Covid - Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!

"And then a hero comes along"


This is my Public Service Announcement - if you think you need to go to an Emergency Dept, then go!

Despite the paralysing fear that the very walls of the hospital are painted two inches thick with racing green corona (a Farrow and Ball bestseller). I personally couldn’t think of a better time to rock up to A&E, you have your suspect Covid cases filtering left, the rest of the regular melange of malaises directed right. I think you have more chance of getting corona by rooting around the shelves of your local supermarket (my next PSA will be to encourage people to go to their local supermarket).

If you are having a heart attack or a stroke, don’t sit this one out.

Since the corona pandemic hit, everyone and their 4 inch phone has become a medical expert. I’m fairly confident I could diagnose a range of respiratory diseases without even stepping an inch closer than 2 metres “Yes, that’s your classic cytokine storm, that is, droplets, ventilator, PPE, ICU, Stat!”

If push came to shove, and that is the only way you’d probably get me into a Covid Ward, I would happily go to St James’s hospital in Dublin’s sunny south central. I heart St James’s, big time. I have been hospitalized in both a public and private capacity in four different countries, I know my canula’s from my cannelloni, my hands down favourite, double-pinkie-swear-best-friends-forever, is St James’s public hospital.

They have had my back for 20 years, from cancer to cardiac care, these guys are on point (respect to Dr Foley my Cardiologist, his team, and the amazing nurses, HCAs, dinner ladies, the whole shebang).

But what makes St James’s special are the patients. There is nothing quite like an inner city Dub with a bit of an axe to grind, and all the time in the world to grind it.

For the last 20 years I have had a minor heart condition induced in my early twenties after a barrage of chemo drugs (dilated cardiomyopathy and mitral valve regurgitation - for all you fellow medical experts out there! If you love an ole cancer story - start here). Last year, after arriving home from living in San Francisco, I developed a bit of a wheeze and some fatigue, I had a feeling it was heart related and put all this to a brash GP (whose practice I no longer attend), she told me dismissively on four occasions I simply had bronchitis.

When I started waking at night gasping for air and had some heart stopping palpitations, I decided to skip another condescending diagnosis from the Primary Care Pillock and headed off to St James’s Public Emergency Dept. I had no health insurance, going private wasn’t even an option.

A weekend night in an inner city A&E was one of my more colourful nights out. There were physical fights, family feuds, drug addicts losing their minds, and mentally unwell unravelling in the front row. One such unwell lady would periodically roar obscenities as she sat calmly. A very agitated woman, who looked liked she used her bejewelled fists to slash throats, decided she’d had enough of the front row fecker. She tipped up the chair tossing the mothercusser on to her feet. Without missing a beat the lady whipped around, took one look at the red hot raging gurrier and yelled “Oh my god, Oh my god, can it be true…” she gasped holding her breath.

The whole room inhaled and looked from one mad woman to the other, were they long lost friends, was there about to be an epic reality TV style hug and reunion. Even the throat slasher looked like she was welling up. “Is it? Could it be?” the lady continued. We were all on the edge of our seats...”Are you? Are you really...the UGLIEST woman in the world” ! OhNoSheDidn’t (gasp)! “Everyone, I have found the uuuugliest woman in the entire world”. Red Rager, went straight in for the punch roaring "I'll BURST YA". Thankfully the security guards pounced on the women and took them outside.

I seriously thought about leaving, it had been 8 hours since I was triaged and I was still in the bull pen. I didn’t know how many street fights I could handle. I got as far as packing my book away and standing to go, when suddenly my name was called, they had found me a trolley, I jumped on that trolley quicker than Red Rager at a beauty counter.

After 21 hours of trolley time, a Blood Pressure that dipped to 50/25 at one point, I was admitted to hospital (if my BP had gone any lower I think they might have made up a nice bed for me in the morgue!). As luck would have it, I caught things just in time, my heart was in severe failure with an Ejection Fraction of 31% (EF is how well your heart pumps, you slip below 30, you can precipitously decline, and you’re getting into transplant territory). My doctor said if I had waited even 2 months longer things would have been grave (if I’d stuck with that pompous GP I probably would have waited and waited for my “bronchitis” to shift).

To prevent Sudden Death (don’t you hate when that happens) I was fitted with a defibrillator/pacemaker, and after a solid month in hospital, I improved -woohoo! I was released back into the wild and have been ticking along ever since.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, as a writer, that month in hospital was akin to going on an immersive retreat with all your favourite characters from fiction. Every day was a comedy goldmine. I jotted down the verbatim conversations, I noted the peculiar carry on, I kept my real time texts, I’ve tried to capture some of those moments here and in the next few posts. Nothing is exaggerated, nothing is invented; if your tummy is tickled the credit goes to the wonderful cast and crew of this incredible city I am proud to call home.

My first port of call was the Chest Pain Assessment Unit where I had 3 other roomies. I was installed about 5 minutes when the lady in the bed next to me yanked back the curtain to introduce herself and the two men across from us. In a scene I can only imagine paralleled in our country's prisons, the three leaned in as the lady whispered “What are you in for?”

The nurses were superb, they enveloped us all in warmth and reassurance, a mixture of Irish Mammys, Indian Mammys, and people way too young to be anyone’s mammy. At different points each of the nurses sidled up to me and whispered, out of the side of their mouth, that I had picked the best weekend to come in, the top Cardiologist was on duty. This would be repeated to me again and again in secret sidebars “If I got sick, this is the doctor I would want”. True to form he saw me every day, even his days off.

It reminded me that going to a public hospital does not mean you get second rate care.

Maybe I’ve had the luxury (?!) of being sick enough that it doesn’t matter if I’m private or public, I fall into a new category that trumps them both - urgent. During my non-urgent phases (and it does feel sometimes like ‘normal’ is a phase and feeling unwell is a norm) I see some doctors privately and some publicly, I’m not against private care, money talks and apparently skips queues.

My message is, don’t be afraid to go to a public hospital whether it is now in the middle of a crisis or anytime. All the hospitals in Ireland during these unprecedented times are public, only certain A&Es are open, if you are very unwell, if you think you are having a stroke or a heart attack GO GO GO! (not to add any pressure to your pulsating heart, but seriously, GO).

In the public system, it’s a team based approach, there are certain care plans that must be followed, there are more sets of eyes on you, checks and balances, more than one person is accountable for your well being; from a blitz of young doctors, a bevvy of interchanging nurses, and, somewhere on top, the Consultant. Yes, you join a queue, yes everything seems to take ages, but if you are sick enough, if you are in need, you will be taken care of.


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  1. Yes! Public hospitals are legendary. I would go in a heartbeat ;) Covid or not!


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