Doctors, dentists, hospitals… never pleasant places to be, but in Ireland, needing medical attention is a completely unique experience unto itself.
Getting my teeth cleaned… fast, friendly, and not very thorough. Chipped a tooth? They filed the rough bits down so my molar slightly resembles a a door wedge. Frank’s cavities? Ah sure, you didn’t need those teeth anyway. Pull ’em out. Nota bodder!
Going for a Dr’s checkup, particularly during my pregnancy, was unlike anything I would have imagined coming into this country. I must admit, I now think there is something comforting in the sterile American Dr’s office situation – come on in, change into this gown, lie down on the table, the Dr. will be with you shortly. Turn your head and cough, put your legs in the stirrups, we’ve got a pill for that. There you go. In Ireland… well…
There’s not a lot of privacy. Starting in the waiting room, even with glass around the reception desk, you can’t help but hear who is suffering from what, owes what, and is taking what pills. I’ve also been in, er, less formal Dr’s offices where, as you stare out the graffiti-covered windows, you can hear the man next door explaining to his Dr. about how he was abused as a child. Humming a tune to yourself helps save this poor bloke’s dignity.
But in the average GP’s office, you can head on up to the examination room and feel lucky if the Dr. pulls a short curtain around you as you disrobe and he/she hunts and pecks on the computer next to you. You’re then invited to lie on the narrow couch, sans clothing, with a scratchy woolen blanket across your lap. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, let your mind wander as to where that blanket has been before. The Dr. is usually kind, talkative and patient when you act a bit befuddled over how to do that while lying in this position on the narrow couch while desperately clinging to the scratchy blanket for cover. Phew, that’s over, go home and get a cuppa tea.
And then, oh friends, there are the hospitals.
In my entire life I’ve maybe been inside two hospitals a total of four or five times, usually visiting people. But here, oh dear, I’ve had the pleasure of haunting the halls of Our Lady of Lourdes at least a dozen times in under three years. Let me take a moment to assure you that most of the medical professionals I’ve met and worked with in this town are lovely and truly do their community a service… but I don’t think anyone would deny that OLOL, is a serious problem. (And in fairness, OLOL’s problems are largely due to the controversial decisions of the HSE and the socialized Irish healthcare system in general, but I won’t go into that today! Thank God, you’re saying!)
I could post many, many links on the scandals this hospital has seen (just look up symphysiotomy, for instance), but all I know is personal experience, so that’s what you’ll get here, in the form of 3 short stories.
1. My overall impression of Our Lady of Lourdes is that it is a dark, musty, yellowing, old, dated, depressing building to be stuck in for any amount of time. It overlooks a massive cemetary for goodness sake! The first time I entered its doors was to visit Frank’s nan, Sheila, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and was getting part of her leg amputated because of an infection. We found his mother sitting with her in a lonely back room of the hospital. It was stark, cheerless and dead quiet. Frank’s mum said she had been there for 3 hours and not one person had been by to check in on the elderly patient. This blew my mind.
2. If I could use one word to describe the medical system here it would be WAITING. There is a lot of waiting that goes on, so bring a book. People wait months and even years for appointments, and when they get to those appointments, it can take hours to be seen. Just today I was at OLOL and waited nearly 2 hours only to find out that the original referral for my appointment had been sent in March 2009! It’s even more maddening with kids. We’ve had Evelyn up to the hospital twice now – once for the orthopaedic outpatient clinic to check her clicking hips, and once to Casualty (E.R. in American terms) because of a viral infection. Both times, we had to wait over 3 hours to be seen (which is actually considered good – I’ve often heard of people waiting 5-6 hrs with their kids in hospital!). The time at the Ortho Clinic was quite beyond belief – sitting in a long, narrow hallway with 30 other babies in buggies with parents and siblings for hour after hour after hour. What made it worse was that the Ortho Clinic was between the main entrance and the Fracture Clinic! All those buggies and kids made it extremely difficult for people on crutches and in wheelchairs to pass through.
3. My third story is a nice one – you can probably guess. 🙂
I had Evelyn in the Midwifery Led Unit at OLOL and it was a little oasis in the midst of madness. The midwives, nurses and staff were all amazing and I would not say a single bad thing about the whole experience. However – before we could be discharged from the hospital, we were moved into the “normal” ante-natal (pre-natal in American terms) part of the hospital to wait for the OK. What a drastic change!!! We went from warm, private rooms with extra seating for the husbands, private bathrooms, TV sets and radios, plus Christmas trees and water coolers in the hall… to a cold, grey room with a coin-operated TV and curtains around the beds that shhhhuuushed! rudely when you pulled them. We went from all smiles and well wishes to sharing a room for a few hours with a crabby woman on the other side of the curtain who sat on her phone and complained to everyone who would answer her calls. It actually makes me shudder a bit to think of it.
So there you have it. Three independent evaluations of OLOL Hospital.
Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on healthcare or politics! I did put in 9 months of work at a local Dr’s office where I was quite often stunned by the quality of care people were getting, not from our staff, but due to larger issues like striking hospital workers, short staffing, and funds being dispersed with questionable discernment. So my personal sense of justice was kicked up a long time before I had a personal record with the medical system here. All that to say, I don’t know how to fix the problem, but there is a problem!
My advice and the moral of the story – don’t get sick in Drogheda!