Hospital Life Reboot - My Personal Bourne Identity

You can run, but you can't hide!

I had the decency to wait about 6 months before I was admitted to hospital again. I had managed 100 days of running every day. I thought I was mentally and physically as good as I get. My body had other ideas. 

Heart meds - dangerously low blood pressure - loss of cerebral perfusion - temporary vision loss - eye stroke - collapsing - hospital - trolley - Bob’s your uncle!

I picked a busy night for A&E, they were lining us up like slippery sardines. Thank God, back then, Covid wasn’t even a twinkle in it’s prolific father’s eye.

I was transfixed by the woman in the trolley across from me, she seemed to have lots of room around her and was treating the whole affair like a slumber party. She was in her early 30s, surrounded comfortably by a cloud of cushions as she leaned forward to apply her makeup. I had no pillow, I thought about using my coat as a pillow but I was busy using it as a blanket because I didn’t have one of those either. I was dying to ask a passing nurse for one but it seemed outrageous when they were so busy (although missy across from me clearly had no problem asking, repeatedly). At one point a nurse rushed along closing all our curtains as a dead body was wheeled past. It’s awful to admit but it did cross my mind...does that mean there’s a pillow up for grabs?!

Sleep-over Sally opposite me completed her makeover then whipped out her laptop and dialled up a movie ?! (This was the friggin Emergency Dept not a ten year old’s birthday party). Out of her colossal handbag she pulled a bag of popcorn (I kid you not). A hair brush was also produced and she swept her mane of hair from cape to crown then popped her head back for the big reveal. I will always wonder what on God’s earth had brought her to A&E (looking for a date with a doctor?? Was she on a date with herself?). I started staring at her monitor for a clue to her illness - heart rate? blood pressure? whatever all those other numbers meant? it all looked good to me. But then again, I myself would be told by people (including doctors) that I didn’t look unwell, and certainly didn’t seem like I had any heart problems. Book, cover, kettle, pot, etc. Who knows what's going on under the hood!

A curtain was pulled, another sardine was shoved in beside me, the usual awkward exchange “Excuse me, I think your wheels are compressing my life support. Oh no, it’s my handbag, that’s ok”. When I looked backed Sally was gone!

Whatever happened Sally, I hope you got to watch the end of your movie!

I was squeezed in between two old lads, both with the surname ‘Byrne’, pronounced by both of them in equally strong booming Dublin accents as ‘BORN’. Watching the poor Philipino nurse trying to deal with them was a comedy of errors.

Nurse: “Mr Bern, is it?”

Byrne #1: “BORN”

Byrne #2: “Are you talkin to me? I’m BORN”

Byrne #1: “I’m BORN!”

Nurse: “I’m looking for a Mr Bern?”

Byrne #1 and Byrne #2 (in unison): “I’M BORN!!”

Nurse (looking frightened)

Me: “I think they are both called Mr Byrne”

Byrne #1: “No, I’m BORN”

Byrne #2: “No, I’m BORN”

Me: “Nurse, is there any chance of a spare pillow?”

The nurse passed her chart to a colleague and walked off.

After 24 hours, pillowless, on a trolley with the ‘BORN’ Identity, I was admitted. This time I had health insurance, but guess what, it didn’t make much difference. I was still put in a public ward under public doctors.

I signed a form that put me on a list somewhere for the private ward and my insurance company was billed as if I was a private patient but nothing private came my way, not even a conversation. I basically paid for the ‘right’ to have a private bed, but over 2 weeks no bed became available. I honestly don’t mind being a public patient but aside from driving insurance premiums up, what was the point in signing the form. Pfft, it’s a racket!

The man in the bed next to me took a bad turn, the young nurse freaked out, someone turned up with a big medical backpack (defibrillator??) he started working on the man as they barrelled him down the corridor. With the space where his bed had been now empty, I found myself looking quizzically at the lady in the bed on the other side of our departed roommate. She was quickly applying makeup, our eyes locked, “I thought I better put some makeup on, what with the doctors coming to help the man” she said. Words failed me.

