As the last days of 2022 dwindle down during Christmastide, the mind goes into a reflective mode with a varying focus on the timeframes of one’s life.
Some go back all the way to childhood and its innocent days with family celebrating customs that were both spiritual and personal depending on their circumstances. Others dwell on symbolic moments adding to our evolving lives outside the homeplace as we made our own passages through life.
Of course, we instinctively think of those who are no longer with us, especially if it is a recent departure with predominantly fond memories of times in the past. And for many, it’s time to count blessings while taking stock in the past year. This rang true for me during the holidays which will be discussed here for the first time.
Some of my more attentive readers may have been aware that my humble commentary on these pages came to a halt in mid-July for a couple of months. Many may have wondered why, while others more tuned into my “trad universe” would have been aware of what transpired even if in minimalist detail.
Possibly a number may have expressed relief as the Irish Voice professionally filled the space each week. But one of those life-changing events entered the scene as I am about to share with you now.
On July 15, I suffered a traumatic road accident up in the Catskills on Route 145, or more accurately off it as my Jeep Cherokee hit a tree and was upended in the middle of an afternoon. I was in East Durham for the 28th annual Catskills Irish Arts Week (CIAW) working as a consultant for the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre.
Initially, my brief was to administer an America rescue grant that I successfully obtained for the Quill Centre the year before, but the declining health of the CIAW Artistic Director Reidin O’Flynn (who passed away November 20) drew me into a much larger role.
The accident took place on the next to the last day of the CIAW and still has more questions than answers, with any witnesses or intensive medical examinations coming up short. The ramifications left no doubt, however, as the car was totaled but the airbags and seat belt did what we all expect them to do and saved me from a greater injury that day.
The local police, volunteer fire department and ambulance corps all sprang into action as they do quite frequently, I discovered, when accidents occur in remote areas like this. They assessed my medical conditions and determined that a medical evacuation by helicopter to the nearest trauma center, Albany Medical Center, 50 miles away was necessary and they did so with utmost speed and proficiency. I was told afterward as a concussion wiped out any self-awareness.
You will be relieved to know that my injuries mostly involved a broken left wrist and dislocated elbow and assorted scrapes and bruises thanks to life-saving equipment that my vehicle properly employed. Surgery on the wrist occurred that Friday evening and a cast was placed on my left arm to immobilize the injured area.
My wife Deirdre Danaher, who had made her own way up to Albany from the Gavin’s Irish Inn where we were staying that week, devotedly oversaw the action on my behalf and briefed me on Saturday when I awoke.
I spent six days in Albany Medical Center where I received excellent care as they further assessed my condition and needs going forward. Thankfully that included 16 days in the highly regarded Burke Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in White Plains where necessary therapy was a strong suit as they prepared me to go home and continue my recovery as an outpatient with the right mindset and physical strength to accomplish it.
I can’t say enough about both facilities that helped me cope with the first personal life-changing episode in so many ways. The six months since that accident engendered the following reflections.
I had spent enough years working in the East Durham area of the Catskills to be aware of how tight a community it can be and how “professional” and well-equipped its volunteer and ambulance corps can be. While I never expected to be the recipient of their committed resources, I remain grateful for their call to action on my behalf even if I can’t actually recall the dramatic helicopter ride from the Quill grounds to Albany Med.
I am forever gratified that all of my esteemed colleagues at the CIAW carried on the cultural activities as scheduled the last couple of days in the wake of my untimely departure. Along with their dedicated efforts all week in what we considered an important transition in a post-pandemic year, their skills and efforts have continued to raise the bar and reputation of the upstate New York summer school in the Irish Catskills. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
The medical care at both Albany Medical Center and Burke Rehab were eye-opening experiences for me also on my road to recovery. Albany dealt with my immediate care and arranged my transfer downstate to the superlative Burke Rehab whose reputation was superseded in my experience.
Their mission is to take in patients who need further mending and restoration to a state where further recovery is achieved on their own if medically possible. In doing so they provided a 24/7 environment with a fully trained staff on every level performing their duties with a high standard of attention to the patient and their individual needs. We should not take for granted such dedication by people who perform these tasks on every level day in and day out. I never will again.
Eleven days after my off-road adventure, a phone call to my room at Burke from the late Reidin O’Flynn that my wife fielded informed us of the passing of my great friend, Dr. Mick Moloney in his New York City apartment. The shock elicited a flow of instantaneous tears to me for my mentoring colleague who had spent a memorable entertaining and informative week at the CIAW with us.
He had called me the week before he died to genuinely enquire about my own health, and I told him that I was doing well and looked forward to speaking with him again for a proper chat as we were inclined to do on our past joint ventures. That call never happened and it was left to all of his friends and collaborators to assess his profound influence on us all.
For me, it took a few days to overcome the loss but as I read so many tributes online or in phone calls, I recognized his huge influence on me going back 46 years in the Irish trad scene, even over his last six months with us and his last week in the Catskills. I made it a positive plank in my own recovery agenda thinking that I had more cultural spadework to do in a world without the inspirational Mick at the helm of creativity in the stratosphere as we know it.
Mick was gone but as a teacher, he prepared us well for the future endeavors we might undertake. I was most fortunate to come under his sway and it was something that helped me get through his memorial events in New York and ever since.
One of the reassuring aspects of successfully navigating and overcoming what could have been a very devastating accident like mine was all the encouraging and very sincere expressions of concern on my behalf. Like the medical remedial work, they played a large part in motivating me towards a full recovery by lifting my spirits mentally as well.
Also, in that vein, I want to acknowledge the Irish Voice team of editor Debbie McGoldrick and publisher Niall O’Dowd for holding a space for me here until I was ready to tackle the keyboard again and for their overall generosity towards me over the years.
Also, the M.J. Quill Irish Centre and the East Durham resort community were steadfast partners in all that we achieved this past year and were so genuine in their personal efforts as I undertook my recovery campaign.
Finally, I want to recognize my own family who stepped up during this crisis when their worlds were also turned upside down on that day. My wife Deirdre proved my most important person from the earliest moments in East Durham right to the current day as she has dealt with health issues and the mountain of paperwork it engendered.
Our children Siobhán, Shane, and Ronan reversed roles looking after their father in myriad ways as he mended with great patience and understanding and how life can create challenges very quickly. My love and gratitude know no bounds.
I am a very lucky man.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
*This column first appeared in the December 28 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.