From Bantry to Cork, sirens screaming
Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30
Raging at RTE is literally bad for the heart. List, list, O, list!
Last Sunday night, while staying in Baltimore, I watched RTE's Nine News report on the State ceremony for O'Donovan Rossa, with mixed anger and disbelief. I was not alone.
Billy Timmins of Renua complained about RTE carrying a parallel report of the State ceremony with Sinn Fein.
But as a former television producer, I can tell Timmins it was much worse than that.
RTE intercut footage of the solemn State ceremony with Sinn Fein's political street theatre.
This produced a totally different visual effect than carrying two separate ceremonies.
By inter-cutting the two ceremonies, RTE News created the visual impression that the two ceremonies were somehow the same.
This had two results, both bad, for all parties except Sinn Fein.
First the State ceremony was degraded. Second, the Sinn Fein ceremony hitched a lift on the State ceremony to its political advantage.
What was most worrying was the subliminal message. Nothing so crude to cause any alarm, just an after-image to the advantage of Sinn Fein.
When I called my wife Gwen, nursing crocked knees in Dublin, she confirmed the same conflation of the State and Sinn Fein commemorations had been carried on RTE's Six One News.
Given that Sinn Fein is now stalking the State ceremonies, does RTE News propose to give equal treatment to the State and Sinn Fein from now on?
If so, Sinn Fein won't have to make any party political broadcasts for the next general election.
Two questions. Did Alex White, Minister for Communications and a former RTE producer, raise the conflation of the two ceremonies with RTE?
If he did not, will Fine Gael stop being so flabbily servile to the Labour Party and ask White why not?
Fuming, and feeling strangely feverish, I went to bed early.
* * * * *
I woke with a crushing pain in my chest. I checked the time: 4am. For a while I lay there, wondering if it was the bad thing, staring at the curtain tinged with dawn light, thinking of the chilling opening lines of the only modern poem I know by heart. Philip Larkin's Aubade.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now.
Paradoxically, tragic poetry prepares you, not for resignation but for resistance. So I drew a deep breath. And stopped as the pain became more acute.
Lying still, I reviewed my recent movements and soon came up with a culprit: heartburn.
No surprise, given how I had got stuck into a superb bread and butter pudding at Sunday lunch in the Sibin.
I had good reasons to reject a heart attack in favour of heartburn. Although I suffer from other ailments, I am a daily sea swimmer, a habit that soon discovers a dodgy heart.
So all I had to do was stick it out until Cotter's shop opened at eight. A packet of Rennies should do the trick.
The next four hours were hard going. Having had extensive experience of surgery, I am fairly stoic about pain. But this was bad.
At last it was light. I set off to walk the 300 yards to Cotter's shop. I made slow progress, stopping every few yards to draw a careful breath.
Kieran Cotter was alone in the shop, immersed in accounts. I paid for the Rennies with minimum talk. You don't whinge about heartburn to the cox of the Baltimore Lifeboat.
Back at base, the pain persisted. So I googled home remedies for heartburn and headed back to Cotter's.
This time Kieran gave me a quizzical look as I asked about other indigestion remedies. It was then this terse but decisive bit of dialogue took place.
Me: Have you baking soda?
Kieran: Going baking?
Me: Bicarbonate of soda, need it for heartburn.
Kieran: Last fellow asked me for that was dead in two hours.
Kieran: Heart attack.
Me: But I'm not having a heart attack.
Kieran: Call SouthDoc.
Something about the way he said it hit home.
So I reluctantly rang SouthDoc, the Skibbereen out-of-hours service.
Dr Pat Bailey was tied up on another urgent call, but the helpful nurse questioned me closely and advised me to call 999.
This posed a problem for me. I hate the kind of hypochondriac who ties up an ambulance that is not then available at the scene of an accident.
By now, however, I could barely breathe. So finally I called 999. The operator took the details, and said help was on the way.
Baltimore is a bit off the beaten track. So I was surprised at how swiftly an ambulance station wagon sped up to the house.
As I came out to meet it, a fit-looking female, festooned with gear, leaped from her rapid-response ambulance with a cheerful wave.
A few minutes later, I was on my back on the couch and advanced paramedic Amy Enright was cracking reassuring jokes while attaching electrodes to my chest for an ECG.
Amy was not happy with what her wires were telling her. By then Dr Pat Bailey and a bigger ambulance had arrived from Macroom with paramedics Peter Madaraz and Brian Gallagher.
After a quick conference, the medics decided to dispatch me to Bantry Hospital. Hearing this, some of my neighbours, now on hand, looked concerned.
I suspected that I knew what was bothering them. Back in the 1950s Bantry Hospital had a bit of a bad name. The nuns kept it spotless, but it simply hadn't the staff and equipment.
The resulting folklore was both critical and full of black comedy. Like the nun tucking the bedclothes about Jeremiah, a small farmer dying of cancer.
"There now, Jeremiah, please God you'll be out of here in a few days."
Jeremiah looked at her with jaundiced eye.
"Sister, the only man who leaves Bantry Hospital is the postman."
But that was then and this is now. Five years ago, I had been to Bantry Hospital for tests and found it first class. So I was good to go.
On a bank holiday Monday I expected mayhem at Bantry Hospital. But all was sweetness and light in its cheerful wards.
Dr Williams and the nursing staff gave me a good going over and decided to send me to Cork University Hospital.
A dose of morphine doused the chest pain and then I was off to Cork with paramedics Rob Kerrigan and Stephen O'Flaherty.
Floating on morphine, I mentally fantasised about my fans in Sinn Fein standing at crossroads, holding up signs imploring the ambulance to take its time.
Fat chance. Flying through Bandon, siren screaming, I felt like a visiting head of state and was almost sorry when we arrived at CUH.
The superb CUH cardiac unit is one of the legacies of Micheal Martin as health minister. From ambulance to diagnosis was only a matter of minutes.
Dr Eoin Fahy's echo machine confirmed his first hunch: pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart sac.
Next morning, Professor Noel Caplice gave me a pithy review of pericarditis, prescribed drugs, and advised me to take the week off.
Before doing so, I felt I had to file this column for two reasons. First, to pay tribute to the HSE's frontline services.
And to tell you: when in doubt, call 999 without delay.