In order to perform a brain MRI, my own internal defibrillator had to be stopped, reset to a pacing mode (it took over the beating of my heart). A doctor had to accompany me for the scan with paddles at the ready in case my heart arrested. Could you imagine the embarrassment! Have you seen an MRI machine? I’m pretty sure a Nun invented them and made certain there would be no room for a patient and the Holy Ghost let alone a patient and a doctor. Oh, they’d have to yank me out to resuscitate me, it would be mortifying. In true Irish fashion I’d rather die a death than die of embarrassment. Thankfully nobody died of anything.

I got chatting to a lovely lady, a fellow inmate, and we kept each other sane as the long hours dragged on. She was in for a heart scare, but had also recently been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. One third with this rare illness live a mildly affected life, another third rollercoaster and need to be monitored, the last unlucky third need chemo. She fell into the mild group (but that can change). She mentioned how she broke the news to family and friends and the overwhelming response was volleys of "Leukemia! And you don't need treatment! Sure isn't that FANTASTIC", "I am absolutely deeeeeelighted for you", or the fix-all "Well! Isn't that great news altogether!!". It wasn't a fantastic day for her, she wasn't delighted.

‘Fantastic', 'Great News', is that really what you want to hear when you have the big C? (even if it's a rare passive version). Of course people are trying to be strong and point out the positives, sure I'd probably say the same words myself, but it's good to acknowledge and allow the person their moment. The positive strength is definitely needed, and a focus on optimism will get her through this, but what the woman needed, even just for one day, was permission to wallow, sure we wouldn't be Irish if we didn't!

Across from me in the ward were two elderly ladies who talked more about death than I thought humanly possible. It made me think how little the Irish psyche has probably changed in hundreds of years, but then the ladies would vere into new conversations that reminded me we are indeed living in the New Ireland.

Auld wan #1: I don't go to mass anymore, do you?

Auld wan #2: Not at all. I say me prayers now so I do

#1: Sure so do I of course

#2: My local priest came out as gay. He told everyone about it. D'ye know what, nobody cared!

#1: My neighbor is a gay and got married and all

#2: Sure it's just how they are born, right?

#1: Of course, of course

#2: Did you know the Eurovision is for the gays?

#1: G'way!

I was in the hospital for a fortnight so I was back to my usual St James’s routine of rambling the halls, examining the hanging artwork and photographs in detail. There are some thought provoking messages just staring you in the face. But my favourite moments were listening to the auld wans in the ward chatting.

Dinner arrived and one of them said "I asked for chicken goujons and they gave me pedigree chum."

On the phone to her daughter one day, the elderly lady declared "Don't you dare tell anyone I'm in here. I don't want any visitors coming in staring at me. They might as well put me in a cage and throw peanuts at me! ... Ah why did you tell Marie, jaysus, ring her back up and tell her I'm in the psychiatric ward...And there's no way I'm moving in with you when I get out, you can't even cook coddle and that's a fkn gobshite's recipe!"

Not every pensioner in the place was a hotbed of witty putdowns and dry observations. Some were just as gentle as their aging bones. One wisp of a gentleman, nearly brought a tear to my eye. He was being examined by a young doctor. The doc asked the man to squeeze his fingers and the frail old man whispered "Oh no, I could never do that, I'd be afraid of hurting you" Bless!

Although, some of the doctors do look like wee babies. To get my blood pressure out of the danger zone a doctor/teenager decided to scrap ALL of my medication. I need my heart medication to stay alive. After a few days he realized this and the dosage dirty dance began again. Heart medications are very powerful, when you stop them, (and really, you shouldn’t), you have to start at the beginning again, and if you’re lucky and your BP doesn’t hit the floor, you can up titrate. He said he would start me on ‘baby doses’, I did wonder would he deliver the dose on a ickly wickly spoon making an airplane noise.

With my bib, my baby doses and my rusk biscuit I headed off home.

The day before I left my five year old daughter Roisin was able to visit me on the ward, she said "Mum, I know your doctor hasn't seen you so I was thinking maybe I could become your cardi-biologist". When she left, Dom told me later, there were tears rolling down her face, he asked her if she was ok and she said she was fine, it was just that her eyeballs were sweaty. Broke my heart.

Four months later I would just about make it through the toughest experience of my heart surgery.

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  1. Looks like you have passed on your wit to your lovely daughter. Wishing you every success on your journey , you are a great inspiration.


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