“I drove to Dublin with this awful feeling,” Kay Clifford told the coroner. Sadly, her mother’s instinct was right.
Ms Clifford was driving home to Clontarf from Clonakilty in West Cork, where her daughter Sarah Clifford, 31, a qualified nurse, was lying in her bed, her two dogs beside her. Unknown to Kay, Sarah had died.
Clonakilty Coroner’s Court heard that Sarah had an accident some years before, badly damaging a leg and becoming paralysed for a time. She had anxiety and over a number of years was prescribed extremely strong painkillers, to which she became addicted.
Sarah was found in her home at 30 Park View in Clonakilty on Sunday afternoon, November 25.
Taxi driver John Mulcahy had raised the alarm. He or his wife, who also drives a taxi, delivered her medication every morning as well as nutritional drinks that were too big to push through the letterbox. On Saturday, Friday’s drinks were still on the porch. By Sunday, so were Saturday’s.
Autopsy results showed as many as nine medications in Sarah’s system, but only one, an anti-convulsive medication, in the toxic range.
The court heard she had been so unwell that her body, racked by pneumonia and a severe infection, had been unable to metabolise it and it had built up in her system. Sarah had said she didn’t want to go into hospital. Plans were in place to reduce her medication.
Kay Clifford told the coroner: “She did want to get her life back.”
But, after four years of heavy doses of strong painkillers, “she was addicted to them”.
Kay saw Sarah the Wednesday before she died. The following day, Sarah texted to say she was too sick to meet her mother.
There was no answer to texts, calls, email on Friday. On Saturday morning, Kay called over and shouted in the letterbox. She had a key but didn’t want to disturb her daughter.
Instead, she popped a note through the door saying she had left pyjamas she had bought for Sarah with the chemists. Kay left a €50 inside the note.
Investigating Garda Donal McCormack said he found the note left for Sarah by her mother inside the door. ‘I don’t think it was ever read, unfortunately,” he said.
Kay Clifford then produced another note, written by her daughter and addressed to “whoever finds this note”. It was written two days before she was last seen alive by John Mulcahy and found under her pillow.
“I want to make it very clear that I am not or am not suicidal,” it said.
“However, I feel the worst I have in my whole life”.
The letter, read out in court, explained how Sarah felt she couldn’t walk or even breath and had a soaring temperature.
She said it had been four weeks since she had eaten properly as she couldn’t keep anything down. She said she had instructed a solicitor to give her dogs to someone else.
Coroner Frank O’Connell said that while the various medicines were properly prescribed and dispensed, Ms Clifford was on high doses, compromising her gag reflex, with gastric contents going down and causing infection.
The coroner ruled that Ms Clifford died at her home early on November 24, 2018, as a result of bronchial pneumonia, sepsis and an abscess, with a background of medication for pain relief and her ill health, this being the underlying cause of death.