Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (a bit) Unwell (this time) III

I don’t want Mary Harney to trip and break her leg today. I don’t want her to get a mild bout of food poisoning or to sprain her wrist or cut her hand.*
However, if any of those things were to happen to her, I hope she is brought directly to Accident and Emergency in one of Dublin’s hospitals. The one I’m in would, I’m sure, be fine.
I hope she is placed on trolley (an experience a friend of hers seemingly thought wasn’t too bad).

Whether she is then treated publicly (very unlikely) or privately (odds on), the level of care she receives from front-line professionals will be second to none.
That will be no thanks to her.
Mary Harney is presiding over an increasingly demoralised health service.
The current round of cutbacks, which she well knows are affecting patients, will be, for some, the last straw.
Soon, morale in the Irish health service will be as low as it is in the British health service. For reasons best known to herself, Ms Harney constantly compares the two when, if she had ambition or vision, she would look instead to the health services of Northern Europe.
While Ms Harney was in hospital receiving treatment for her leg or her wrist or her stomach, she would notice a few things.
Let’s, for the moment, make the daft assumption that she believes what she says about our health service and goes public.
After her day on the trolley, surrounded by drunks and druggies and overworked doctors and nurses, she would be taken to a ward which she would share with five others.
These would not be five people of her choice. They might be poor people. (They sure as hell won’t be rich people.) They might be people with drink problems. They might be people with dementia who shouldn’t be there but can’t be moved to suitable accommodation because of the cutbacks. The might, God forbid, even be voters.
She would see one, or at best two, television sets. If one of her companions hasn’t got one tuned to an Australian soap, she might get to see the Jeremy Kyle Show or Doctor Phil. (So busy are the real doctors, that she might actually get to see more of Phil than she does of them.)
The chances of her actually getting to see something she wants to see are slim.
But there’s always the radio.
Well, no, there isn’t always the radio.
Sure, there are radios built into the bedside lockers. But there are, no longer, any earphones for them.
Well, she can open the window and breathe in the air.
No she can’t. Many of them are nailed shut - illegal surely - to prevent dust from building work getting into the wards.
Depending on which ward she’s in, Mary may or may not be able to have a shower.]
If she has damaged her foot, the six inch step - yes, it is six inches I measured it - into the shower might prevent her from getting in.
But what would surely stop her, is the gap into which those wishing to have a shower have to squeeze, to get through the doors.
Whether it is politically correct to say it or not, it’s a fact. Mary Harney would not fit in most of the showers in St James’s hospital.
At least she could occupy herself on the web. She can, in fairness. If she manages to get to the cafe in the entrance hall where, for the price of a cup of coffee you get a few minutes on the web.
At least in the cafes in the entrance hall, the food is ok.
So why can’t it be ok in the rest of the hospital?
I’m pretty sure Mary wouldn’t like the food on offer in the hospital.
There is no excuse in 2007 for food to be other than tasty, appetising and nourishing.
Mary Harney seems to think the health service can be run like a budget airline. It can’t.
It won’t pay for itself. It won’t make money.
One of the primary functions of the state - it’s actually enshrined in the Constitution - is its duty to look after the citizens.
Mary Harney and her highly paid colleagues have failed to look after the citizens of Ireland on many levels.
The Health Service is only one area of complete and abject failure.
*This is a lie. I wouldn't mind if Mary Harney got food poisoning and ended up in one of the hospitals she seems to think are wonderful.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (a bit) Unwell (this time) II

WHEN you walk into a ward in an Irish hospital, one of the first things you will see is the television. Or maybe two televisions.
You may think that these televisions are a sign that the hospital and ultimately the HSE, wants to keep patients entertained, keep them occupied.
In fact, they are a sign of the utter contempt in which patients are held by the HSE.
In they eyes of those who administer our health service, right up to Minister Harney, patients are irritants, barely better than doctors and nurses.
Why else would one television set, or at best two, be put into a ward containing four or six patients?
If there is one thing that makes spending time in an Irish hospital bearable, it is the knowledge that those in whose care you have been placed, are dedicated, hard working and good at what they do.

