My dad died on January 1, 2008, in Cork University Hospital (CIH). I had been there the night before with my sister, Lorraine, and we knew his life was ebbing away. I wasn’t present when he died, but we had decided to take it turns to stay by his bedside in those final few days to avoid exhaustion and because we had children who were around for the post-Christmas season.
Our son Alan died in CUH on December 23, 1989, and again we weren’t there, having gone home early that morning absolutely exhausted by months of a steady decline as Alan battled heroically with complications from spina bifida.
CUH holds many unhappy memories for us as a family, and Trish’s recent spell there brought them flooding back. No matter how cheery and professional the staff are, each time I walk through the entrance I think of how often we would visit Alan at all hours of the day and night; of Alan’s struggle to survive against incredible odds; his many operations; the crises that seemed to follow in waves.
I was a patient in CUH too, once for gallstones, the other for a battery of tests that left me almost a wreck by the time they were completed. I have also been a patient in the Bons and St Finbarrs, but my longest stay was two and a half years in Cork after I was burned, of which I have little memory. Dr Steevens in Dublin was where I had most of my reconstructive surgery, and St James was where I had my last skin graft. Quite a collection of hospitals you’ll agree. Dr Steevens reminds me of how lonely I was so far away my parents and with no one to visit me. Depressing to even think about that.
I don’t even like visiting patients today, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Once a friend lay dying from cancer and I resolved to see him for the last time. But as I stood outside the building I knew I couldn’t go any further. The thought of seeing his wasted body proved too much and I went home, to my eternal shame.
Of course Trish being a patient meant I had to put my misgivings to one side and call to her regularly. I could hardly do anything else. As I descended the stairs towards GA, I thought of the steps we often took to the children’s wards where Alan spent so much time. Each step reminded me of him, a ghostly presence. Does this sound macabre? I can only say that’s how I felt.
Fortunately, Trish is home now, but it surely won’t be too long before I have to visit CUH to call on a family member or friend. Let’s hope it’s a long wait.