Monday 20 November 2017

A brush with death concentrates mind

A recent stroke caused Charles Lysaght to reflect on many things, from our health care system to his own frailties

After almost 69 years on this mortal coil I should have learnt that life is not fair. On June 25 I suffered a stroke paralysing me all down my left side. I have never smoked. The amount of alcohol I drink is minimal. I am not overweight and eschew saturated fats to keep my cholesterol down to 5. I have no job or family to cause me stress. I walk everywhere I can get to in half an hour. I had a set of lawn tennis on the morning of the stroke.

If I count myself unlucky to have got a stroke, I was fortunate in everything else. I was sitting on my bed awaiting the result of the Fine Gael blood-letting on a bedside radio, when I felt slightly faint. I made to lie down only to find that my left leg would not move. Fortunately I was beside a telephone and I was able to recall the number of a friend who summoned the ambulance and came hotfoot herself.

I was taken to the Accident and Emergency in St Vincent's Hospital in jig time. That made it possible for them to give me an aggressive treatment called thrombolysis. It cleared the offending clot. Feeling began to creep back into my leg and arm. I was dispatched to the Coronary Care Unit where I was kept for three nights before being moved to a general ward. With the aid of some physiotherapy, I was walking quite well within the week. "It could have been an awful lot worse," said my consultant as he observed my progress.

Having listened for years past to a litany of complaints about our hospitals, I was surprised to find that the treatment and care were so good. There was simply nothing one could fault.

Not alone was everything done efficiently and promptly. There was kindness, enthusiasm and good humour -- all so important for a patient in low spirits. If nurses feel aggrieved by pay cuts, they certainly don't take it out on the patients. Also pleasing was to see the good relationship between the native Irish and immigrant members of staff. I discovered that it is more fun to be in a public ward than in a private room.

I don't suppose that every patient in every Irish hospital has been as lucky as I was. I myself encountered an indifferent performance in another Dublin hospital when I broke an arm while playing cricket 15 years ago. It is right that there should be an effective complaints system for aggrieved patients. But this should be balanced by surveys of those who do not complain so that a true picture emerges and justice is done all round.

A lesson I learned from the whole episode is one I have sometimes preached but not practised invariably -- that it is vital for those who are alone for long periods to carry an alarm at all times. This could be emphasised more in health education than it is.

I don't think I have felt so close to death before. As I have never seen myself as a hero, I was surprised how unafraid I was.

Nor, sadly, was I filled with concern for the fate of my immortal soul despite its poor state of repair. My regrets centred on various projects (mostly literary) that I had not completed.

What is certain is that the sense of invincibility born of long years of rude health has been dented. In the words of the poet Robert Browning that echoed through my mind in the ambulance: "Never glad confident morning again."

Sunday Independent

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