I do like to receive your digital photographs of hospital dinners -- provided they don't arrive between the hours of five and seven in the evening, when they may very easily put me off my own. One exasperated mother of a paediatric patient in one of our larger regional hospitals sent me a photograph of what can only be described as a gruesome meal served up to her child.
We hear a lot of guff about health-promoting hospitals and healthy-eating initiatives from the array of ministers in Hawkins House.
I suspect this is not the sort of fare the taxpayers subsidise in the Leinster House restaurant. The parent, who knows a thing or two about catering, tells me that the dark liquid poured over the chips was not gravy, but was, in fact, dirty grease. She rightly tells me that there is absolutely no excuse for this standard of food to be served. Hands up who would like to see a health minister eat this dish live on television.
Health warnings have become so commonplace these days that it's a wonder anyone listens to them at all. Perhaps they don't. I have a concern that so many of them are emanating from the specialist sector of medicine, where they know a lot about very little, and not much is heard from the general side of the couch, where we know a little about an awful lot.
If you spend most of your waking hours in an obesity clinic, dealing with unfortunate patients who are morbidly rotund, then it's no surprise that you pick doomsday words, such as 'epidemic', 'crisis' and 'catastrophe', to describe the area of public health you observe through your prism. Similarly, if you run a liver clinic, all the faulty livers in your locality wind their merry way to you, and it's understandable that your view of the world through the great hepatic portal vein can be slightly jaundiced when it comes to the drinking habits of the local population. I am not saying we shouldn't take the pronouncements of specialists seriously. But the captain of the Titanic is not necessarily the best man to talk about shipping safety statistics -- his blinkers might only allow him to see icebergs on the horizon. I'd like to see more family doctors on the airwaves, talking more about family medicine.
I do love to get your letters and emails about old cures and home-spun remedies that you remember from childhood. I was writing recently about chilblains and the use of Zam-Buk ointment, and a kind lady in south Co Dublin wrote to tell me of her experience in the 1940s. She came home from school one winter with sore chilblains on her hands, and her mother sent her upstairs to rinse her hands in urine. The girl was shocked and quite disgusted to have to do such a thing, but found that, when she did as her mother ordered, the discomfort miraculously vanished. She wonders if this is an old cure that has been forgotten? It certainly is an old remedy. Supplies never run out, and there are still doctors who recommend it. The lingering smell of warm urine puts many off using it, but the science is proven. Urine tends towards the alkaline side of the pH scale, and has the same sort of effect that soda has on a bee sting.
Behind the Walls series
The late journalist, Mary Raftery, left a fine legacy of investigative journalism and interesting documentaries, but I did write before about her final Behind the Walls series on Irish mental hospitals, where I queried as to whether it presented a rather one-sided diatribe against an imperfect system. Many families who worked within the psychiatric services were not pleased with the documentary and felt it lacked the necessary degree of balance. Just before Christmas, I came across a letter I had mislaid from a former staff nurse at a Midlands asylum. She felt the programme was unbalanced and lacked fairness. She remembers taking care of what she called the "most lovable and enduring people", and said that her hospital, though a bit shabby in places, was their home, and that she never witnessed any neglect or unkindness in all her time there. I think she spoke for many families in the mental health services when she told me that she found the programme hurtful. In my new book, What the Doctor Saw, I have tried to describe the struggle frontline staff had, in the experience of my grandfather, to secure funds from the State to afford even basic care to their long-stay patients. Behind the Walls told some interesting stories but, in focusing upon old institutions, and long-gone individuals who toiled behind the walls, it let the puppet masters off the hook.
Before Christmas, we were marvelling at all the fancy and apt new names for the dental surgeries that are popping up around the country, and I asked for your assistance with the naming of a new haemorrhoid clinic. My loyal readers have not let me down yet. A lady doctor in the West of Ireland suggested Anal-Gesia, with the tag line, Leave Your Piles Behind. And she also wondered whether the more modern-sounding Procto Logics might get sore bums on seats. Seamus, in Co Wexford, suggested the Bottoms Up Clinic, whilst two readers suggested the excellent Pile High Club. Thanks also for the Bum Job Clinic, Shrivel 'n' Shrink, Shrink 'n' Band, The Bunch of Grapes, PileStop, Piles 'R' Us, Butt Fix, the Ben Dover Clinic and Part With Piles. That's quite enough for one column on a Sunday. I've saved the rude suggestions for next week. Bonne sante.