Category Archives: Health Care

Monnie Furlong O’Neill. 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Having previously written about my mams terminal illness, it is with a numbed sadness that I am writing now about her recent death.

Reading notices in newspapers about people who have died after cancer, I have always been struck by the language used. “She fought hard” or “he battled strongly”. These words always conjured up images of the said person dressed up in army fatigues, in a war zone, engaged in hand to hand combat.

Dying of cancer may be like that for some people, but I never saw it as a war or a fight that my mother could “win”.

In the earlier days of her illness there was certainly hope, but as the disease progressed, this hope was extinguished and she was left with the stark reality of facing into an uncertain future. Her time for living was limited and she knew that she was going to die.

I believe that facing our mortality must be the most frightening experience ever. We spend our lives planning this and that, visualizing particular outcomes and results. But imagining our own death and what comes after it is mystifying and terrifying, because we have nothing to go on and no images of what happens next. While medical intervention and treatments can make a person more comfortable during their illness, the undeniable fact that life is drawing to a close must be petrifying.

My mam was ill for almost two years. During this time she had incredible support and care from all the health professionals who she came into contact with. She took everything that was offered to her in the hope of gaining more time, and she accepted all treatments and interventions despite them making her feel sick and her losing all her beautiful hair.

By the time December 2012 rolled around, she was increasingly tired and unable to cope with living alone. We sometimes talked about the future, but these conversations were difficult and she confessed to feeling afraid. She was admitted into the palliative unit of the hospice in Harolds Cross in Dublin early in December and she peacefully died in their care on January 11th.

During her time there the staff made her feel so special, and they showered her with attention mixed up with humor and compassion. She was treated with absolute dignity and respect by everyone who worked there including the volunteers who brought tea in the evenings to her visitors. Spending time with her was a pleasure, and it was wonderful to see how she was viewed by the people who all contributed to her care. She loved being there and grew less afraid as time moved on. She told me this several times.

As she grew weaker her beautiful hair grew once more, and it was great to see her give up her wig and to look stylish and trendy with her new cropped pixie haircut. She was with my family on Christmas day for a few hours, and although she was tired we laughed and told stories around the dinner table as we always had done in the past. We could see though that she was struggling.

As a family we had time to spend with her as her life drew to a close. I was alone with her holding her hand when she slipped into a sleep that she would never awaken from, and my brother and I sat up with her through that first night. We whispered together in the darkness as we said our goodbyes. It was a frosty bright night and there were two foxes outside that kept stealing past her window. It was a real privilege to be there with her as she prepared for her journey from this world. She slept peacefully for three more days while our family kept vigil, and then she quietly slipped away while my two brothers and one of her own brothers were present.

She leaves behind siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbours and dear friends who loved her and who will miss her forever. She also leaves us with memories of a wonderful woman who loved life and embraced it with passion and gusto. She spoke her mind and had an opinion on almost everything, and her voice and expressions will echo around in my head for a long long time to come.

Rest easy mam, your long journey here is over, but only you know if another one is just beginning.

My future destiny will always contain elements of my past and this will always include my mother……

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Living with Epilepsy…..

My son has Epilepsy. This is not the sum of all parts that make him as a person, but it is a huge factor in his life. He grew up healthy and happy, but he suffered a head trauma 10 years ago when he was a trainee Guard at 19 years of age. He banged his baby soft skull against a concrete wall when playing a joke on a colleague which resulted in a major seizure within 24 hours. The precious safety cap that surrounded his brain was chipped and damaged that day and can never be repaired.
 
This major brain injury has impacted in so many ways on my family that can often be inarticulate and without expression, but it has affected my darling son in ways that I am sometimes emotionally inept at dealing with.
 
He has had much more to deal with than I have.
 
His promising career with the Irish Police Force ended when another seizure occurred almost twelve months later. The Guards ‘let him go’. Epilepsy is a condition that prohibits so many life and career choices, and being a member of the police force was one of them.
 
