The brightly coloured building you see when you step out of Heuston train station in Dublin is now used by the Health Services Executive, but was once my second home. You see it used to be Dr Steevens hospital and that’s where I spent many summers undergoing reconstructive surgery from around 1958 onwards.
I was reminded of this last weekend when I took the bus to Dublin and we happened to pass by. I looked at the building and realised I have come to hate the sight of it with a passion. Too many bad memories, too much pain and sorrow.
Dr Steevens was then a bleak and forbidding place. The nurses were kind, of course, but the doctors distant, imperious and uncaring. Obviously they worked wonders with their surgical skills, but it seemed to me I was a mere object. That was my experience and it may not have been others. However, for me there were complicating factors. My parents could not visit me daily or even weekly for financial and practical reasons. Visiting hours were strict and it didn’t matter how far you travelled you were not given any extensions or special favours. All of which complicated matters for me, increased my sense of isolation and loneliness. Hospitals were not caring institutions then, merely places broken or sick bodies were patched up and sent back into the world.
Over time I came to loathe Dr Steevens. I thought less of the good work being done on my face and body and more of the separation from my family. I so much wanted to be with them and disliked the trips to Dr Steevens, the seemingly endless operations. I resented those trips to Dublin. I wondered why the operations couldn’t be done in Cork, not realising the surgical skills weren’t available there.
Anytime I find myself passing Dr Steevens now I tense up thinking back to my time there. It’s irrational I suppose, but that’s how I feel. I doubt I will ever feel any different.