It is, of course, a cliché to speak of the ‘caring professions.’ But there is no doubt that doctors and nurses, and indeed, the vast majority of those who work in hospitals in whatever area, are caring people. Sure, they get paid. And some of them get paid very well.
But the work is hard and the pay isn’t always what it should be.
It is a mystery, then, as to why our health service is constantly criticised and seems, forever, to be under attack from patients, their relatives and, indeed, those who work on the front line.
If I was employed by the health service, i would find it hard not to become demoralised in the fact of the relentless criticism.
But then, the criticism is rarely directed at those on front line.
It is those behind desks, be that in the Department of Health or in the HSE, that justifiably, bear the brunt of the criticism.
(Who was it who decided to put two television sets on the wall in a ward for four, or indeed six patients?
If the person furthest from the television wants to watch it, the sound has to be so loud so as to disturb the person nearest the set who doesn’t want to watch at all. And do they suppose that the two, or three, on each side of a room all want to watch the same thing?)
There are something like 17,000 administrative workers in the HSE.
Some of these people, the ones at the ‘top’, are the ones who get bonuses for, presumably ensuring less money is spent.
They are also the people who hire and fire in the HSE. And so don’t expect an announcement about thousands of redundancies amongst administrative staff in the HSE any day soon.
(Who was it who decided to install showers in hospital bathrooms, that have four inch steps up to them and which have doors so narrow,that many, if not most people, would struggle to get through them?)
It seems unlikely that the thousands who work in administration in the HSE have avoided illness all their lives, have managed never to spend a night in hospital or do not have relatives who have spent periods of time in the care of of our health service.
And so it is a mystery why the facilities for patients are so utterly dire in Irish hospitals. It is as if the decisions made are made by people who believe they will never darken the door of a hospital for any reason and don’t really care about those who must.
You could describe most Irish hospitals as ‘minimalist.’ But not minimalist in the sense of chic or fashionable. Minimalist in the sense of providing the minimum facilities for patients and, probably, staff.
(Who decided on the size of patients’ rooms in the new wing of St James’s Hospital? I ask because, to my certain knowledge, someone involved in planning the new building asked some of the hospital’s nurses if there was any way of improving the design of the hospital’s wards and rooms. The nurses told this man that the ‘side rooms’ were too small. He took it on board. The ‘side rooms’ in the new wing are smaller.)
It is well established, that the environment in which patients ‘live’ can help - or hinder - their recovery.
And yet, St Luke’s, arguably the country’s best known cancer hospital which at least, has the benefit of gardens, has been marked for closure.
Not a word from the highly paid Ms Harney about her plans as the good people of south Dublin and, it has to be said, beyond, dug deep into their pockets over the years to help keep Luke’s at the forefront of cancer treatment.
Ms Harney would like to move Luke’s into the already congested James’s campus, where the only grass you’re likely to see is that being smoked by some tattooed yobbo outside the front door.
(Who decides on the unchanging and unappetising menu? Do they eat it? Do they know what ordinary people eat? Do they know that sick people sometimes like to have good food?)
No doubt it’s because she’s always chauffeur driven (by a garda) that the same Ms Harney doesn’t realise the panic and fear that will sweep over unfortunate parents everywhere who have to rush their sick offspring to the proposed new children’s hospital on the Mater site.
The health service seems to be run for the convenience of those who run it.
This remains one of the few civilised countries where no attempt is being made to make wifi broadband available to patients.
It is one of the few civilised countries where no effort is being made to make the food served to patients appetising or presentable.
It is one of the few civilised countries where the old are left to rot in hospital wards designed for the sick so that books can be balanced.
It is one of the few civilised countries where there is a belief that if enough money is thrown at the health problem, it will go away.
Did I say civilised?
There are countries on this earth with little or indeed no resources, whose rulers make a better job of looking after the sick.
Ms Harney and her bureacratic pet the HSE achieve nothing, but to insult those of us who must use their service and those who work in it.
Enjoy your pay rise Mary.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (a bit) Unwell (this time)

Back in hospital.
The cure didn’t cure me.
I have no intention of going into all the gory details (and believe me, they’re gory) but suffice to say that the ghastly infection in my foot is still doing its worst.
It’s damned sore - up around 9 out of 10 (on a male scale. It’s probably only about 4 on a female scale.)
I have been pumped full of so many antibiotics, that I’m pretty sure, 99 per cent of the world’s infections wouldn’t come near me. Wouldn’t dare.

Sadly, I’ve got the macho one per cent, the Rambo of blasted foot infections, the one nasty piece of work that is doing to my foot what Eric Cantona (bless him) once did to a loudmouth fan.
So the little bag has been packed again, the bottles of water have been purchased, the sweets stuffed into my little locker, my toothbrush and razor laid neatly beside me and I’m back in my jim jams, back in a hospital bed and thoroughly miserable.
Well, no. That’s not fair.
I’m miserable. But it’s not thoroughly.
I know that what’s wrong with me is relatively serious. It’s not as bad as, say, leprosy. But it’s a lot worse than a grazed knee.
So while hospital is where I don’t want to be, it’s the right place to be.
I desperately miss Connie and Charlotte. I hate saying goodbye to the little mite (that’s Charlotte, not Connie) even though I haven’t been much fun for her these past few months.
She thinks daddies are people who lie on couches complaining all the time.
If and when I get better, and if prayer makes people better I’m half way there, I am going to play with Charlotte all day every day until I can stand it no longer.
Or until she can stand it no longer.
Today, I was seen by a total of five doctors. Sometimes, it takes five doctors with different specialties to come up with a solution to a difficult problem
And my foot is a difficult problem, a bit like the rest of me.
It’s not been the best three months of my life.
But three years ago, I was in hospital for a long period.
And that ended with me being given the cheerful new that I was no longer editor of the Sunday Tribune because ‘we want someone who’s there all the time, not someone who’s sick.’
Hopefully, i am in more secure employment these days. And anyway, the Sunday World is a better newspaper than the Sunday Tribune. At every level.
And, of course, three years ago, I probably had some daft picture of Eric Cantona or Denis Law or maybe even some place in the South of France as my screensaver and desktop display.
Now, I have Charlotte’s picture.
And even when some days are a bit dark, that’s always there to cheer me up.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Magic of Archibald Albion

YOU may or may not have heard of Archibald Albion.
If you are a soccer fan and you haven’t heard of the legendary Albion, I am surprised.
Indeed, even if you know nothing of soccer and you haven’t heard of the Albion, I am surprised.
You have heard of George Best?
You have heard of Pele?
You have heard of Jose Mourinho?
Well, you should have heard of the Albion. They’re right up there. History makers, double winners.