He took all of this in his stride, and despite the desperate fallout, he took a side wards step to fulfill his ambition of working with marginalised youths and went to college and is now doing all that he ever wanted to do. He works full time with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and he is dedicated to his profession and is well loved and respected by his peers. He is also a volunteer in the local football club and gives so much of his free time in the endless pursuit of community building through sport with young people.
 
He is on prescribed epilepsy medication for life and it keeps him safe (most of the time) but he has had infrequent seizures since.
He is my precious child and I adore him.
 

I admire his refusal to be categorised by his Epilepsy although the mammy in me wants to protect him and keep him in bubble wrap.
I admire his dedication in trying to make life better for other people, but I get frustrated when he puts his own health on the back burner and doesn’t place himself first.
I admire the way that he will not let this condition rule his life as he gets on with it.

But….

I wish I could wave a magic wand and go back to that day and put a pillow on that concrete wall.
I wish that he didn’t have to hide this terrible stigma that he carries 24/7
I wish that Epilepsy was understood and talked about more.
I love him for all the parts that he is and I wish that life didn’t deal him such a shitty hand of cards.

Destiny is not all that and a bag o’ chips sometimes…..

Is this Destinydelivered…..

There is something deep inside of me that is loosened by alcohol. I am not sure if it is a feeling of inadequacy, shyness, or reluctance, but I recognise that if I have a glass or two of wine, and I am near my computer- I am compelled to write my thoughts down.

Since I began blogging last year (July 2011) I have wanted to record and write so many things… It started out as a kind of living diary for me and for my already grown up children… I wanted them to somehow ‘see’ the person that was inside their mother….

I wanted them to separate the familiar ‘mammy’ that they knew and grew up with, from the woman that I was before they were born and who also lived a parallel life while they were children.

My ramblings were not intended for them to scrutinise in the ‘here and now’- they were for after I was gone.

This was the shyness, or the reluctance that stopped me from publically posting my blog for such a long time. I was afraid of being questioned, afraid of being ridiculed, afraid of being judged.

Becoming a blogger in the past year, I have learnt that writing personal stories, thoughts and histories, and sharing them amongst friends and family has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

It can sometimes be difficult to articulate fears and inexperience, to flounder in the face of adversity, and in front of people who expect that you will always perform to your optimum.

Blogging has allowed me to share how unsteady I have felt in my past, and also how I recognise that my future is not mapped out and assured.

I began writing this blog as a life diary for my children so that they could somehow know me after I was gone, but in writing it, I am getting to know myself more so than I ever thought possible by simply recounting my life and recording it.

Is this Destinydelivered?

At the end of the day………

It’s such a commonly used expression –

Irish people use it all the time. We throw it around casually in conversations….. “At the end of the day she was acting the maggot and I will NEVER be friends with her again”… “At the end of the day the score was even and the ref was SOOOO right”. “At the end of the day he was such a fecker that I dumped him”.

“At the end of the day” is a colloquialism- a part of the popular Irish vernacular, and although a lot of people use it frequently in conversation, I don’t honestly believe that we think too much about what lies behind the words that we are saying.

Circumstances have a way of making you sit up and take notice of what was once ordinary become extraordinary…….

At the end of the day on Wednesday I learnt that my mother’s terminal cancer had spread to other organs in her body…

At the end of the day I realised that her treatment had not halted this terrible disease despite medical interventions and chemotherapy….

At the end of the day I was alone with her as we were told that the results of her recent scans did not herald good news…..

At the end of the day we were sitting together quietly in a hospital room hearing words that extinguished all hope….

At the end of the day I was sitting with my mother the moment that we realised that the actual end of the day was coming sooner than we thought….

 

I am currently confused about the meaning of Destiny…..

People- and the way they touch our hearts and minds….

Meeting someone pivotal in your life is often not greeted by cymbals and drum rolls. Sometimes they just slip in unnoticed and non-assuming, yet they can subliminally change how we think and act in quiet and unobtrusive ways. People like this are like jewels. Colorful treasure in a sometimes grey, monochrome world that can make us sit up and take notice of the beauty and sparkle that is inherent in life.

