Our reporter spends 24 hours in A & E

‘Irish Examiner’ Mid-West correspondent Jimmy Woulfe spent 24 hours in a hospital emergency department recently. He describes his experience of our health service

A priest stood less than 4ft away giving comfort to a distraught family whose young son was in a critical condition

THE emergency department at University Hospital Limerick (formerly the Mid-Western Regional) has become a byword for the raw, shameful failure of our overwhelmed health service.

It has been condemned by many, including Hiqa and the INMO — and today I feel qualified to join the ranks of the disaffected. Without boring you with too many personal details, I spent a mind-opening and sometimes very sad time among the trolleyed masses at UHL this week.

A GP decided I should follow up on a routine examination and dispatched me to the ED.

To make a long story short: I spent nearly 24 hours in the hospital undergoing thorough medical tests.

Within those hours, I came face to face with the reality of one of the most disgracefully under-resourced facilities in the health service.

When I checked in at the ED reception desk, my details were promptly logged and I took my place with more than 80 other walk-ins in the waiting area.

Within an hour I was seen by a triage nurse and another nurse who took my bloods.

Good humouredly she forewarned me that I was in for a long haul; my situation was not deemed urgent.

On going back to the reception area, I sat it out for many long hours.

Periodically I was called to have my blood pressure checked.

Truth to tell, watching the obvious pain and distress of others sitting near me, I almost felt embarrassed to be taking up space.

In the small hours, I was eventually summoned to enter the double door into the ED medical area.

It was wall-to-wall trolleys. It was with some difficulty that a nurse took my blood pressure as she tried to find enough space to park the machine used for this procedure.

I was then told a trolley was available. My initial reaction was one of “Praise the Lord” — a place to at least get some rest.

The ED medical area could be best described as a warren of narrow corridors with every square inch taken up with trolleys, wheelchairs, medical machines, bewildered patients, and medical personnel managing to perform the impossible.

Trolley Alley is not a dignified place for patients needing privacy: There are no screens separating people from each other.

As a doctor stood by my trolley trying to carry out an examination on me, a priest stood less than 4ft away giving comfort to a distraught family whose young son was in a critical condition after he had been just rushed in clinging to life.

Another 2ft away, a nurse was gently trying to ascertain information from an elderly man on a trolley about the medical situation which led to his admission a few hours earlier.

In between all this, a medical attendant manoeuvred boxes of medical supplies through a gap which appeared between trolleys.

And to add to this complex mayhem, an ambulance team were shoe-horning what seemed a seriously injured man into another space.

Moments later, one of the medical attendants ran through to clear the corridor.

A nurse emerged running around a corner with a toddler in her arms, followed by two very distressed parents.

Nurses and doctors scrambled to a resuscitation area. All I could do was say a prayer.

Trolley Alley is also full of wonders.

None more so than the nurses.

In this frenzied environment, they care for patients, particularly the elderly, with professionalism mixed with words of comfort and kindness.

One marvels at how they can keep going in such a frenetic stressful, work environment. Thankfully they persevere.

The thought struck me: what must many of the elderly patients think.

Perhaps something along the lines of “Is this indignity the best that Modern Ireland can offer me in my hour of need as I come towards the latter end of my life?” Such is the lack of space in Trolley Alley, relatives often cannot stay with elderly patients, and occasionally have to remove themselves to the main waiting room in the reception area.

Shortly before I got my walking papers, I overheard one of the medical attendants get somewhat exasperated and tell a colleague she needed more help to wheel patients to various X-ray departments — she could not physically keep up with the list she had.

I spent just a few hours in Trolley Alley.

Thankfully the results of tests did not require me to be admitted for further treatment.

But it was an experience never to be forgotten.

At the next election no doubt we will hear a lot about the great recovery, with increased employment and a new-found prosperity.

But for many voters, what I suspect will be foremost in their minds when they pick up that pencil in the polling booth will be hours spent in one of Ireland’s many Trolley Alleys.

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