Given that I'd listened to Professor Michael O'Keefe on Today With Pat Kenny last Thursday on the cancelling of treatment of cataracts and childhood eye cancers in Temple Street because they are scheduled and not emergency procedures, it was odd that I didn't recognise him as he oversaw my child's treatment there the following day.
Last Thursday, Prof O'Keefe, who is an ophthalmic surgeon in Temple Street and a doctor who has been outspoken for years about bed, ward and theatre closures, explained what will happen when one of the three operating theatres in the hospital is closed. He talked about blindness and death of children. He didn't scaremonger, as Pat Kenny suggested as devil's advocate, because you can't scare anyone that moves regularly in the health service. Those people are scared already. And those people could be you or your child.
But because all of us imagine bad things happen to other people, we let these things pass. And even I, who was due to bring my daughter to Temple Street ophthalmic department the following morning, was guilty of that. I cheered how Prof O'Keefe put his head above the parapet, but I didn't see it as being on my behalf.
At half-past eight on Friday morning, I brought my daughter Mary to her long-standing appointment in Temple Street. It was our second trip in to the hospital last week, for separate issues, all routine, but all pertaining to the fact that she has Down Syndrome and is predisposed to certain things. Like cataracts. The out-patients waiting room -- for ophthalmics alone -- was packed at that hour. The system "squeezed every ounce" of efficiency out of cramped conditions and too many patients, just as Prof O'Keefe said last Thursday, but it wouldn't take much to tip it over into chaos.
From this week, one-third fewer scheduled surgeries will happen in Temple Street, across all disciplines. "We're at a stage I thought I would never see," said Prof O'Keefe last Thursday. "We have children on trolleys."
He explained that malignant tumours don't wait, and that cataracts have a brief window in time when they can be treated without long-term sight consequences. But patients will be asked to wait and wait and wait. "It's a challenging year," wrote someone in the HSE in a statement read out by Pat Kenny. "However, all services must live within their allocated budget."
That, said Prof O'Keefe, "was gobbledegook written by someone who is not on the ground and who doesn't have to deal with parents, deal with children, who doesn't have to deal with common conditions that kill children, that blind them".
In the two adjoining examination rooms of the ophthalmic department last Thursday, Prof O'Keefe moved back and forth between four sets of children and parents, overseeing everything that went on. He reassured me about my own daughter's situation, gave me a run-down of how they will proceed with her in the next few years and sent me on my way, reassured.
"Come back in nine months, but make sure to make your appointment now. If you don't," Prof O'Keefe said, throwing up his hands, "you might fall out of the loop, and it's very hard to get back in." I thanked him for reminding me that the system is not kind, but it is run by people on the ground with our best interests at heart. I did what he said and on the way home, I heard his voice on the radio again, saying that he was probably going to get in trouble for speaking up against the theatre closures and receive letters saying he'd brought Temple Street into disrepute.
Too late, I realised that the man who took seriously the interests of my child -- who is ignored by other quarters far too easily -- was the same man I had admired the previous day. I should have thanked him more on Friday morning, not just for speaking out, but for putting his principles into practise. Too often, the voice of authority has no bearing on actuality. It's nice when it does.