Monday, May 28, 2012

Galway NIght Life

Tuesday isn't a night that I'd usually venture further than the fridge, but last week was an exception. I found myself with a young woman and a bottle out on the tiles. Thing is though, the young woman was my daughter, the bottle was water and the tiles were the green 1950's floor of the A&E department at university hospital Galway. For some reason, the word Beirut started going around my head once we entered. That, and the smell of stale alcohol mixed with hand sanitiser. There's a queue to sign in and I'm already ranking people in order of who should or should not be here. The young mother's with toddlers who they think might have bruised their hand or arm or something ridiculously minor should be sent home, along with the people who seem to be serial visitors of this place, greeting the security man on the door by his first name. But I decide that once they see my feverish daughter they will tell us to bypass the queue and take a look at her straight away. Due to some sort of misunderstanding though, we are sent to take a seat along with the other dozens of miserable looking people cramming the place.
The triage nurse calls us in after a bit and does the usual blood pressure stuff. She doesn't wear a name tag and I guess that this is for her own protection. There are massive signs everywhere warning you not to give out to the staff, which suggests that it may be a common occurance. I wonder what terrible things the staff do to provoke the public into such behaviour, or is it just that hospitals attract the aggressive types?
Above. A&E Galway last Tuesday night. We've come a long way...
'When did she last take paracetemol?' The Gaiety school of acting could not train a person to speak with such monotonous nonchalance. If her voice were the heart monitor it would have been a flat line.
 'About an hour ago', I reply.
'Did you bring any more with you?'
'No, you can only take them every four hours.'
'She'll need to take some then in three hours.'
'So you mean we'll be waiting longer than that to see a doctor?'
'Oh God, yeah.' (She actually uses intonation for this one).
I am afraid to point out that this is ridiculous, given that I only need someone to take a look down her throat, but I am afraid that having an opinion may result in a longer wait, or even being escorted off the premises by the very important looking security man.
We are sent back outside to wait for the 3 hours or more until a doctor eventually will have time to tell me whether she should discontinue the antibiotics, is it meningitis, is it quinsy, or could it be glandular fever?
It's 8pm and the waiting room is chokablock. There are a number of over protective mothers with children who do not look sick, and although I am one of them myself, I still think we should be seen first because my daughter is on fire and has already fainted today. Well maybe the baby whose cough sounds more like a rabid dog should be seen first, but we should definitely be seen second. A stream of people from the travelling community are going up and down the corridor. Their loved one must have been admitted, and they are all there to offer support. I feel a twinge of envy at their close knit family and the effort they are making to be supportive. I know if it were me who'd been admitted my family and friends would just not have the time to come see me, especially at this time of the evening when it clashes with Coronation Street. A youngish woman in pyjama bottoms and a winter coat arrives in and sits beside me. She is carrying a pot which she proceeds to get sick into. I can't help seeing it, it's green bilous dangerous looking stuff. It's disgusting. I want to move beside someone with something uncomplicated like an ulcerated leg, but my daughter wants to give the woman her water. I have an aha moment where I realise that myself and the daughter are both quite different in nature.
Then there's the 'there's always someone worst than you' moment when an elderly lady is discharged from the golden gates of inner casualty. She stumbles as far as the waiting area. Black eye, arm in plaster, bandaged gash on head. She flops into one of the seats and even my hardened self begins to feel the tears well up. Her injuries would take down a boxer, but she is already old and feeble. I decide that it's ok to wait the three hours if there are people like her being seen to.
But then the ambulance men wheel in a drunk on a stretcher. I recognise the guy as one of the local hobos. There's blood pouring from his head and I tell myself that one must be politically correct and remember that a head injury is a head injury, even if self inflicted with tax payers money on dole day. This will probably cost us another hour in the queue.
A woman who seems to be one of the serial visitors here, because what else would you be doing on a Tuesday night, decides to play the good samaritan and hands me a magazine. It is one of those sensational sob story rags, and I'm not sure why it is needed in a room like this. I browse through it in order to feign appreciation. There are stories about children being murdered, children dying of rare diseases and children being neglected by junkie parents.
The people from the traveller community are growing in numbers and leaving in tears. An older woman comes in accompanied by some younger ones. She stops on her way in and sits on one of the chairs in casualty, hands in her face, she is crying, and it is a rare moment where a light shines into somebody elses pain. It goes through me as if it were my own. Somebody must be very ill, a loved one. Maybe there is someone fighting for their life tonight, so I decide not to bang on the golden doors of the inner circle to complain about the wait.
The triage nurse, let's just call her 'old misery pants' seeing as we don't know her name, comes out and calls someone's name. One of the young guys from the traveller community spontaneously shouts out
'he died'! I can't help laughing out loud so we both get daggers looks from old misery pants whilst the guy whose name she called out comes limping towards her.
'Ah sorry love, I'm only messing.' The traveller dude sounds like he's used to saying sorry. I like the thought that this place is so bizarrely dysfunctional and warzone-like, that you really could have a corpse slouched on one of the chairs, and who the hell would notice?
My daughter's health is rapidly deteriorating and it's now midnight. Old misery pants calls us back in to administer paracetemol and to tell us that despite being there for four hours already that we will have a further four hour wait as we are number 12 on the list. The ex husband has been on the phone earlier in the evening to tell me that in Germany we would have gone to a ENT emergency room and waited max an hour to be seen.
'So you're telling me that she won't be looked at until 4am?'
'That's right, unless an emergency comes in, then it'll be longer.'
I work out in my non-medical head that it would be better to give up at this stage and go home. We can see a doctor at 9am, which is only a few hours more than the wait but which will mean sleeping in the meantime.
I tell the nice lady at reception, the one sitting under the giant sign that says: 'abusive behaviour and use of bad language to staff will not be tolerated' that we are actually going to head off now and thank you very much anyway, but we have decided not to watch the sun coming up over Galway tonight. Not with a sick child.
We go home and sleep what's left of the night. The sun comes up over Galway anyway, and next morning the doctor diagnoses glandular fever. A traveller boy who my daughter knows tells her via facebook that it was his grandfather who was in the hospital. He passed away that night. I can't help thinking of the older lady now, maybe his wife, or sister.
I'm exhausted from the whole experience. I sure won't miss nights like this when I leave Ireland, and hopefully I won't need nights like this to remind me that when you use a community service, you meet the community too.


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