I met a man twelve years ago who changed me, fundamentally and quietly without his knowing. We met weekly and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, visions and ideas. He was older than I was and had a broader life experience and education than I had at the time. He spoke to and listened to me, and encouraged me to believe in my aspirations, beliefs and hopes. He supported me as I took the first tentative steps to thinking beyond the person that I was at the time, and he shaded my dreams with pencils of colour and substance.

Looking back, I recognise that I was at a crossroads in my life. My children were in their late teens and were on their own paths of discovery. My job at the time was well paid but I hated it. My husband had his career and was working hard at it. I was approaching my 40’s and I truly didn’t know who I was or where I going to. My life was predictable and mostly enjoyable, but it was lacking something that I couldn’t articulate or name.

This man encouraged me to read the works of great philosophers and writers, and to think deeply about the things that produced joy and happiness for me. He believed in the power of silence and self-reflection and taught me not to feel afraid in the quiet of my mind. Through our weekly discussions we explored what the universe had to offer us as humans and what we could give back.

We debated and argued back and forth about what was meaningful and relevant in a world gone mad with consumerism and greed. We agreed that it was people and how they felt that mattered most when it came to actual living.

I looked forward to our meetings and I was rarely disappointed. We were in a work environment so not all the time was spent chatting, but I loved having time out with this wonderful man learning something new in almost every encounter. He made me think in a way that I had never done before.

Trying to help my husband and children understand the monumental shift that was occurring inside me was difficult, as I was learning to think, to do things differently, and to reflect on where I was on my life’s map. I was also menopausal at the time which may have contributed to their lack of engagement with me as they all thought I was going nuts anyway. My new “Airy Fairy” way of thinking and my constant quoting of this man’s viewpoints made them laugh and dismiss me a lot, although they were never deliberately unkind. They just didn’t get what I was getting.

They didn’t understand the effect that this man was having on my consciousness. Although they listened to me, they didn’t really hear me or understand my new way of thinking. I knew that he did and I simply loved him for it.

I eventually emerged from the menopause mentally intact (although my family may disagree on this issue) and began to slowly build a new individual way of being, hugely influenced by this gentle man.

My thoughts and practices are different now and have been since I knew him. His gentleness continues to affect me in how I view the world and his wisdom will never be forgotten.

I do not see him now and have not for many years. Our paths diverged and we are not in contact. He has absolutely no idea how he influenced and changed my life.

I remember him with fondness, thankfulness and a deep and abiding love. He provided me with a space that allowed me to express my feelings, my doubts, worries and dreams. He listened to me and never judged me. He encouraged me to be quiet in myself and to appreciate the silence that lies within us all. He taught me to accept people with all their frailties and vulnerabilities and to recognise that I have those feelings too.

He has been a kind of guru for me in how I live my life although he would hate to have that title. He believed in the sharing of life’s philosophies, education and knowledge, with the implicit acknowledgement that we have no ownership of them as they were never ours in the first place. I learnt from him that wisdom, kindness and understanding that is passed on is the greatest gift that we as humans can share.

Destiny can teach us about people and the unconsciousness power they have to individually shape our lives.

Care and kindness in unexpected places

According to all the current reports in the newspaper and on the TV, our Irish National Health Service is in shambles. There are stories featured almost every day about the heartbreak and suffering that vulnerable people have to endure at a time when they need care the most. There seems to be little praise for the services and for every bad story that is heard, there are another five waiting in the wings for their day in the spotlight.

I realise that no newspaper ever refused ink, and that good news rarely makes the front page, but I am heartened by my own recent experience with the Health Service and particularly with St James Hospital in Dublin where my mother is currently a patient.

I brought my mam (who is also terminally ill) to the A & E department of James Street hospital in Dublin late on Monday night June 18th on the advice of her GP. Her condition didn’t appear to relate to her current illness, but her GP quite rightly didn’t want to take any chances. From the waiting room she was triaged within five minutes and was admitted almost immediately. The care and attention that she received during the next few hours was of an exceptionally high standard, and was in contrast to previously heard stories about this particular department.