Let me tell this story as modestly as possible.
I don’t know an awful lot about soccer. Rugby is my game. Rugby has always been my game.
But many years ago, a colleague, Senan Molony, founded a soccer team. He called the team after Steve Archibald who, I am told, was once a famous soccer player.
Archibald Albion was not a very good team.
Indeed, so bad were they, that I began recount their exploits in my twice-weekly column in the Star.
For example, they arranged a friendly game in Cardiff. But they couldn’t find Cardiff.
The first time I went to see them play, they lost 4-2, I think it was.
What I am certain of, is that they gave away three own goals.
I also learned very quickly, that when their goalkeeper confidently shouted ‘KEEPER!’ to indicate that he was in total control of the situation and was about to catch the ball, a kick-off almost inevitably followed.
And so Senan asked me to become the team’s manager.
I could go on and on telling you stories about how other teams laughed when they saw my lads arrive in mucky tracksuits, smoking and coughing before games. And then I could describe their horror when we beat them.
I could regale you with tales of the average centre half I transformed into a world-class (oh, all right. AUL -division-three-Saturday-class) striker and how I made him play on after having one testicle terminally crushed.
I could provide you with a barrel of laughs telling you stories about our new ‘keeper who was as mad as, well, a ‘keeper.
I could describe the kiss one of my players planted on a tramp in Kilkenny.
I could tell you about the Albion being the first club in Ireland to sign a Bosnian Muslim who, unfortunately, turned up drunk for his first, and last game with us.
I could tell you about Senan being the only striker in the world who loved heading the ball.
With his glasses on.
I could tell you about the referee who, one day, asked me to take one of my players off. “He’s concussed,” the ref said.
I called the player off and asked him if he was concussed.
“No,” he said. “I’m pissed.”
But no.
Instead I am going to tell you about how, with a little bit of help from a chap called John Curran who, despite being a printer is an ok guy, we not only won the league, but the double.
Archibald Albion. From Laughing Stock to Double Winners.
That was going to be the title of my autobiography.
But I suppose, I got bored and moved on.
And so did John.
And so did Senan.
And one day, without anyone noticing. Archibald Albion died.
But I can look back with pride on what we achieved.
And at the end of it all, I have only one question.
Do you think John Delaney would give me €300,000 a year to manage Ireland.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) VII

STEVE McQueen tried to do it on a motorbike.
They tunnelled out of Colditz.
But I got out in a taxi.
Hospital’s not that bad really. The staff would cheer you up.
It is absolutely correct to say that everyone on the front line of our health service works hard, does everything they can and tries their best for the patients.
It is equally true to say that they don’t really have a hope.

This week, six porters tried to do the work of 17 in the x-ray department at St James’s Hospital in Dublin.
Four phlebotomists tried to do the work of seven, taking blood samples from around the wards.
The doctor who saw me at 8am on Friday morning, was the same one who discharged me twelve hours later.
That’s thanks to the cutbacks, put in place by the HSE. They’re the cutbacks, we are told, which are having no effect on patients. That’s just simply a lie.
The one thing most health service front line workers seem to have in common with each other, is a desire to get out.
It would take an article the length of a short novel to detail the problems in Ireland’s health service.
Suffice it to say, that comparing it with Britain - as Health Minister Mary Harney did during the week when comparing the ratio of administrators to front line staff - isn’t a good place to start.
If there is a health service in a worse state than ours, it’s theirs.
Politicians have, of course, chucked money at this problem for years. But it’s they’ve done.
They have written cheques without, it seems, having the foggiest idea as to why.
Bureaucrats told them the service needed more money, and so, fearing an electoral backlash, more money was provided.
But was was needed, and what IS needed, is a root and branch examination of the service.
Someone needs to find out why the vast bulk of workers are unhappy, unfulfilled, frustrated, planning to leave - or all four.
Doctors tell you their job is all but impossible.
I can vouch that my own doctors work incredible hours. And if they are rewarded with salaries similar - when even everything is taken into consideration - to that our TDs get, well, so be it. They’re actually worth more.
The facilities in which the medical staffs have to work, and therefore in which the patients have to be treated, are abysmal.
Waiting rooms are overcrowded. Newly built buildings were designed a decade or more ago and are now completely unsuitable.
If our minister and those she has appointed to run the health service were even vaguely serious about improving the situation, they would, for example, ensure that the food served to patients was top class. It isn’t.
They would ensure that free broadband was provided for patients. It isn’t.
They would ensure a standard of cleanliness that was second to none. They haven’t.
They would provide sufficient staff in every area, and fund it by cutting administration costs. But they haven’t.
Imagine. There is one administrator for every five frontline staff in the health service. Why?
I’m at home and receiving my intravenous antibiotics from a super company called Tara Healthcare. If such a company was used more, hundreds of beds could be freed up in hospitals.
But no. We just blather on, with the Minister spending more time on RTE than she does behind her desk.
She is providing over a demoralised service.
And while she may talk about improvements, the reality is, nothing has changed.
I’m getting good treatment. I hope I’m not well.
Sadly, though, the health service is critically ill.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) VI

THIS is like the longest flight I’ve ever been on.
I’m not on a plane and I’m certainly not going anywhere.
I’m stuck in a hospital. And it reminds me of flying.
It’s the food.
If you accept that a chicken is a chicken and a potato is a potato and a pea is a pea, it is hard to credit the way the different ways those ingredients end up on your plate in, say, l’Ecrivan or Chapter One and in hospital or, indeed, on a flight or in boarding school.

