So the phone rings at 7 pm last Thursday. I’m in bed. The joys of night shift living and all that good stuff. A sibling is on the other end of the bat-phone.
” Mom was taken to hospital in an ambulance. Can you go up? “
” Yes” I said. Well I thought I said it.
It has been brought to my attention that of late, for the first hour(s) after I wake up my voice-box and brain aren’t fully co-ordinated. Things said in my brain don’t make the long and tiresome journey to my mouth. At any rate I managed to get to UCHG Accident and Emergency department at some time before 8 pm. It has been awhile and I forgot how enjoyable the whole occasion is once you treat it as a tragi-comedy.
The waiting area was fairly quiet as I scanned it looking for signs of my mother. No obvious clues or carnage. Ah she must be inside the double doors I thought, where all the magic happens. After a couple of minutes I gain access to the inner sanctum.
The scene within is somewhat different. I briefly wondered had I missed a terrorist bombing in Galway city while I snoozed my way through the day. Bodies everywhere in various states of pain and consciousness. Dozens of sick, vulnerable people deprived of basic dignity is quite a shock.
As I side-stepped my way through the trolley laden corridors I managed to find the battleground HQ that is the Nurses Station. The phone was ringing. Constantly without pause. Nobody seemed to notice it or be bothered by it’s incessant noise. I passed on the details of my mother and one of the nurses went off to find her. 10 minutes passed. The phone never stopped ringing. Never got answered. No-one had a spare moment rushing here and there.
When the nurse returned she informed me my mother was being evaluated by a psychiatric doctor. Interesting I thought. It dawned on me, now that I was fully awake, that I never asked my sister why my mother was in hospital. If that sounds strange well we are quite the Addams family at times.
A very friendly Latin Doctor approached me after a minute or two and introduced himself.
” Are you Mrs O’Neill’s son? “
” Yes , Yes I am”
He lowered his voice and in a very sombre tone relayed the following information:
” Your mother is very agitated about a letter she received from the Co. Council”
Not exactly what I was expecting to hear. You know when the funny bone in your brain gets a belt at the most inappropriate of times. That’s what happened to me. It was all the funnier because he was so sincere. Better not tell him about my voicebox /brain wiring problem I quickly advised myself. No point in the two of us getting sectioned on a week day.
We go into a room off the corridor and lo and behold my mother is ranting and raving all sorts of lunacy. Over and above the normal family threshold.
” Have her bloods been taken ” I enquire.
She has been suffering from some type of anemia and auto immune disorder with a low blood platelet condition for the last 12 years and has a history in UCHG as long as your arm. Part of her treatment plan for all that period of time is that she is on low dosages of steroids.
” No. but is this behaviour normal for her? “
Well now how long is a piece of string. No it’s not normal but then again what passes for normal in our house might in other parts of the country qualify to have a psychiatric wing named after us.
” I have only seen this level of paranoia once before with her and it was 10 years ago when they were trying to find the correct dosage steroids to help treat her condition. “
” Ahhh right we will get her bloods checked and check out her medication”
In other words we will stop treating her as a psyche patient and find out if there are any medical reasons for her panic attacks and assorted problems with the Co. Council. A systems failure rather than a staff one I feel.
I was surprised that she had been in A&E for the guts of 4-5 hours and no-one had checked her medical records or the medication that she had brought along with her. As it transpired later, she had been given an increased dosage of steroids a week earlier to help clear a chest infection. In all likelihood she took two tablets instead of one or forgot to take the correct mix of tablets. Or perhaps she just had a reaction to the increased dosage. Leading to today’s episode. However I must say that the psyche doctor was very likeable. Helpful and seemed to care.
As I thanked the doctor my mother wondered aloud to all and sundry if she could be treated by a proper Irish Doctor ( who would obviously be more understanding of the intricacies of dealing with the Galway Co. Council). She informed the nurse who took her blood that she didn’t look qualified. I couldn’t help but wonder if we would make it back out to the waiting room without a Garda escort. I could still hear the phone ringing in the distance and longed to answer it.
Post Bloods we spent the next 4 hours in a quietish waiting room. I must at this point confess my love of Travellers. There were roughly 15 of them at one point in the waiting room huddled together from the same family. Telling stories and generally keeping the whole place entertained. Good looking traveller stock are in my opinion superior looking beings altogether.
I counted 6 that were in pyjamas and dressing gowns. Did I mention smart too. Turns out none of them were actual patients. Perfect A&E waiting room attire methinks. At about 5 past midnight a grandmotherly type figure comes out of the A&E double doors flanked by two sons. A huge roar of approval goes up and they all head off home. I was sad to see them go.
It was a Thursday night so at about 2 am the Galway student population started straggling into the waiting room in dribs and drabs. A pumped stomach here and an assault there. Distraught girlfriends and aggressive boyfriends. Cops and the odd bungled robber. I silently wonder why there is no popcorn in the vending machines.
My mother announces that she is calling the county council at 3 am. You go girl.
I notice a couple of stragglers that have been coming in and out all night without actually trying to be seen by anyone. They are noticeable because they never look up when the double doors to the A&E open; like the rest of us do. It occurs to me that they are homeless and the night outside is cold and wet.
My mother falls asleep at about 5 am and her mumbling is quite contented and rhythmic. Like she is winning an argument with Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan or a Healy Rae. I rest awhile myself and watch as the porters line up some empty trolleys in the waiting area. Almost like proof that this is a system that works.
Later, The bloods come back clear or relatively normal. Which if the steroids are working you would expect. The problem now was to ascertain whether her behaviour was a result of the recent, temporary increased dosage. Just to be sure…to be sure…we were referred back to the original psyche doctor. I felt sorry for him: he had obviously been working for god knows how long. He still maintained a calm and measured approach to my mother and I admired him for it. Definitely a guy in the right profession. We both noted the decreased levels of county council activity coming from my mother.
He prescribed an anti-psychotic and a sedative to counteract the symptoms and arranged for a team to check in with her at home early this week by phone. And they did.
This post is not meant to criticize the much maligned A&E departments around the country just an observation of one night and one experience. I saw people who were great dealing with not alone ill people but most impressively a variety of difficult people including my mother. A system in need of repair but that probably doesn’t require billions to fix.