Hospital adventures; or The joys of socialized medicine, redux

The old hospital building

From the HSE history of the Galway University Hospital: “The planning of major regional sanatoria at Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Galway had commenced in 1945, before streptomycin and the other anti-tubercular drugs could have been anticipated.  The Tuberculosis (Establishment of Sanatoria) Act in 1945 enabled the Government to acquire compulsorily any property suitable for construction of a sanatorium.  But there was no question of compulsion being necessary in the acquisition of the 80 acre estate at Merlin Park:  Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham-Waithman were conscious of the terrible problem of tuberculosis at that time and felt it their civic duty to cooperate fully in transferring the property to the Government.”


Since I am now deemed ineligible for a medical card and have chosen not to continue the fight with the HSE to obtain one, I am now a public health patient in a public health system.  As stated earlier, I was to go for several medical procedures related to my MS.  My adventure with the public health system began this week with a trip out to Merlin Park Hospital, a trippy old building that exudes an air of depression and decrepitude.  The complex is fairly large and sprawling, and it’s kind of nice that it is so isolated out there in that beautiful park area (due to the fact that it was once the TB hospital and needed to be removed from the general city populace).  However, once you get inside it’s quite clean and well-kept, if a bit crowded with equipment that certainly had not been available when the buildings were first constructed over 50 years ago.  (Anyone else hear Eddie Izzard say that last bit?  No?  Just me?)

We rode out in a taxi and the cost was a lot more reasonable than I had expected.  I began to get really agitated about the concept of staying overnight, especially since I had been offered the opportunity to just go in daily and have the testing and treatments done.  At the time I thought staying in would be less expensive…  I got admitted and went up to Hospital One where I was installed in a ward room containing 3 beds and the requisite freezing cold bathroom.  At this point I knew there was no way I was going to be able to handle staying there for 3 whole days.  I spoke to the charge nurse about having been given the option of going home and she had no problem with it.  The sense of relief that washed over me was overwhelming.

Claude took the day off work to accompany me on this little adventure, and thank goodness for that.  I’d have never made it through that first day without him!  Immediately the staff nurses began to make me comfortable.  I’ll never be able to fault the care I received from these compassionate and professional women!  The intern came in to do an assessment with me; he was so young and seemed a lot more nervous than me.  Finally we got the infusion started – and problems cropped up.  Without going into gruesome detail I’ll just say that the process was incredibly painful and, after an inordinate amount of discussion between the nurses, the intern was called and determined (after we’d already told him the answer) that I needed to be stuck again. I was also informed that I would likely experience a heightened appetite and not be able to sleep.  For the record, both of those conditions occurred.

With the infusion completed I got to go to the physiotherapy department to get another assessment.  I had to ride in a wheelchair – I hate that; don’t need one yet, folks! – down to the van and around the corner to the physio building.  Talk about a waste of time & petrol!  But hospital policy overrides everything.  I met with a nice girl named Aisling (pronounced Ashlyn) who gave me a wonderful little brace device for my right foot to prevent it from dropping while I walk.  It’s meant to strengthen my ankle and teach my foot to stay up. I can tell already that this little thing is going to make my walks around town infinitely easier.

At this point it was late in the day and all I wanted was to go home.  We cabbed it back and ordered delivery from Da Tang Noodle – manna from heaven – and I rejoiced in being back in the comfort of home while Claude got to watch the cycling race.

Tuesday I went alone to the hospital.  Cabbed it again to make sure to arrive early enough.  This time I got stuck with the canula and then went to the MRI imaging center, by van again (but this time no wheelchair).  I got right in, surprisingly enough.  This machine was so different from the ones I’d been in in the US!  It was wide open and not even remotely claustrophobic.  Allow me a short digression: I had several MRIs when I was first being diagnosed in the USA.  The first one I had done was in a machine so close and tight that I decided right then and there I would never have one of these things done again without bringing along a sleep mask.  The sensation of opening one’s eyes to a wall literally one quarter of an inch from one’s nose is disconcerting in the extreme.  So this time I brought along my sleep mask too.  And it’s a good thing, because even though the machine was wide open, this time they caged my head in a device meant to hold it still – another claustrophobic experience!  But the whole process took only about a half hour, and there I was waiting for the transport guys to come get me to take me back.  (Dr. Phil was on the television playing in the reception area; ye gods what crap that is.  Glad I don’t watch daytime telly.)