We can only presume that, particularly in hospital, the ingredients are pretty decent. It seems unlikely that, despite the fact that our government has deemed the appointment of more committee chairmen to be of greater importance than financing the health service, hospital kitchens are supplied with dodgy ingredients.
And I accept, entirely, that cooking for 700 differs greatly from cooking for seven.
But it is nonetheless mind-boggling, how a piece of chicken can end up as part of a magnificent meal in l’Ecrivan, albeit at a price, and can, when served in hospital (or on a flight or in boarding school) make you enquire as to the location of the nearest McDonald’s restaurant.
(You will note that, today, I am not talking about wine or Guinness or pubs or anything of that sort. Mind you, I quite liked the suggestion of a hospital bar offering pre or post theatre drinks. Wonder if there’s an interval during which you could order them?)
My first encounter with food produced on an industrial scale was in an Irish College. My parents, though they loved me, handed me a nine-month sentence in the place from which I would have escaped had I been able to dig a tunnel.
The food was typically industrial.
You know. Take ordinary ingredients and cook them until they are bereft of flavour.
But was Fridays which were most memorable.
On that day, we were served what we were assured was a vegetable soup.
It consisted, I am sure, of the vegetables which had not been eaten during the week, boiled. In milk.
I kid you not.
These vegetables, carrots onions potatoes, peas and turnips, were boiled in milk until they were soft and mushy. And then they were served up to us unfortunate children.
We called it “Chef’s vomit.” I never found out if that was to do with taste or appearance or both.
Having served my sentence in that Irish c ollege in Ring, Co Waterford, I was later sentenced to nine months behind bars (not that type) in my last year in school in Blackrock College. (That sentence was, at least, deserved.)
They were way ahead of the game when it came to recycling.
Because on Mondays, we got a kind of beef chop which was, largely, inedible.
On Tuesdays, it was some type of beef stew, made, we believed, with the uneaten portions of the chops.
On Wednesdays, it was mince and mash, constructed, or deconstructed, from the uneaten stew.
On Thursdays, we got a beef soup and you can figure out from where it came.
We got fish on Fridays by which time we were so hungry we would have eaten the beef chops.
I managed to largely avoid institutions until this damned disease forced me to spend time in hospital.
But long-haul flights more than made up for that. You know the feeling: “I ordered the fish, this is chicken.” “Sorry sir, that is fish, no, hold on, it’s pork, no, it’s definitely the fish sir.”
I have had, don’t get me wrong, edible airline food. The nuts aren’t bad. And the occasional biscuit is passable.
In fact, it’s not that the food is actually inedible. Hunger makes the food edible.
It’s just that I wonder why someone somewhere goes to all the trouble of removing taste from things like chicken and potatoes and peas. I wonder why they don’t leave some flavour so you have a small clue as to what it is you’re eating.
It’s what they do in hospitals too.
I would love our health minister or indeed, the head of the Health Service Executive, to live for a week, if they could, on hospital food.
I am not suggesting the food is other than healthy.
It’s healthy enough.
Unless you’re talking about mental health.
Because it’s depressing in the extreme.
Mind you, now that I think of it, it’s not so bad that it couldn’t be improved if accompanied by a decent claret.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) V

The Dog and Doc. That’s one of the suggestions I have had for the new bar here in St James’s Hospital.
Of course, there’s not going to be a new bar. It’s not that some people don’t think it’s a good idea to help, well, cheer up the sick.
It’s just that all the money is being spend on flippin’ medical equipment.
That and administrators. Too many administrators.
I can’t believe that firing a couple of administrators and hiring a few barmen and maids instead wouldn’t be the progressive thing to do.
Quite liked The Farmer Giles as a suggestion too.
Anyway, we need somebody progressive to look at our hospitals.
Here, for example, you have access to broadband - once you pay €3 for a cup of coffee which is not quite blackmail but is something reasonably close.
Again, it would seem to make perfect sense to have WiFi broadband available for all patients in hospitals.

