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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Woman waiting two years for 'urgent' back surgery: 'It makes me feel like I'm nothing'

Una Gannon Pic: Frank McGrath
Una Gannon Pic: Frank McGrath

Sasha Brady

A Dublin woman who has been on a waiting list for back surgery for two years now fears she could end up in a wheelchair.

Una Gannon Pluck (65) from Tallaght was told by doctors in August 2015 that she would end up in a wheelchair if she didn’t undergo major surgery “within three of four months”.

Three years ago Una fell down the stairs and broke her neck, two vertebrae in her back and fractured a number of bones at the base of her spine.

A year after the accident the mum-of-two said she was still experiencing “terrible pains”.

Una Gannon has been on the waiting list for two years Photo: Frank McGrath
Una Gannon has been on the waiting list for two years Photo: Frank McGrath

She visited a spine specialist in Tallaght Hospital who advised her that she had osteoporosis and as a result her bones hadn’t healed properly from the fall.

“They had healed enough to keep me alright but they weren’t properly healed," said Una.

"One of the bones was crumbling. The specialist said I’d need surgery to fill it. I was told that he would have me in by Christmas of that year. He said it was very important I had that surgery otherwise I’d end up in a wheelchair.”

Two years later, Una is still waiting for the life-changing surgery and said the pain has become so unbearable that she cannot live a normal life.

“I get up in the morning and I feel alright. I try and do a bit of washing but by lunchtime I’m in terrible pain. I’ve to sit down and use the hot water bottle otherwise I am in complete agony. My back is mottled with dead skin from constant use of the hot water bottle but it’s either that or staying in bed all day," she explained.

"I've lost myself. My husband pays someone to come in to do the cleaning sometimes. I'd keep my house spotless and I can't do that anymore. I enjoyed looking after the house, it made me feel like a valued human being.

"I can't go out unless someone brings a car. My daughters Jennifer and Audrey come up to me a few days a week and take me out. I spend a lot of money on taxis for hospital appointments.  I can't even get the bus. I used to go to town but it's too difficult. After a while it feels like my body can't support the weight of my neck. It's unbearable.

As well as hot water bottles, Una uses morphine patches to ease the pain. She was prescribed morphine tablets but said she's too afraid to use them because she doesn't like how they make her feel.

The pain has completely knocked her confidence. The pain is so debilitating that Una is dependent on her family and friends to assist her with the most basic tasks.

"I've lost my independence. I don't even socialise anymore. I get invited to things like family parties and that but I can't go. I've no life and my poor husband has no life anymore because he has to do everything for me. I'm completely dependent on others and that's now how I was. That's not me.

"I hate complaining but it makes me feel like I'm nothing."

Una received a letter from the orthopedic doctor in October 2016 who advised that he had "not forgotten about her" but said it would be a while before anything could be done. He explained that he doesn't get "enough theatre time" and has a waitlist of more than 400 patients.

Una's daughter Audrey got in touch with Patient Advocacy at Tallaght Hospital to see if they could push her mother's case along but they advised her that nothing could be done.

"It's so hard to see her like this," Audrey said. "She just has no life now. Her best friend died only last week, they'd been friends since they were teenagers and my mam couldn't spend any time with her in the months leading up to her death. She was just in so much pain that she could only manage a few hours here and there.

"She has 12 grandchildren but she can't spend proper time with them. Not in the way that she'd like to, especially with the younger ones. She can't lift them up or play with them. She's just consumed by agonising pain all the time. It's no life."

The HSE rang Una earlier this year and said that they were sending patients to different clinics to have procedures done. She was asked if she'd be willing to change her appointment from Tallaght Hospital to the next available appointment elsewhere and she advised them that she would, as long as she was guaranteed quality of service.

However, she has heard nothing back from the HSE.

"If i was told nothing can be done then I might be able to accept this but to be told that I could be fixed and then just left like this... It's just not fair. It's not right. Someone needs to take responsibility," said Una.

"At this stage I don't even know if I'd qualify for the surgery. Who knows how much my bones have deteriorated since my last appointment? I haven't been revaluated. What if it's too late?"

A spokesperson for Tallaght Patient Advocacy for comment told "Tallaght Hospital strives to provide the highest standard of care to patients at all times. We cannot comment on individual patients but do apologise to the patient involved.

"We regret the length of time that patients have to wait for surgery and acknowledge the pain and impact this has on their lives.  

"As the only provider of spinal services in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, the waiting lists for spinal surgery reflect the demand for services and the growing population of the catchment area served by the Hospital."

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