Thursday 20 June 2019

Ian O'Doherty: Haven't patients suffered enough without this hospital smoking ban?

So, can you remember what last Monday was like? The chances are you can't -- after all, every day now just seems to bleed into the next as we all behave like hamsters on a treadmill, running constantly to try to keep our jobs.

But I shall give you a little reminder -- on Monday afternoon the skies opened. Remember now? There was a feckin' monsoon about four in the afternoon that thoroughly drenched the city and anyone who had the misfortune to be caught in it.

It was the kind of sudden, torrential downpour that seems like the apocalypse is about to happen -- pitch black afternoon skies and sheets of rain that seem almost impenetrable.

Myself and the wife were heading up to the Mater hospital to visit a sick friend at the time and we saw something which proves the utter idiocy of bureaucrats.

Like all hospitals nowadays, the Mater has a strict zero tolerance policy on smoking on their premises. And, as anyone who has had the misfortune to have cause to visit the Mater will know, the pedestrian pathway from the public road outside into the entrance of the hospital is quite long, so anyone who fancies a quick fag has to go quite a distance before they can light up.

On Monday, as we entered the grounds of the hospital, we passed by a bunch of people, many in wheelchairs, soaked to their bones because they had been caught in the open during the shower.

For the people in wheelchairs, particularly, it seemed utterly farcical.

After all, you go to a hospital to get better, not to get pneumonia because you've been virtually turfed out onto the main road.

My missus remembers seeing a guy in a wheel-chair with no legs puffing outside the Mater recently, the irony being that here he was smoking when there was a very good chance that he had lost his legs through nicotine consumption, which is not unusual.

But the thing is -- when you've lost your legs, what's the point in trying to give up the fags at that stage?

As we entered the hospital, we were greeted by the usual automated message that the Mater is committed to a smoke-free environment and woe betide anyone who breaks their rules.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am obviously fully aware that hospitals are meant to be healthy places and you can't have gangs of people standing around the entrance all puffing merrily away.

But there has to be a happy medium and what I saw on Monday was a classic example of some killjoy, self-righteous administrator or someone in middle management -- and God knows, the Irish health service is top-heavy with middle management -- coming up with the bright idea to make the entire premises a smoke-free zone.

It sounds fine in theory but they have forgotten just one thing -- the patients they are meant to be caring for.

Now, I know that there are times in Irish hospitals when it seems like the patients are a bothersome afterthought, but this non-smoking diktat, which leaves wheelchair-bound patients drenched to the bone because they had to travel further than necessary just to have a smoke, is just plain cruel.

And for once, I know of what I speak.

Before he died, my father spent a few years in and out of James's Hospital.

He used to say that the worst thing was the boredom, the endless tedium punctuated only by the ticking of the clock in his ward that used to drive him mad.

A voracious reader, he admitted that there are only so many books you can read in one day and while his body was failing, his mind was, on the whole, still active -- and that's where the ciggie break came in.

He admitted to me on one occasion that going for a smoke was the highlight of his day -- not for the hit of the tobacco but because for him and all the other long-term patients, going for a smoke was a social occasion, a chance to get out of the bed, get out of the ward and have a chat and a fag with some of the others and, to be honest, I could completely see where he was coming from.

Because when my Da and his fellow incumbents met up for a smoke, they were no longer just patients with a numbered bracelet on their wrist, they were men again, individuals in their own right.

It was a vital outlet for someone who was going insane with the boredom and, as we all know, boredom leads to depression, which is the worst thing someone with cancer, or any other illness for that matter, can deal with.

The humane thing in the Mater would be to simply erect some sort of canopy around the corner of the main building and let the smokers congregate there, away from everyone else and let them enjoy their precious few minutes of being a person again and not just a patient.

But this is just one example of how narrow minded, elf'n'safety-obsessed people try to impose their views on the rest of us.

You only have to look at how conkers have been outlawed in many schools in case the kids hurt themselves with them or how contact sports have been virtually banned in some places.

Even buying a box of Nurofen+ these days involves an interrogation from the person behind the counter, which is both ineffective and bloody insulting.

A wise man once said that a puritan is someone who stays awake at night worrying that someone, somewhere, is having a good time -- and it seems we have a lot of puritans in Ireland.

Honestly, don't you ever get sick and tired of being treated like a child in this country?

Irish Independent

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