Back to the ward for another infusion, which came off smoothly.  I even got a short nap in!  Another van ride to physio and an exercise session with Miss Aisling.  She showed me where my weaknesses are and how to overcome them with some pretty simple but tough exercises.  When we finished I told her I was just going to go catch the bus home, so we agreed that on the last day of therapy I would come in earlier in the day and not need a ride from the transport fellows.

Apparently there's a castle in Merlin Park but we didn't get to see it

On Wednesday I was allowed to come in late, which was wonderful because I had not been sleeping well and needed a few extra minutes in bed.  Another cab ride to the hospital and I got right upstairs into the ward for the last infusion.  It still took longer than it should have but one of the nurses had previously explained to me that the hospital had gone from full-time to a five-day outpatient facility in February and there had been staff cutbacks.  Another (mostly) trouble-free infusion and I was off to physio by 13:30 (that’s 1:30 pm to the uninitiated).  This time Aisling added some extra exercises, cheeky girl, and then at last sent me off with tools, instructions and good wishes.

One complaint: The food is ghastly.  Nasty puddings swimming in some strange milky fluid, salty beef and/or ham, carrots & mash on the plate every time.  I can’t imagine those poor workers having to eat that swill every day.  As a couple Claude & I have become food snobs, we recognize and embrace that condition… but this stuff was simply inedible.

I can’t say I was anything less than exhausted by the whole process.  But I am also impressed.  I admit that I did not expect such compassion and caring from people working in a public health care facility.  But these nurses and therapists were kind, friendly – one nurse actually offered to lend me a DVD of one of her favorite movies! – and so helpful and agreeable.  The intern was your typical butthead doctor-type but even he can be forgiven.  I never got my coughing problem diagnosed but Aisling was sweet enough to bring it up with the doc and add her two cents’ worth, and for that I am grateful.  Above all, this process cost me absolutely nothing.  I’ve never had free medical care, ever, especially of this scope and quality!

My thanks go out to, among others, the nurses of Hospital One: Fidelma, Miriam, Siobhan, Ann, Louise, Maeve, Mary, Sinead, and my sweet physio gal Aisling.

Wish me luck keeping up with those exercises.  🙂

— Cindy


Minor discovery!

In watching a special about Roy Orbison on Sky Arts 1, we have made the determination that the beat of “Pretty Woman” is the pace at which Galway women walk.  Cool, huh?!?

— Cindy & Claude

Random views

Just some shots that have accumulated over the last few weeks.  Enjoy!

Salthill and the Prom


A heron observing his statue brethren


Swans building their nest on the canal


Boats at the Claddagh Quay


The sign says it all...


This structure is a memorial to a man of the Catholic faith whose name we neglected to get - it is situated in a park in the heart of Galway very near the University Hospital


— Cindy

The joys of socialized medicine revisited

It’s been approximately one month since I last had up-close-and-personal dealings with the Irish health care system, and nothing has come of it.  Literally.  OK, well, that’s not entirely true, seeing as I have been denied by the HSE for a medical card once again.  This time the excuse is that our income is too high.  The problem is that most of our debt and obligations are in the US, including the child support obligation (which is quite substantial).  But the only debts they count in Ireland are car loans and mortgages, of which we have neither.  I have proven the child support obligation but apparently that still wasn’t enough.  Our deliberate debt reduction plan has backfired on me as far as health care is concerned.  Yet another case of ‘best laid plans.’

