I can be an awful idiot. When the financial crash hit in 2009, freelance work just disappeared. A dogged and stubborn fool, I worked 15 hour days, 7 days a week, trying to earn a living, but no papers or magazines were buying anything.
Eventually I became so exhausted that my chest felt tight and my breathing was all over the place. At that point I really should’ve gone to the doctor, but our respective families had generously paid for the Snapper and I to go to France on holiday, and I really didn’t want to miss it .
Convincing myself that all I needed was rest and relaxation, I waited until we were in the middle of nowhere, in a farmhouse somewhere in the west of France, before becoming seriously unwell and ending up on a cardio ward in a hospital near Bordeaux.
As it turned out I was fine. I’d had a massive panic attack but as I’d never known anything like it, I’d imagined I was having a heart attack.
Thankfully two good things came out of this horrible experience: we discovered that my blood pressure was up in the stratosphere, so that has been treated ever since, and after returning home I sold a feature to the Irish Times about what it’s like to have a panic attack and end up in a French hospital.
Well, you have to. If you’re going to make a living out of scribbling, you cannot turn down opportunities like that.
My lovely wife had a most miserable holiday, staying in a cheap hotel on an industrial estate so that she could visit her prat of a husband, who’d been living in denial of his poor health, so I swore to her that I’d never ignore such symptoms again.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I went out for a stroll in the warm afternoon sunshine.
The last few months have been a difficult period in our household, as the Snapper’s illness forced her to leave work last year.
Thankfully she’s on the mend, but with all the ensuing changes to finances and everything else, I’d been working too hard, trying to cover too many angles all over again, and inevitably my own health had started to suffer.
Over the previous few weeks I’d noticed a slight tightness in my chest when I’d been out walking Lady Dog, and the night before my stroll I’d felt the same discomfort when I awoke for my middle-aged male peeper, so that morning I’d called my doctor to make an appointment for the following day.
A few hundred yards into my afternoon walk I suddenly felt that tightness again ,this time accompanied by a drawing pain down my left arm.Very aware of how these symptoms matched those of an impending heart attack, I returned home scared, wondering whether to drive myself to A&E, but after resting for a few minutes I felt better.
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made in 2009, and anyway I’d promised the Snapper I’d take my health seriously, so the next morning l was at my doctor’s to seek advice.
We all moan and complain about the HSE, and while we’ve all experienced heinous delays at A&E and long waiting lists for procedures and operations, I have to say we have much to be grateful for.
First of all, I’d been able to get that appointment with my doctor. My 87 year-old mum is always complaining how incredibly difficult it is to see her GP in London, and even when she sees him, she only has 10 minutes to explain her symptoms.
So I felt very lucky to be sitting in my doc’s surgery, while he listened to my chest, tested my blood pressure, my oxygen levels, and reassured me that he felt I was okay.
He suggested that we never mess with chest pains, so after he wrote me a letter of referral I went down to A&E at 11 0’clock, armed with a 600 page book, prepared to wait the customary 8-12 hours to be seen.
Much to my surprise my name was called a few mere seconds after my arse had hit the plastic seat. Evidently, they don’t mess with chest pains either, and over the next six hours I received an amazing level of care and attention.
It’s all too easy to equate the staff on the ground with the organisation they work for, but the two exist in different universes.
Every single nurse, doctor, porter and consultant I saw that day offered me gentle kindness, professionalism and efficiency.
By 7 o’clock I’d had every test known to man and medical science performed on me. They gave me an EKG, my blood pressure was taken, my urine, blood and blood sugar levels tested. Finally I was given a stress test on a treadmill, after which the report was seen immediately by a cardiologist who declared my heart healthy.
Nobody could find anything wrong with me at all, except for the symptoms that I was still feeling, so I prescribed myself some serious rest and relaxation, and over the next few days proceeded to feel increasingly better.
Clearly Galway’s hospital system cannot cope with the numbers seeking help, a situation massively exacerbated by the closure of A&E departments in Ennis and Roscommon, but despite the ridiculous demands put upon them by Dublin-centric politicians, the staff at our hospital are dedicated and wonderful professionals, doing a great job in dreadful circumstances.
While it’s essential we continue to protest about our hospital situation in the West of Ireland, we must remember to give thanks for the people who work in them.