When David Peschier was taken ill during his summer holiday in Kinsale, his next stop was the emergency department at Cork University Hospital, where he eventually found himself on a trolley. He asked the Irish Examiner to print his account of his stay.
My idyllic summer stay in our cottage near Kinsale was interrupted by severe stomach pains. Despite having felt a little unwell during the previous few weeks, I hoped they would soon pass.
Unfortunately, I was still suffering the next day and even a drive to Cobh to measure “in football pitches” the length of a giant cruise liner, failed to take my mind off the fact something was very wrong.
It didn’t help that I had kept what was happening from my wife, with the pains starting just before we took the ferry over from Pembroke and knowing we had to fly back in the middle of our stay to attend our daughter’s PhD graduation ceremony.
I had stupidly fought against the increasing aching by consuming copious amounts of paracetamol.
Returning from Cobh, I felt so bad I had to tell her the truth. Her initial annoyance, to put it mildly, soon gave way to concern and I’d like to report what happened from then on, as a tribute to the staff and fellow patients I met, and to highlight the problems suffered by the serious overcrowding in the emergency department (ED) of Cork University Hospital (CUH), which I have since come to understand to be a common occurrence
Following my confession, the next morning I was on the phone to the GP’s surgery in Kinsale and was granted an appointment an hour later.
The GP soon dismissed my self-diagnosis (diverticulitis) and was of the firm opinion I was suffering from a kidney stone. He quickly typed a letter and despatched me to CUH. I walked into the ED less than an hour later.
Sitting in the waiting area, I couldn’t help but compare it with my home town of Croydon, where the ED is vast. Here in Cork, mid-morning, 10-15 people waiting and, stupidly, I got it into my head this would be more like visiting a country hospital back home.
On entering, I couldn’t believe my eyes. From the relative peace and tranquillity in the waiting area, I had suddenly been catapulted into what looked like an episode of Casualty featuring a major train crash.
Everywhere I looked along the corridors, there were patients on trollies and in chairs, A heaving mass of patients and staff, all trying to cope in what are clearly facilities a quarter of the size actually needed.
I was soon seen by a doctor who supported the GP’s diagnosis and told me I would have to stay in the hospital for tests to confirm it was definitely a kidney stone. If it was, they would decide the best way to treat it.
He apologised for there being no ward beds available and that I would have to be on a trolley. It was not all bad news — I would be in a small side ward rather than on one of the corridors.
I have no idea why I was so lucky getting that, definitely not because I was English but maybe due to approaching 71. Whatever the reason, I was extremely grateful, having seen the overcrowded corridors.
Spending considerable time on a trolley, in my case two days and nights, is far from comfortable. Fortunately, I am of average height and girth but, for anyone larger, it would involve serious discomfort.
Not least the fact they raise at least one of the side bars to stop you rolling off it, which reminds you somewhat of being a small child again.
Apart from bloods and stuff, they wanted to perform a CT scan to see where the kidney stone actually was, the opinion being it had got itself stuck somewhere. A doctor appeared late afternoon with the news that the scan could not be done that day, so I needed to fast from breakfast onwards.
I had missed supper so was grateful for the couple of slices of Pat’s brown bread, jam, butter, and a cup of tea, all served in a friendly manner early evening.
After a difficult night’s sleep on the trolley, I got up and moved to a chair. By now, other patients in our little ward had woken up and, for a short time, it was like being the new boy at school, but it didn’t take long before everyone introduced themselves and compared illnesses.
My kidney stone was not that impressive, easily beaten by the man opposite with an eye infection and the one to the right with a dead leg.
However, in this game of ‘illness poker’ we were all trounced by the fourth member of our little club, who had five broken ribs after being gored by a bull!
Nothing could beat that, so he had the respect of us all. Turned out, our Irish matador was a 76-year-old hobby farmer who had rented out one of his fields in which his tenant had put a bull.
Not averse to living dangerously, in his time, our hero had also spent 14 years as hobby trawlerman.
Come 8am and the air was filled with the happy sound of the lady bringing the breakfast trolley.
Announcing her arrival with a shrill “gooood morning, breeeeeakfast”.