I have no idea how many patients would actually use it. But that’s hardly the point.
Those who did use it would, without any doubt, recover more quickly from whatever it is they have. Unless it’s leprosy or the Black Death.
There is no evidence that using the internet has any effect whatever on leprosy or the Black Death.
But boredom is a problem in hospital. Especially if you’re only sick from the ankles down. It’s a problem if you have anything which doesn’t make you feel sick. Because all you end up feeling is bored. And when you’re bored you start thinking. And when you start thinking you start thinking about how sick you are even if you’re not. And you start thinking you’re more sick than you actually are. And you start getting depressed. And you start thinking you’re dying and you’re not long for this world and...
... and you start thinking you’d murder a pint.
I don’t think The Burst Appendix is actually a great name for a pub.
I mentioned the idea of a licensed premises to one of my doctors this morning. (I say one of my doctors. So many doctors and specialist nurses have I now, that I’m thinking of charging them a small fee to come and see me. The proceeds would, of course, go towards the construction of a, yes I know I’m banging on about it, bar.
The particular doctor didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. In fact, she seemed to be about to tell me that, in her native country, such a thing wasn’t completely unheard of.
She is, of course, Australian.
But the fact that she didn’t knock the idea has given my campaign (I hope one day it will become, as Arlo Guthrie once suggested in relation to his own campaign, a movement) a major boost.
It would be dishonest to suggest that my Australian doctor has actually joined my campaign. She hasn’t. She just didn’t laugh at it.
The Nurse and Bottle? Not if it’s that kind of bottle.
Drink is getting a bad name. And the sad thing is, that it’s people who can’t do it, that are giving it the bad name. Binge drinkers. People who drink and want to fight. People who drink and get loud. People who drink and eat kebabs and then puke them up. People who drink and vandalise things. People who drink and frighten people. Bad drinkers.
There have always been bad drinkers.
But once, drink was respected. It was seen by some almost as a cure all.
It’s medicinal qualities were appreciated far more than they are now.
I note that, today, a report in Britain rails against middle-class drinkers.
God help us, what are the middle class supposed to do? Sit around all evening watching Emmerdale or Wife Swap or the feckin’ X Factor?
If you ask me, it’s soaps and reality television that have the middle classes turning to the (cheeky, fruity, aroma of fruit and maybe a hint of tobacco) bottle (of a decent Burgundy) in the first place.
Sure, it’s keeping them off the streets, isn’t it?
As far as my campaign is concerned, it’s onwards and upwards.
Right now, though, I think the most likely name for my bar, is The Cutback and Closure.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) IV

YOU might get out on Monday, they said.
But I’m something of an old hand at this now.
And so I never believe the first date I’m given for my departure from hospital.
I reckoned on Tuesday.
But of course, I should have known.
My Tuesday is their Wednesday or Thursday.
It’s the way it is with doctors.
It’s like my nine o’clock in the morning is their midday.
It’s the way of things. Time is more or less meaningless for doctors. If it wasn’t, so busy are they in our over-administered health service, they’d go mad.
So I’m still in my hospital bed, and still on page 84 of The Time Traveller’s Wife.

I’m enjoying it. But I keep falling asleep every time I try to read any more of it.
It must be the drugs.
Sodium benzoate, sodium bisulphate, ascorbic acid - and that’s just the Lucozade.
Fortunately, my lunch today was not served by the lady who informed me as she placed yesterday’s offering in front of me, that she ‘felt dreadful.’
Today it was the lady who had the good grace to put my lunch in front of me before she turned to leave the room, coughing and sneezing.
Believe me, suggesting that we divert money into providing sterile pods for the sick, for at least the really sick, is not an idea borne from the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs.
Talking of which, isn’t it a really brave move by Ireland’s pharmacists to pick on heroin addicts in order to advance their campaign for more money.
Yes, I know they work hard. But so too do those who have dedicated their lives to helping our unfortunate addicts who have now been abandoned by pharmacists not noted for their moderation when it comes to pricing their products.
“We were left with no alternative,” the pharmacists said. Apart from being utter tosh, that’s just a lie.
No alternatives? Why don’t they go on hunger strike or something that might actually test whether or not they have any support from their customers, addicted or otherwise?
My bet is they wouldn’t be thrown a single pea, let alone a sandwich.
Dammit, hospital leaves too much time for thinking.
Right now, I’m thinking how Ireland really could have won this rugby world cup were it not for all the things that are wrong in the camp and with Irish rugby in general - like the fact that very few people are playing it anymore and that it is still, in the main, a middle class game which is fiercely protected from invasion by, well, the middle classes who run it.
I’m thinking how our government has become utterly corrupt, generating sinecures for its supporters at public expense.’
I’m thinking how we have a health service run by people who think it’s ok to shut down front line services while they still have highly paid people in charge of the purchase of staple clips. Let’s see the administrative jobs going, boys.
I’m thinking how those who run our national airline have managed to turn it from a much loved institution to an organisation which is tolerated by some and loathed by others by loved by none.
I’m thinking how the entire Celtic Tiger business was, in the heel of the hunt, the greatest exercise in spin ever foisted on a population, a hoodwinking more successful even than that attempted by Blair and Bush in relation to Iraq.
We know know, there were not Weapons of Mass Destruction.
And we know now that there was no great wealth in the Celtic Tiger.
If there was, why do we still have poor?|
Why do we still have homeless?
Why do we still have some dirty hospitals?|
Why is our healthcare system - brilliant when you’re in it - so badly run?
Why are so many of our ‘minor’ roads (they’re major for the people who have to use them every day) so lousy?
Why don’t we have enough schools?
Why don’t we have enough gardai?
Why are we selling so many of our assets?
Why are we selling the tolling of so many of our roads to private enterprise?
Why do we need Public Private Partnerships in the first place, if we’re so rich?
Because we’re not.
Only politicians, with their 22 pay rises and their sinecures are.
And, it seems, only those of us with time to think. realise it.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) III

I’d love a pint. I really would. I am, as they say, gumming for one.
It’s always the same when I’m somewhere they don’t have pints.
And they don’t have pints in hospital. Not pints of Guinness, I mean. They do have pints. Of blood.
But it’s not quite the same thing, drinking through your arm.
So I’d love a creamy. A roaster. A pint of plain.
Not right now, not this second.
But I’d love to have one this evening. Or maybe two. Might even stretch to three.