But beyond that I still haven’t even heard from the hospital or MS nurse or neurologist or whoever is responsible for getting me scheduled in for the testing and treatment I was told I needed a month ago!  A message left for the nurse 3 days ago has not yet been returned.  I can’t imagine how difficult this situation must be for people who are in pain or suffering every day because of the delays in the public health system.

To add to the whole bizarre nature of this health limbo I am in, I’ve developed a cough.  But not just any cough, one I believe I can directly associate to the MS.  One I mentioned to the neuro doc and the MS nurse a month ago and was promptly dismissed.  Allow me, now, a moment to digress: 7 and one-half years ago I quit smoking mainly due to the fact that I could no longer breathe at night and was losing sleep to the coughing.  I was taking medication daily that was only meant to treat short-term illness in order to simply sleep through the night.  It was tough but I managed to do it and reaped the benefits of a clear, deep breath when it was all said and done.  Fast forward to about 3 years ago when the big guy and I moved into our townhouse in Denver.  I began coughing again, this time for a couple of weeks at a time, always particularly bad when I laid down to sleep at night and when I awoke in the morning.  Eventually it would go away and I would jokingly blame it on our dirty little dump of a townhome.  Since our emigration to Ireland the cough has become much worse, sometimes to the point where I cannot catch my breath at all – talk about a frightening experience.  It happens when I’ve been walking and then sit down (typically on the bus to ride home) or when I’ve made any physical effort such as climbing stairs.  I have taken to carrying lozenges with me wherever I go, something to ease the tickle and perhaps avert the coughing fit.  They come at random times for no reason, and some have been really embarrassing; people shy away from me as if I’m Typhoid Mary.  The coughing now – again – interrupts my sleep, especially since I caught a cold last week and the cough just won’t let go.  I know I’m not crazy because I’ve done some research and found information about difficulty in swallowing as a symptom of MS, as well as MS discussion groups in which other people have complained of the coughing and gasping and of also being ignored or blown off by their physicians.

So I have broken down and made an appointment with the GP guy I first saw when I got here, in the hopes of getting some sort of relief for the cough, or at least a measure of sympathy and corroboration of my condition.  I’m also hoping that he will champion my cause with the HSE and help me to at least get a drugs scheme card to help pay for prescriptions.  They have a long-term illness scheme here and I should at least qualify for that – but my repeated inquiries to the medical card people fall on deaf ears.

In the meantime I do what I can to take care of myself.  I walk out of necessity; every Wednesday when I go into the city to do my volunteer job I try to get in as many errands as I can.  I’ve developed a vitamin regimen that includes all the elements of all the research and recommendations.  I avoid situations that are likely to tire me out or make me overheat.  I try not to self-diagnose but at this point the only person who seems to be interested in helping me figure out the limitations and effects of my condition is ME.  Say what you will about “Obamacare” but at least under that system I might actually be getting active health care!

I know other countries have socialized medicine systems that are not as nearly as flawed and faulty as the Irish health care system.  I know that the economic downturn, the failed bank bailouts, the Eurozone difficulties are part and parcel of Ireland’s problem.  I know that not being an Irish citizen is a huge reason I can’t get into the system, especially considering the fleeting nature of our current association with this beautiful land.  But I still cannot help wondering how long I have to be floating around in this singular boat before someone notices me adrift…

— Cindy

Galway Food Festival

To cap a lovely weekend we attended the Galway Food Festival, celebrating the fantastic food available in our lovely city.  We met with friends, made new friends, had a really wonderful lunch in a restaurant new to us, and generally had a very nice day.  If someone says to you that the food in Ireland is nothing but boring old potato dishes, please disabuse them of such an antiquated notion by checking out the festival website and looking at some of the food porn photos they have posted!  YUM!

— Cindy

The smell of the barbecuing meat was heavenly


Oysters taken from the bay that morning


Dancing to salsa music


Mmmmm... chocolate fountain


Candy & nuts vendor