Half an hour later, my fellow inmates were all extolling the virtues of Flahavans porridge. Despite regular visits to Ireland over 20 years, I had not come across this and it hadn’t dawned on me it was the same brand my wife ate for breakfast at home.
Like all hospitals, what gets you down is the long wait between anything actually happening, so it was about mid-morning before the ward sister arrived to take me over to the scanning department.
During that journey, she asked where I came from. “Croydon,” I replied. “Oh,” she said. “I did my training in Croydon’s Mayday hospital.” “Wow,’” I exclaimed. “It’s a small world, that’s where my two sons were born.”
I was back on the ward in no time after the scan and that ‘Croydon coincidence’ happened again. The patient opposite me had overheard me saying I was from Croydon and said that, 25 years ago, he had driven a bus load of scouts over from Cork to camp at the Frylands Wood Outdoor Centre on Featherbed Lane and did I know it?
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s less than a mile from where I live!” All these associations when I’m 450 miles away in Cork. I suddenly thought, if all this had happened at home and I had been admitted to my local Mayday Hospital, I doubt if I’d have had any such things in common with the staff or patients.
Come the afternoon and I’m visited by the urologist who told me he could see the stone on the CT scanner and would now do an X-ray to check it again, followed by a non-invasive treatment to try and dissolve it. I had heard the pain from passing a kidney stone can be compared with mild childbirth.
The latter is probably worse, but it was a warning of possible things to come.
That evening, I enjoyed my first meal on the ward. I was wary of hospital food, but what arrived was a pleasant surprise in a meal worthy of a high rating on Hospital Trip Advisor, if there is such a thing.
Excellent soup, salmon, and a lemon cheesecake only lacking a nice Sauvignon to go with it, had I not been having my stomach pains.
Shortly after my meal, in came a medic with a load of paraphernalia and I began to think the worst. However, it was only a drip which they hooked me up to and one tablet to take.
“The idea is the tablet will result in the stone dissolving overnight, but you might want to urinate more often than usual,” they said.
I did a test walk with my new friend the drip trolley and realised it was too high to go under the top of the toilet door, our little ward having its own cubicle, thank goodness.
I didn’t want to just lower it myself as I stupidly thought it might reduce the gravity feed of the drip. A quick request to a nurse and she had it down a few inches to allow easy passage under the frame.
Another uncomfortable night followed, this time not just the trolley but having the drip attached which didn’t help sleep as you had to stay on your back.
Around 4 am, and I apologise for being explicit, I urinated like Niagara Falls, reminding myself of being 20 again and consuming one Guinness too many.
After that, my stomach pains quickly started to reduce but I again missed out on the breakfast as I was on another fast, leaving my companions to again report the Flahavans porridge as being up to scratch.
Another X-ray followed and some more blood tested. After a couple of hours, the urologist appeared with his consultant who explained what had happened and that they could no longer see the kidney stone on the x-ray.
He explained: “It’s either dissolved or gone, broken up into small pieces, or could be hiding somewhere.”
The result was that I was free to leave with instructions to follow-up with my GP when back in Croydon. They loaded me up with tablets “to relax your tubes” and pain killers should they prove necessary, as, they explained, it takes time for everything ‘inside’ to calm down.
Soon it was time to bid a fond goodbye to my fellow hospital inmates.
Only in Ireland could you be leaving three such great people who you had known for just two days, wishing you could all have a future reunion.
A special farewell to my ‘gored by a bull’ friend, as I doubted I would ever be in a ward with someone similar, at least not this side of Spain
Finally, a fantastic thanks to every single member of the CUH staff from that amazing breakfast lady through to the consultant, and not forgetting that ward sister.
I’ve not named anyone, but I hope they may read this and know who they are and how appreciative this Englishman is of everything they did for me and the cheery way they went about it. This despite impossible conditions in their emergency department.
I understand the problems, the vast catchment area it serves results in CUH being the go-to hospital for thousands of people.
I know the financial troubles back in 2008 curtailed a lot of hospital investment but how can all those good people be expected to do their jobs in such difficult conditions?
My gratitude to them all and, if you happen to find yourself in the CUH ED, ignore the conditions and be confident in the knowledge you are receiving the best attention from every level of staff.
All of whom are highly motivated in making your stay as good as it can be. Thanks to them all.