Being ill, or a little bit ill, or not at all ill but with an annoying infection, I firmly believe in the restorative powers of pints. Specifically, pints of Guinness.
For years, you were handed a bottle of Guinness after donating blood in this country.
Women who gave birth were immediately given Guinness every day to build up their strength. Their children were, however, forced to wait years for the same, er, beneficial medicine.
I have no idea why such practices ended.
Economic reasons, no doubt. Some accountant figured out that by stopping the Guinness, they could buy more ledgers or pencil sharpeners or something.
Or maybe, Carlsberg or Heineken got the hump and demanded equal treatment. Silly, that. Lager, though, hasn’t got the same powers as Guinness.
I’m pretty sure that if the lady with the trolley came around today and asked us all if we wanted tea, coffee or Guinness, she would be returning to her kitchen with pots of cold tea and coffee.
I am also pretty sure that, after a couple of trips to the trolley, we patients would all be feeling a great deal better.
And even if hospital food is, well, hospital food, boy, wouldn’t we look forward to it if it was to be accompanied by a nice Merlot or a nice, round Cote de Rhone.
You may very well think I am obsessed with alcohol.
I am not.
I merely miss it.
I don’t miss it as much as I miss my partner or my child or my dog or my house or my bed at home or a decent cup of tea.
But it’s not here. They don’t encourage it in hospitals.
And I miss it.
It’s not that I think about it all the time.
This morning, for example, I was thinking again about what a good my idea to put each sick person into their own sterile pod.
I thought about that again when the lady who brought me my breakfast informed me that she felt ‘absolutely dreadful.’
Brilliant, I thought. She feels sick and she’s walking around a hospital handing out food to people who are trying to get better. Put her in a pod, I thought, and stop her from spreading her sickness.
And today I also thought about England reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup.
I thought, there’s a mediocre, ageing, average team in the world cup final.
Because they have passion and heart and determination. And they have been well prepared.
And our younger, more skilled and more fancied team dumped out in the qualifying round.
If we’d been properly prepared, we could have won the damned thing.
And then I was looking at the hung-over England fans and the hung-over former England player Matt Dawson on television talking about the joy of the England fans.
The best of luck to them.
There is a perfectly logical reason as to why there should be bars in hospitals.
I’m not talking here about The Dog and Duck or the King’s Arms.
Maybe The Doctor and Nurse or The Cut and Stitch or something.
But it would be strictly for patients only.
And admission would be by coloured wrist band so that certain patients, for whom a drink might be harmful, would be wearing a red wrist band and would not be admitted.
There might be, say, a green wrist band for someone allowed four pints and a blue one for someone allowed three, a yellow one for someone allowed two and a pink, yes, I think pink, for someone allowed one.
And it would only be Guinness.
And maybe some decent red wines.
I mean, the thing is supposed to be medicinal.
Of course, a mini bar in the room would solve the problem too...

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes) II

Sometimes, it makes a great deal of sense to put together in the one place people who are doing the same thing or who have a great deal in common.
It makes perfect sense, for example, for Catholics like myself who want to go to Mass to gather in the church together at Mass time.
It makes sense for followers of Manchester United or Leinster Rugby, like myself, who wish to attend matches to go to Old Trafford or, nowadays, the RDS, to watch the teams.
It makes a kind of sense for drinkers to gather in pubs, shoppers to go to shops and concert goers to go to concerts. It seems unlikely that Bruce Springsteen or the Kaiser Chiefs or Arcade Fire will put on individual performances.
And it just wouldn’t be acceptable, on any level, to start burying dead people willy-nilly, here and there.

It makes no sense at all, or very little, however, to gather sick people together in one spot.
I imagine whoever came up with the idea of hospitals in the first place, was a government administrator who reckoned, correctly as it happens, that it would make economic sense to put all the sick people in one place so that a smallish team of doctors and nurses and ancillary workers could see to their needs.
The idea of hospitals could not have come from anyone with the slightest medical qualification.
Think about it.
You’re sick. You need treatment. You need to be kept in an area that is as sterile as possible.
So what do they do?
They put you into a big building full of people who also need to be kept in an area that is as sterile as possible.
And then they let in cleaners and cooks and painters and hundreds of doctors and nurses and nurses’ assistants and, of course, thousands and thousands of visitors.
Little Jimmy with his snotty nose.
Lucy, who doesn’t know -yet - that she has measles.
Tommy who is just begining to feel a bit dodgy with humps.
Uncle Fred with the cold.
Great Aunt Maude who thinks she has a cold, but it’s actually the start of ‘flu.
And all the others with as yet undiagnosed illnesses.
They pile in one after one, behind the cleaner with the smokers’ cough and the lady who delivers dinner but who nobody knows never washes her hands after going to the loo.
The ideal way of dealing with sick people, is for each of them, every individual, to be put into his or her sterile pod where a dedicated doctor and nurse could attend to them and where anyone else who had to enter the pod, to deliver food, to visit - cleaners would barely be necessary - could be fully sterilised before entering.
For a start, in a kind of ‘Hey Presto!’ way, hospital superbugs wouldn’t exist because hospitals wouldn’t exist.
Naturally, these pods could be placed either close to a patient’s home or centrally, depending on the illness and so on.
They could be portable so that, sometimes, they could be parked in your garden.
They could be wheeled down to the pub! Well, doesn’t cheering people up do their health a power of good?
And the expertise would of course have to be largely centralised.
If you had sufficient doctors and nurses, this wouldn’t be a problem.
I am aware that, by now, you think I am indeed very unwell.
You think I am off my trolley, hospital or otherwise.
You are wondering what strange drug I am receiving here in hospital.
Because the idea as outlined above, would cost billions and billions and billions.
You’re right.
At least, you’re right about the cost, not about me being off my trolley.
Isn’t it odd how people might cringe when they hear that some medical scheme or other, some special school for autistic children, some plan to house the homeless or help to get addicts off drugs, may cost billions.
But nobody seems to bat much of an eyelid at the United States spending, what is it now, 80 billion dollars a year on their Iraqi adventure.
Nobody seems to be worried about our own public representatives costing vastly more than they are worth, what with their highly inflated salaries, ridiculous and largely dishonest expenses, free parking, free telephones, free post, free offices, subsidised restaurant, gym and God knows what else.
If money was spent sensibly, if business wasn’t given such influence, if public representatives represented the public, all sorts could be done.
We could have sterile pods for the sick.
And we could look after autistic children and others with learning difficulties.
We could look after the old and the young.
We could eliminate world hunger.
And we could eliminate the need for war.
We could be decent, kind generous Christian,Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist people. Whatever.
Yes, I suppose. Totally.
Must check what drugs they’re giving me again.