Despite being overcrowded with patients on trollies, there was one cubicle that was constantly kept empty during the night. Trollies were moved about by the staff with the dexterity of chess pieces as doctors came and consulted with, and diagnosed their patients. Each patient was wheeled into this empty cubicle in order to have complete privacy as doctors examined them. When the consultation was over, they were wheeled back out again leaving the cubicle ready for the next patient.

All this movement/ shifting/ wheeling/ tugging/pushing was carried out by the staff with constant cheerfulness and maximum efficiency. My mother was wheeled into that cubicle three times during the hours that we were there before she was eventually transferred to a ward. Being the beneficiaries of such a high level of privacy and dignity in the middle of a hustling busy A & E dept. was so welcome and so totally unexpected given the horrific experiences of other patients that are constantly referred to by the media. The current health service is hugely criticised most of the time- but my mother’s recent experience was one to be highly commended.

The unit that she is still on is staffed by dedicated people who look after her with diligent care, kindness and professionalism. Her every need is catered for and we are so lucky that her care team are so thorough in their work and expertise.

Since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, the care and attention that my mother has received from the medical staff in St James Hospital has been nothing short of excellent. Her treatments and appointments run like clockwork, and she has always been present at the heart of every consultation and meeting about her illness.

Kindness, affection and good humour are the added bonuses that the staff provide, and my mother and the rest of my family are so grateful that she is being looked after with such compassion, thoughtfulness and consideration.

I have nothing but praise for all the health care professionals that surround us at the moment as my mother struggles to remain upbeat and as well as she can be given her fragile state. I have no doubt that while the Health Service in general is struggling and needs reform, St James Hospital as a centre of excellence is currently demonstrating how best practice can actually work as my mother and consequently the rest of our family are the recipients of this care.

Destiny can lie in the hands and hearts of unexpected people who come into our lives when they are needed the most.

New View…..

When I was recently having surgery to insert intraocular lens into my eyes I was worried about my eyesight. Would I see things differently afterwards- would I see colours as I remembered them- would this surgery restore my sight to what the experts promised it would be? These questions were the biggest things on my horizon when I embarked on a journey that was frightening and uncertain. My distance vision has been impaired since I was about 15 years of age and so I’ve worn glasses all my adult life. This has never bothered me at all.

In the past few years however my near vision has deteriorated rapidly, and as I was not suitable for varifocal lens more radical steps were required. I have since had the surgery and have had a revolutionary procedure that has resulted in my distance vision now being better than 20/20 and my near vision being restored. I can now see the world in a sharper and clearer way.

I still had the bandages on one eye when my mother got the news this week that her cancer is terminal. Her breast cancer has spread to her lungs and as she is a frail 82 years of age, her surgeon sees no point in putting her through the trauma of the originally proposed mastectomy. She will be treated with oral chemotherapy to try to contain the disease to her lung and breast in the hope that it will not travel further.

Bravely- she asked the question about how long she had to live- and unhesitatingly her Oncologist answered. Two years.

Facing an uncertain future is something we all live with but we push it away and pretend that we have years ahead…. My mam is now faced with a finite date on her life and is determined to be as strong and upbeat for as long as she can be. She is wilful and stubborn and I realise that she will do it her way and not mine or my sibling’s way because she is an independent strong woman and despite a million and one rows that we have had over the years, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thinking about my own eyesight fears seem so petty and small compared to the struggle that my mam is going through and I wish that my new eyes didn’t register the worry and uncertainty that I saw on her face today. I wish I didn’t see the tiredness and I wish I didn’t see the effort that she was making to chat and remain upbeat.

I collected her and her sister to bring them to lunch and I kept an eye on her through the drivers mirror as I drove along. She was in the back seat of the car chatting with her sister when she leaned through the seats and said “I never realised how beautiful your cheekbones are- I never noticed them before because you wore glasses”.

Compliments from my mam are rare and treasured. Today we both saw each other differently and I wonder how that view will change in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Destiny is a path that changes all the time….