It’s often been said that Ireland is one of the worst places to get sick, and APRIL DREW can attest to that fact thanks to first hand experience.
Since our return to Ireland last May life in Ireland has been good to our family. I’ve not complained about much. We have everything we want and we remain positive when friends in the U.S. ask us how we could live in an Ireland steeped in a recession because they certainly couldn’t.
We had nothing negative to say about our own experience and that’s the truth …until now that is.
It has finally happened. We came face to face (indirectly) with the Irish medical system, and yes, it’s as bad as they say it is. It’s an utter disgrace, and I’m here to tell you what we saw first-hand. It wasn’t pretty.
My husband John’s mother made a recent trip to the emergency room at the, about a ten-minute drive from her home. It turned out it wasn’t a serious issue but she needed tending to immediately.
She arrived at the reception area of the emergency department at 6:10 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. Like any emergency room at that time of the day it was manic.
Seats were full. Patients and their loved ones stood along corridors, sat on floors and paced back and forth in an effort not to go insane. Parents and children, people of pensionable age and many more middle aged folks all looked sickly and irritated.
A young lady who appeared to be in her late twenties told my mother-in-law she had been there three hours and still hadn’t been seen to by a nurse.
“You’re in for a long night,” Mary was told. She had no idea.
After a few minutes of standing, a young man with a gentle face took pity on Mary and gave her his seat. She sat patiently and waited her turn.
It was close to 10 p.m. before a nurse came to take her vitals and carry out some blood work. The nurse advised her yet again that it was going to be a long night.
Midnight struck, and by this stage everyone was tired, cranky and hungry. Mary was finally admitted into the emergency room, and what she saw before her was shocking.
Beds full with patients, some in a very sickly way, took over the floor space. It wasn’t designed for this. Getting to the nurse’s station inside the department felt like one was walking through an obstacle course.
There were beds all over the place. It was utter mayhem. When they ran out of beds, patients (depending on the severity of their medical problem) sat on plastic chairs propped up against walls throughout the department.
Mary was directed to a chair for the following four hours. By this stage she was extremely tired and a little weak. She watched as some unruly characters entered the emergency room with various ailments, some causing quite a stir.
In the end the only reason she got a bed (about 4:30 a.m.) in the emergency room was because she took a weakness and fainted.
At one point during the night she needed to use the bathroom. She was told there was a queue forming and it was best she went outside to the main hospital and used the public toilets. She barely had the energy to get off the bed.
We sat with Mary as she tried to close her eyes to get some sleep. I was disgusted by what I was seeing.
The nurses were running around trying to keep up with patients being admitted and others being discharged. At one point a young fella entered the emergency room via ambulance with what looked like a screwdriver stuck in his head. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and we didn’t ask what kind of altercation he was in before arriving to the hospital.
Not only were the doctors and nurses trying to do their job, but they had to deal with scantily clad girls fighting with each other. A mother sitting across from us attempted to shelter her two-year-old son from such carry on.
It was disgraceful and kind of intimidating too. It was hard to know what would happen next.
When dawn crept in it was made clear to Mary that she would be admitted to the hospital for further tests, but she was warned it would be a while before a bed became available upstairs. Mary worked in that same hospital for 26 years as a secretary and retired three years ago.
It didn’t matter though. There simply wasn’t a bed available for her. The hospital was as overrun as the emergency room.
As I sat with Mary early on the Friday morning I pulled out my laptop and began writing what I saw around me. In the emergency room there were approximately eight bays where patients were put when admitted. All eight bays were full.
There was another 15 or so patients sitting on chairs and 12 or so beds scattered across the moderately sized room. It was simply a case of wherever they could shove in a bed they did.
It was necessary because a lot of these patients weren’t able to sit or stand, but it made the job of the nurses, doctors and porters next to impossible. They zipped in and out between beds, administered medicine where needed and hooked others up to IVs.
My poor mother-in-law was shoved up against a wall near the emergency room entrance. One minute it was warm, too warm. The next minute a blast of cold blew through the corridor making patients shiver.
Behind Mary a little baby shared a chair with his mother. He squealed in pain. The nurses tried to appease him but it was difficult, both on the little boy and his mother.
Across the corridor we could hear a man coughing. It was a rough, dry cough. The owner clearly didn’t have the energy to lift his head.
He lay on a hospital bed, sheets strewn to the side. He was wearing a pair of jeans, an old looking shirt and had a hole in both his white socks. I’m not sure where his shoes were. He finally stopped coughing.
The sound of monumental pain echoed from the bed next to him. The sounds were ad hoc, but when they came from the small-framed woman propped up in a bed I felt for her. She was alone.
The nurses and doctors were just too busy to attend to her needs. She had been admitted but that’s as far as she got.
A sprightly looking woman had her leg propped up in a bed. She looked exhausted. Later on I spoke with her to discover she came to the hospital at 2 p.m. the previous day and was still waiting for a bed upstairs.
Beside her lay a man in his forties who had chest pains. His wife was worried. He wasn’t being kept in because scans showed nothing out of the ordinary.
He told me he was waiting three hours for discharge papers. He was lying in a bed that could have been used for someone else, but because the staff were so overrun they hadn’t time to release his bed.
Later that day we sat next to a lady in her nineties. She was frail. She didn’t have it in her to even speak.
After a few minutes of tossing and turning she called for a nurse. She looked in distress. No nurse could tend to her. She started vomiting.
John went to her bedside, propped her up and placed a jug underneath her chin so she would not choke while getting sick. The nurse came over, handed John a cardboard bowl and instructed him to hold it under the lady’s chin. He did as he was told.
I could see the woman was ever so embarrassed and very grateful at the same time. She was alone.
I stayed with Mary until lunchtime on the Friday. I left her in an exhausted state and not any closer to a bed in the hospital itself.
As I left the mayhem through the emergency room reception area there was another 40 or so people waiting to be seen to. It was unbelievable.
Mary finally got a bed in a ward upstairs at 5 p.m. on Friday. She was 23 hours in the emergency room.
We read about the state of our hospitals in the newspapers, we hear about it on the radio, we chat about it at dinner parties but to experience it, even indirectly, is a whole different story.
While living in New York we had our fair share of trips to the emergency room and the hospital. Each time we came away saying how wonderful the service was, even if it did cost us an arm and a leg (we didn’t have insurance).
The nurses and doctors were always so attentive, and although we may have waited two or three hours in an emergency room to be seen to or admitted, it was nothing like the craziness I experienced in Limerick last week.
I pray to God that I don’t have to bring either of my two children to the emergency room anytime soon.