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Paddy Murray Is (not that) Unwell (he hopes)

❍Two of the loves of my life, Charlotte and her 'brother' Eric

Back to hospital.
Though I visit St James’s Hospital in Dublin regularly to see my doctors - I think I have five or six at the last count - it’s almost three years since I have spent a night here.
Last time, at least, I was sick.
Hospital’s a grand place to be when you’re sick. In fact, I can’t think of anywhere better. And, when you get right down to it, hospitals were built to look after sick people. So it all makes a perfect kind of sense.
Right now, I am not what you might call sick in the conventional sense.
I feel tremendously well. Any feeling of nausea or being unwell that I feel is a result, still, of Ireland’s lacklustre performance in Rugby World Cup.

Lacklustre? Lack-everything.
Anyway, I’m here in hospital feeling perfectly well from the ankles up.
And therein lies the nub of my problem.
Since I was diagnosed with this damned cutaneous lymphoma about 12 years ago, I have been well from the ankles up bar one period where I was well only from the ankles and wrists up. You will gather that it was my hands and feet that were causing me problems.
And since the last time I was confined to hospital - they don’t actually confine you, they just strongly suggest you stay - my partner has given birth to our wonderful daughter Charlotte. And, up to four months ago, the greatest pleasure in my life was going for a walk around our neighbourhood with Charlotte and the hairy Samoyed we like to described as her ‘brother’ Eric.
Yes, I walked around with a deal of pride. I probably looked smug and maybe, even, arrogant. But certainly proud.
But the feet started acting up. Bastards. If I didn’t need them, they’d be gone long ago. But, like most bodily organs, they have a role to play.
Whether it is to do with being on a clinical trial for a new drug and having stopped my old drug, I can’t say. Even with the old drug which was, generally, excellent for my health bar the fact that it raised my cholesterol so high it almost killed me, my feet were bad.
But they just got worse and worse.
And then the infection set in.
Now, it’s four months since I wore a pair of shoes. Not that I measure happiness by the number of pairs of shoes I get to wear in a given month. Was Imelda Marcos happy, I ask?
Now, I’m in hospital. And I feel well from the ankles up.
Here, the sound that wakes me in the morning is not the baby pressing the buttons on her musical frog, but the nurse telling me I’m about to be fed more antibiotics through a vein in my arm. Funny that, you’d think it would be a vein in my leg, legs normally being nearer to feet than arms.
Confined, so to speak, to a hospital bed and big things happenning elsewhere.
Tomorrow and Sunday, there are two Rugby World Cup Finals.
First up, it’s England and France. I’m cheering for France.
I’d love t o cheer for England. I love the place. I like the English. I admire many of their players.
But, even though I cheer them on at cricket, there’s something....
Maybe it’s “Swing Low...” I don’t know.
And then, on Sunday, I’ll be cheering on Argentina, largely because I think world rugby has given them a raw deal over the years and they have beaten the big boys politically and I’d love to see them winning on the field.
(I know, though, that some would take an Argentina/France final as some kind of vindication of Ireland’s lousy performance. But it would be no such thing.)
For the first time ever, I will be watching Rugby World Cup semi-finals stone-cold sober.
No pints. No wine. Nothing.
I cannot imagine what the experience may be like.
A friend has suggested I will interrupt the game with cries of ‘handball” and “that was a push.”
He said I might even express surprise that the goalkeeper is so far off his line or that someone or other missed a perfect opportunity for a clean header at goal.
I will, however, miss the expertise that comes with the fourth or fifth pint. I will miss the knowledge of the game and the tactical nous that comes half way through the sixth pint.
But I am, despite what some say, in the care of what I can personally attest, to be one of the finest healthcare systems in the world.
It is a system which would be all the finer if the enormous layer of bureaucracy at its top could be removed or halved.
But on the basis that a decision to halve bureaucracy would be taken by bureaucrats, such a thing is as unlikely as politicians voting to reduce their number or to pay themselves an honest salary.
But let nobody say that once in the door of an Irish hospital, the care is not as good or better than anywhere in the world.
Let nobody say that, despite the problems, the health service is not generous in the way it deals with patients, in that I, and several I have met since my latest incarceration, as being fed drugs unavailable to patients in Britain’s much lauded healthcare system on the grounds of price alone.
So while I will complain - of course I will, I’m a grumpy old man - about being in hospital in the first place.
While I worry that seeing my much loved game of rugby through sober eyes might alter my view of it entirely.
And while I miss my partner Connie, my daughter Charlotte and my dog Eric, madly, I am in a place designed and built for sick people.
Even if they’re only sick from the ankles up.
(At leat, I hope it’s only from the ankels up.)

