An intolerable and upsetting situation - with no end in sight
Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30
At 4pm, a cluster of doctors stood in a huddle for a meeting to discuss patients, progress and strategy. Their faces, tense and exhausted, screamed 'crisis'.
Dusk was drawing in again without any reprieve for patients who had sleeplessly passed the night propped up uncomfortably on chairs.
Staff apologised profusely for the lack of basic comfort they were able to offer. And for the most part, patients understood. This crisis was not of their making. The doctors and nurses at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown were doing their best, they said.
But the situation was intolerable and upsetting and the word 'dignity' cropped up again and again - or rather, the lack of it.
We counted the tiny, frail frames of at least 10 elderly patients in cubicles, lying on hard, narrow, trolleys, their distressed faces a most harrowing sight.
Some wore oxygen tubes, suggesting respiratory issues, and their emaciated bodies lay still under thin hospital blankets.
It was a shameful spectacle nobody could expect to see in a civilised country.
Nine other patients were confined to a chair in the corridor, their bodies hunched and dispirited.
Outside in the waiting room, 18 more people were still to be seen, while a teenage girl slept deeply and exhaustedly on a window sill.
One woman, there with her elderly mother who had to have blood tests, said she was terrified of how long her mother might be forced to wait without being seen.
"She might have to be admitted but I don't know if she'll get a bed," she said.
For mother-of-five Ann Hussain (35), it had been a long and emotional journey since being brought into the hospital with suspected food poisoning at 8pm the previous night.
She had spent the past 20 hours on a chair when she spoke to us yesterday afternoon.
At 9pm, she saw a doctor and at that point was "crying with pain".
"The pain was inhumane," said Ann, explaining that she had two internal examinations and was awaiting a CAT scan, with staff suspecting a bowel problem.
Originally put in a wheelchair, she was taken out and put on a stool because the chair was needed for another patient. Had she managed to sleep at all, we asked. Ann shook her head - she had not.
"I'm worn-out crying because the nurses can't tell me how long I'll be in here or when I'll get a bed," she said.
In the meantime, her mother and neighbour were taking turns to take care of her five children, all under 16.
Ann was brought to a trauma room for examination and the bed had to be hastily cleared of medical equipment, lying higgledy piggledy.
At one stage, she overheard another doctor telling somebody that he had seen 80 patients that day.
As she spoke to us, she wept - not for her own situation but because of what she had witnessed around her and particularly because of the discomfort and lack of dignity being experienced by the elderly patients.
A woman in her 80s spent the entire night on a chair, she claimed.
And two ambulances were parked outside in the night waiting with patients they were unable to bring inside because there was simply nowhere to put them.
Meanwhile, the doctors and nurses were "run ragged", Ann said.
"They're shouting from one end of the room to another asking if there's any beds to be had.
"They've nowhere to put anyone," she added.
"This Government should be ashamed of itself. I sat there all night feeling sorry for the staff. This is a funding problem."