Saturday 24 February 2018

Rude health: 'the plain tooth'

It's time that Irish medics followed the lead of dentists, and set up an independent complaints service, says Maurice Gueret

Maurice Gueret

Regular readers know my high esteem for veterinary surgeons, and the disappointment I harbour that the fields of animal and human medicine so rarely mingle on this verdant land. Just because we place thermometers in different recesses does not mark us apart as distinct creatures of science.

It dawned on me the other day that medical mortals could also learn quite an amount from dentists. Back in my college days, we separated from the "B Dents" after just a few months. Once the head and neck had been dissected in the anatomy department, we medics proceeded down to the spare ribs, heart and lungs, while tooth-pullers were shipped out for exciting lectures on the alloys of mercury. Just the other day, I read about a service pioneered here called the Dental Complaints Resolution Service. Basically, it's an independent mediation service that assists patients and dentists with the complaints that, invariably, arise in the conduct of their work.

Based in Castlebar, and facilitated by a senior figure in the Consumers Association, this looks like an excellent initiative. They handled just over 100 cases last year. There are a lot of unhappy medical patients, who don't want to engage lawyers or report their doctor to the Medical Council in the first instance. I hope it's not too long before doctors find the time to set up their own Medical Complaints Resolution Service. It might just reinforce the view that not every complaint needs a hanging judge. A listening ear and a well-meant apology, on either side, cures many ails. See

Water charges cap

I will be interested to see what diagnoses Environment Minister Phil Hogan comes up with when deciding which medical patients will have a cap on their water charges. Patients who do their own peritoneal kidney dialysis at home have been mentioned as having a "qualifying condition", but, to date, I am unaware of any consultation Mr Hogan has had with the medical profession to decide others. I would have thought that patients with chronic bowel conditions that might necessitate frequent trips to the lavatory – such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis – might qualify. An argument might then also be made for irritable bowel syndrome, or patients with proven malabsorption conditions, such as coeliac disease. I would strongly argue that a household that cares for a demented person or, indeed, any person with either urinary or faecal incontinence should also qualify for capping. And how will Mr Hogan look upon patients who have obsessive hand-washing and other hygiene compulsions? Every psychiatrist in the country has at least one or two cases on their books. Patients with eczema are often advised to run baths regularly and to use emollients in the water as part of their treatment. Might they, too, have a case for capping? Let me know if there are other conditions you feel should lead to a capping of water charges. If we don't consult widely, Ireland being Ireland, you'll end up begging for water at your local TD's clinic. You can be sure of one thing: that "shower" will be running free showers at Leinster House, and in their ministerial offices, like there's no charge tomorrow.

Old medical terms

We were looking last week at some old medical terms that have been recorded on death certificates over the years. A retired senior nurse sent me a fine collection, and proved the dictum that a doctor's education never ceases. I did not know, for instance, that there was a word for medicines used to restore a lady's menstruation. They were called emmenagogues. Nor did I know that a stroke, or cerebrovascular accident, as it might be medically recorded now, was once described as a "softening of the brain". Eczema of the scalp was once known as scald head, though I shudder to think why this relatively minor ailment had to be recorded on a death certificate. And, finally, the expression learning disability has well replaced mental handicap, which, in turn, replaced mental retardation. But I was completely unaware that doctors used the word "helpless" to describe those among us who might have to overcome greater obstacles in education.


I'm swimming in black stuff and black ointments since I mentioned this cure for drawing thorns in a recent column. What is becoming clear to me is that there may have been more than one variety. Eithne remembers it, 70 years ago, as coming in a dark-blue, round box made of stiff cardboard. She says it was oily and smelled of tar. Her GP gave it to her to massage into a swollen knee, which she had banged off a door frame at school. She remembers it as a "multi-purpose" cure, and, on her holidays on a Westmeath farm, it was kept on top of the kitchen dresser. Eithne says she can smell it and see it, but can't quite put a name on it. She thinks it had an "ox" in it, and wonders if Iodox rings any bells?

Man of science

Bernard Leddy is a well-known man of science from Waterford – a pharmacist and medicines expert, who runs Within minutes of my recent piece on black ointment being published, Bernard had the recipe to me by email. There is a lot of mixing, melting, boiling and pouring going on here, so, in the interests of health and safety, mine especially, I am not going to give you the entire process! I don't want half the farm roofs in Ireland blown off on my account. But here are the ingredients: 20 parts olive oil, 16 parts lard, 16 parts mutton suet, 14 parts litharge, eight parts resin, eight parts yellow wax, and a small quantity of ivory black (dead-animal charcoal), to give it its colour, before pouring the mixture into paper moulds.

I have some more good yarns about black stuff next week. Slainte.

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