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Give me doctors any day

Irish politicians have given themselves 22 pay rises in the past ten years.
An average (and boy, do we mean average) TD (member of parliament) pulls down around 200,000 euro when expenses and allowances are considered.
On top of that, he or she can employ members of their families to do whatever, at state expense.
They get paid extra for turning up to work.
They get paid extra for sitting on committees.
Our Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is on a basic salary of 266,492 euro. On top of that, he draws down expenses and is, already on the promises of a publicly funded pension about ten times higher that that his government believes is adequate for ‘ordinary’ pensioners.

Ahern has surrounded himself with advisors, some of whom are paid almost as much as he.
In other words, he pays himself a massive salary, and then, presumably because he can’t do the job, uses our tax money to pay people who can, or at least, people who he believes can.
His ministers are the same.
Right now, he’s bitching about our hospital consultants.
In what is now a fairly normal display of class and sophistication, he whinges that they’re paid more than him.
He expresses himself fed up with the doctors and their protracted negotiations for new contracts. (There was no negotiation whatever involved in the 22 pay rises he and his fellow public representatives gave themselves.)
What is on offer to consultants, is 216,000 euro a year.
Now, I don’t know about you, but personally, I would be wholly in favour of reducing the number of TDs we have by half. Constitutionally, we are required to have one per 30,000 people, which means there are only going to be more of these utterly useless human beings who are a drain on our resources and who are, for the large part, put up for election for reasons not unconnected with nepotism.
If Britain followed our example, there would be 1,600 or so MPs in the Commons.
But, bad and all as they are, they’re not as wantonly wasteful as we are.
So here’s a solution.
Cut the number of TDs by half, or even two thirds.
Abolish the senate.
Get rid of all the special advisors, PR hangers on, gurus, spinners and what not.
And pay the doctors.
Pay them 250,000 a year. Pay them 300,000 a year.
One doctor is worth a dozen TDs.
What am I saying.
One doctor is worth the whole damned lot of them.
I know, by the way. Doctors are keeping me alive and they have done so for 12 years and done so in a way that has given me a reasonable quality of life.
Why should doctors have to beg for decent salaries from people who award themselves how ever much it is they want?
Why should they listen to a bitter, begrudging and dishonest oaf like Ahern, who despite having one of the highest salaries in the land, took money from his ‘friends’ and hid it in a safe while he was going through a marital separation?
Pay the doctors.
Believe me, we can survive without Bertie and his cronies.
We cannot survive with excellent doctors - and nurses - who staff our health service.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Humbly Doing Flan O'Brien's Work

Flan O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen, Brian Ó Nualain.
He was the magnificent Irish writer, responsible for such literary gems ad At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman.
He was also famous for his column in the Irish Times.
And in that column, the regularly wrote about clichés.
He provided us with a dictionary of clichés.
But, of course, since his untimely demise, clichés have changed.
And so I humbly now, offer some instruction in some more modern clichés.

What race of people, anxious to make our trading situation difficult, is believed to be outside our gate? The Barbarians.
And which particular meal of ours is it, that they wish to consume? Our lunch.
What edible animal, often domesticated, is it that we must have all in a row? Our ducks.
From what sheet of paper, usually found amongst members of a choir, is it that we should all be singing? Hymn sheet.
In which direction should we be going? Forward.
What deadly piece of metal is it that we must dodge? The bullet.
In which land, which is extremely prone to cloudy weather, do some people live? Cuckoo.
What gainful employment is it that it is often suggested we should not give up? The day job.
What useful financial reward is it that we should take and run? The money.
What form of illumination is it that are often on though there is nobody home? The lights.
Of what metal, alcohol filled item, is he one short of a six-pack? A can.
With one of which extremity does he walk on the footpath? Foot.
On which side of life is it recommended that we always look? The bright.
What faecal matter is it that, unfortunately, happens? Shit.
Which female domesticated animal is it that life is before you die? A bitch.
If there is no pain, what else is there none of? Gain.
Through what fissure do we not want something to fall? The cracks.
On what kind of wonderful highway does information travel? Super.
With what awkward bodily growth and all does an honest portrait come? Warts.
To whom is something that’s easy to operate, friendly? User.
What kid of unpleasant head do you not wish to see reared when things are going well? An ugly one.
Staying where is the new going out? In.
Where does the balloon invariably go when things go wrong? Up.
In what kind of sports field is the figure normally found? Ballpark.
What kid of search will the police undertake when someone is missing? All out.
What kind of honcho is the boss? Head.
With what are they viewing the dodgy looking situation? Alarm.
Under what unpleasant item is the released man no longer? Suspicion.
And so what is he now off? The hook.
Like what does the good idea sound? A plan.
What item of haberdashery should you push to annoy someone? His buttons.
What can you not put back in the tube? The toothpaste.
What kind of bovine animal is the profitable business? Cash cow.
What part of your anatomy should someone read if they wish to understand you? Your lips.
What should people not do with your chain if they don’t wish to annoy you? Yank it?
Any more?

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