could be five to seven hours before I can get an ambulance to you. It’s Friday night. And then you won’t be on a trolley for the weekend but sitting on a chair in the corridor. Anyway, the Mater is the better option as Beaumont is not a stroke hospital,” he said.

Could the ambulance take me to the Mater?

“No, the ambulances in your catchment area only serve Beaumont. But they would probably transfer you on Monday when a consultant comes and sees you.”

The idea of a weekend on a chair in an overwhelmed corridor saw me withdraw my 999 request, pour myself a glass of Malbec and watch Grey’s Anatomy — with the good eye.

Next morning my neighbour drove me to the Mater public hospital which, for initial assessment, is better placed than the private one. My local eye specialist, having seen me earlier, emailed ahead. They were expecting me, and hooked me up immediately. Stroke was confirmed and I was admitted to a bed of sorts in the Emergency Department where I languished until the wall clock crossed the midnight hour. I was then transferred, because I have health insurance, to a huge private room where on the Monday a consultant and his team outlined my options.

Send me home with a load of medicines and the chances of another stroke within my lifetime were 15-20 percent. Or open the artery in my neck, clean out the gunge, and the chances of it reoccurring were one to three percent.

“No contest there, doc,” I said. “Let’s open me up. And let’s do it at the private hospital. The food is better there.”

The earliest available opening for the op was 10 days away as I needed to be primed. On the third day in my huge private room my nurse — one of my many angels — asked if I would mind going to a public bed as a young man in that bed was dying and his family wanted privacy.

Later that night I could hear the wailing coming from my once occupied private room.

In spring of last year I found myself in Beaumont for a benign illness that nonetheless needed hospitalisation. I went in by ambulance under the careful watch of reassuring paramedics. The first 17 hours I spent on a chair in a corridor, surrounded by other broken souls, one a woman of at least 85. Catatonic.

My chair was opposite a room into which medics would invite families to tell them their loved ones had died. You could hear the relentless sobbing.

When I eventually managed to attract a nurse’s attention, I pleaded: “For pity’s sake I can’t do this. Find me a bed, please. I’m an old guy.”

Eventually they moved me to a ward with five other men, older than me I guessed. Two obviously had dementia, while a third had mental health issues as he continually verbally abused the nurses when not talking to himself.

“He shouldn’t be here,” I said to the nurse.

She said: “There’s no room anywhere there for him, so we have to keep him here.” She was leaving in four weeks for a post in Dubai.

In the January I had surgery on my spine to correct the deterioration of an injury from a horse throw back in the Seventies in Africa. The procedure was in the Hermitage private. The hospital was more like a five-star hotel, attention to my every whim worth every euro of my hefty insurance premium.

All the staff from tea-lady to consultant were wonderful, kind professional people lovingly mending my broken body. But no more so than any of the dedicated and committed people I encountered in my subsequent visits.

All overworked and undervalued by the system. Even with one eye closed I can see that.

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