I never got to thank any of the medical staff who looked after me following my accident back in January 1956. The doctors and consultants are all dead now so it’s too late for them. In any case had I met them I might have said very little as I was pretty much in awe of them.
Back in the late 1980s I had the good fortune to write a weekly TV column for the then Cork Examiner. I was asked if I minded my picture accompanying the text and I said no. It was my first brush with minor fame as people would often stop me in the street to discuss their favourite TV shows, or just to say hello because they read the column. It was a nice change from the usual staring I had to endure when out and about.
What I hadn’t expected was bumping into a nun one day who told me she had been a trainee nurse in the South Infirmary at the time of my accident and had often wondered what had happened me. Another, then a nun in Kinsale, also wrote me a letter, which I promptly lost.
I was stopped on the street one day by Sr Fidelma, a well-known fundraiser for a cancer unit at the Bons Secour hospital in Cork, who also said she had nursed me too in the South Infirmary. Although by then I was very curious about my early years in the South Infirmary, I never contacted her. The same happened when I bumped into two other nurses, one of whom said she had a photo of me in the hospital. This time I did take her name and number but left it too late to enquire further.
A few years ago I was talking about facial disfigurement on Joe Duffy’s Liveline show on radio when a woman, an ex-nurse, rang in from England to say she remembered me from the South Infirmary! Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with her as the show didn’t have her number.
That might have been the end of that only for a chance moment on Facebook a few months ago. I posted a photo taken in 1955, a few months before the fire. It was a lovely picture of myself and my sister walking with mum down Patrick Street in Cork, me clutching mum’s handbag.
I posted it on the Old Photos of Cork City & County Facebook page, eliciting hundreds of likes and comments. Among them was Sr Maura Nagle who identified herself as one of those former nurses. So we became Facebook friends, exchanged messages and phone numbers met up for a great chat, full of reminiscenses (hers not mine) of her time there, of me, etc. It was just great to talk and meet someone who had helped care for me.
One of the lovely moments in our conversations was the revelation that she and others who started their training in the South Infirmary in November, 1956, meet a couple of times a year, and all remembered me. Of course they knew from Sr Maura that I was very much alive and well, so a couple of weeks ago I joined the six women for what was an exhilarating experience.
We were all thrilled to share memories, me of my time since the accident, and they of what life was like back then for a patient and what they remembered of me, including the fact that I was full of chat! Time passes so quickly when you have so much to say, and it was only afterwards that I recalled one thing I had forgotten.
I had forgotten to say ‘thanks’. Thanks for being there, not just to dress my wounds, dry my tears, and soothe a very frightened and hurt child, but talking to me, for just being there for me. Your actions have always meant a lot to me and I am very grateful, as were my parents.