Sunday 16 June 2019

The letter I wish I'd sent

Well, Dear Peg,

I just thought I'd drop you a line to see how you are and thank you for a wonderful gift you gave me as a young child. It is the simplest of gifts that had a profound effect on my life and has held me in good stead over the years.

I always loved coming to visit you and Mikey and I have fond memories of the constant tea on the stove that never ran out and punctuated every act of every day; the door that was always open and your great welcoming smile.

You always seemed to have an abundance to hand out and I was amazed at how you could possibly do it.

My father has a great saying: 'May the Lord increase your store and put it in your heart to send us out more.' I'm not sure if he learned that from you and Mikey, but your generosity definitely rubbed off on him in the time he also spent growing up with you as a child.

Faith was a huge part of life and we would always have the Rosary of course followed by a cup of tea. I remember the puppy you and Mikey got me because I was so upset when my cat died. I was worried that Mum and Dad would not let me keep her but Mikey figured that the pedigree puppies he made up himself should do the trick and I went home on the train with the puppy on my lap. Zoe and I travelled everywhere together and she became a great friend and companion.

The greatest gift you ever bestowed on me was the understanding I gained from observing you and your sister-in-law. You were such strong women who raised families in hard times and yet you had such strength, faith and serenity of character that withstood you through good and bad times.

The simplicity of life at that time allowed for stillness of mind and the faith that you had was a wonderful gift bestowed on me at such a young age.

The simplicity of the act of bartering and giving that warmed hearts and created friendship has always inspired me and I thank you for such a profound gift that has helped me on my journey in raising my own children. I have never felt without.

Lots of love,


Fiona Gleeson, Bray, Co Wicklow

Dear Nora,

In the middle of the night, probably 1957, I was taken from my little village over 20 miles to the Isolation Hospital in Killarney. I was three years old. I remember the doors of the ambulance banging shut, I was seriously ill.

You know, Nora, at that time parents did not go with or stay with their children in hospital as they do nowadays.

It must have been a very frightening experience for me, but thankfully I have no memories of that.

Nora, I have never forgotten the loving care you gave me, which restored me back to health.

Nora, I went on and became a nurse myself and was privileged to share in that same loving care that you showed me.

The terminally ill children remain forever in my heart - smiling baby Tomas; little endearing Martin, who held his nose as I changed his nappy; little Timmy, who was an orphan.

Our little country is heartbroken at the moment Nora. I have worked in the health service, and the vast majority working there are well meaning. But why do we put greedy, selfish people in charge of us? We have made great advances in medical science, Nora. But we still have to learn how to show love and put the patient first as you showed me.

Nora, it is over 60 years since we met. I have never forgotten your goodness and kindness to me.

I thank you with all my heart.


Name and address with the Editor

To Past, Present and Future Medical Professionals,

Firstly I want to say I'm glad medicine has got better but sadly not in time to help me. I was unfortunate to be born in 1961 at a time when doctors told my mam, a first time mam, that she was being an over-fussy mother when at nearly three, I wasn't walking.

Had it not been for one good doctor, God knows what quality of life I would have had as he diagnosed congenital dislocated hips. Right and left, since birth. Then the only course of action was to set the hips in traction with plaster of Paris, which they did but I was allergic to the plaster and the job was not completed.

Fast forward to me being 13 years old and at secondary school and not being able to do PE or partake in any sports, because of my hips and the pain I experienced - which I now know to be rheumatoid arthritis.

In early adulthood a clatter of doctors told me it was my weight causing every ailment I had, even though I ate well and did not over-eat. But I was still obese - a lack of exercise perhaps. A vicious circle more like - can't walk, can't exercise because of my hips.

Fast forward to my mid 30s and I have severe back and neck pain, leg pain, suspected sciatica. X-rays done, mayhem, doctors tell me I have two dislocated hips. Big news to these doctors but not to me, I have had them since birth.

Doctors are baffled as to "why nothing was done?" Imagine how I feel? Years of not being able to walk, exercise. I have an arthritis-riddled body, extreme obesity, life in danger, drastic action needed. Waiting lists for bariatric surgery, but a doctor insists those over 14 stone be sent to end of waiting list. I plead it's not my fault. Medical staff are not interested. Life savings used, gastric bypass done, lose eight stone. Great at first, but can't afford follow-up surgery to remove the excess skin. See a specialist who won't remove excess skin - I need to lose another four stone and so the vicious circle continues. All I hear is lose weight, watch your diet, reduce your weight. What does the medical profession want me to do? If I stood on my head it wouldn't be enough.

Various complaints: I have a bad shoulder, "Ah it's your weight", the top half of my body gets more workouts than being in a gym! It's the only part of my body that works as my legs certainly don't. What I wish for is to be normal, be able to walk without a shopping trolley to hold on to or to be able to go for a walk. Instead my balance is off. I am in constant pain, day and night but I get on with it.

I hope future medical professionals will stop, look and listen to their patients. Stop and see the person with the condition first. Look and ask, don't assume. Listen to the patient. Be mindful of what you write. I've seen my medical records over the years, and the medical profession did not rate me as a person. Even today's medical profession needs to treat the whole person - holistically, not just the complaint, they're seeing them for. Doctors need to know their patient, read their notes and read them properly. They need to be mindful what they write, know about the disease they are treating. But equally they need to be mindful that the patient is a "human being" not needing a lecture on their condition at each visit, especially when their condition stems back to a lack of medical knowledge.

Medical science has come a long way since my diagnosis and many children born now with dislocated hips can be treated successfully and be able to walk.

Onwards and upwards in the medical profession for a lucky new generation.


Name and address with the Editor


Does the date on this letter mean anything to you? Probably not - but it should, as it is my fortieth birthday. For the record, I was born in Holles Street Maternity Hospital to Margaret, and you, I have been reliably informed, were the father. Note I used the word 'the' in describing you, as I will never use the term 'my' when speaking of you.

Setting aside the fact that you were married to another woman, you impregnated my single mother and then, after I was born, to all intents and purposes, abandoned me.

You scampered off to Liverpool, taking my mother with you, leaving your wife and three children behind in Dublin. And then, as if adding insult to injury, you had eight other children with my mother, under the pretence of being married.

I learnt later that those children were totally ignorant of my very existence while they were growing up. I don't know how you had the gall (or should that be 'guile') to get away with it.

I ended up being taken from my grandparents (certainly not from your side) for being "destitute" at age three, as they had become too old and infirm to look after me and I was taken into "care"(!) by the State.

I then spent the next 13 years in care, the latter six in the notorious Artane [Industrial School]. Did you ever have any pangs of conscience about me during my incarceration?

I wonder in your bolt-hole in Liverpool, did you ever think of me? Did you know about the abuse, both physical and sexual, that was perpetrated on us boys there? And if you did, would you have intervened, like 'claiming' me as your own?

Yes, I married (and stayed with my wife!) but never really spoke about my childhood experiences to either my wife or three children, but I often wondered if they, in turn, ever wondered why they had only one set of grandparents.

Despite your abandonment of me and the scant education I received, I educated myself subsequently to be able to have a relatively successful and good life.

If by chance you have sufficient shame (and you should be ashamed) to respond to this letter, I hope you come up with some sort of explanation for your actions all those years ago.

Incidentally, I often wondered whose decision it was to name me (presumably) after you - but it is certainly not a name I am proud of.

Yours in anger,


Name and address with the Editor

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