HAPPY NEW YEAR
LET ME SHARE A LITTLE STORY that I've not shared with many but at this moment the time seems right. We weren't at home on New Year's night 2016 and neither were we at home on New Year's night 2017. That wasn't our choice. Both of those weeks between Christmas and New Year’s Day were spent entirely or in part in the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where my wife was a very ill patient. In both years, she was in Saint Bernadette's which, if you know the Bons, you won't need to be told that's it's the oncology wing. Although we were at home for Christmas dinner in 2016, three days later, Kathryn was back in hospital as sick as ever and stayed there for a couple of weeks. She had been a candidate for stem cell transplant, but the repeated unexplained sickness meant that she was eventually turned down because as her consultant explained, ‘we could be trying to cure something that’s not there’.
But it turned out it was there and the relapse in November 2017 resulted in a return to hospital for further aggressive chemo. It didn’t go well. That wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was beyond anyone’s control. Hope of a normal Christmas at home evaporated as the month progressed and ended on 22nd December when Kathryn was taken into intensive care. You know things are really serious when your wife is one of three people in ICU on Christmas Day. I thought to myself, ‘this means she’s one of the three sickest people in the hospital. Oh fuck!’
Only close friends and close family know the trauma that followed during last January when all hope seemed lost. The 12th January is etched on my memory as a day I wish I could forget but it was also a day when I encountered some of the most extraordinary kindness I have ever witnessed and experienced in my entire life. I fell in love with all the nurses in the Bons back in 2016, but in January 2018 those nurses became our angels and there were a couple of chaplains, both women as it happens, whose humanity and compassion helped keep her strong.
After 49 nights, Kathryn came home to Mulberry House but the prognosis was not good. A glimmer of hope came on 6th February when, against all expectations, she was still alive and the discovery of a major fungal infection in her liver (which was originally thought to have been the spread of cancer to that organ) meant that they could make another attempt at treating her lymphoma. The light in the darkness gradually grew brighter. Further treatment and months of anxiety culminated with being told on 5th July that she was in remission again. While others cribbed about the hot summer and sought rain, we just enjoyed it thinking 'they haven't much to worry about' and it really was a bright summer for us, even on the days it rained. We were all still here, and that's what mattered.
There were some 'glitches' in September and October but coming up to this Christmas our hope was that we'd all be at home together and that's just how it's worked out. There were a couple of 'glitches' in the past ten days but fortunately we've come through our first Christmas at home in Mulberry in three years. We always took that for granted in the past but not anymore.
I'll never forget the lonely walks to ICU at Christmas 2017. Neither will I forget that on Christmas Day there were doctors, nurses and many other unsung heroes keeping people like us going, not just in the Bons but in every hospital in Ireland. I cannot begin to describe the kindness, humanity and simple decency we, as a family, received from every single one of those with whom we came into contact. They kept Kathryn alive and they kept myself and Seán going. So, when I heard the Taoiseach make silly comments recently about nurses and doctors not working over Christmas I felt their anger and understood their annoyance. I often think of a comment one of the senior nurses (a mother of small children) said to me on Christmas Day 2017 – ‘you’d be giving out about having to come in here on Christmas Day but when you walk in that door you change your tune quickly’.
So, we as a family can only say thank you to those nurses, doctors and care assistants who kept us going this past year. We are so thankful to the friends and family who helped when things were darkest. There were stand out moments like when a dear friend who was our local Church of Ireland rector, called in to visit me early one morning for a chat after another night of sleeplessness. Then there was a photographer friend who cooked our Christmas Dinner for delivery to the ICU. It wasn’t his fault that Kathryn couldn’t eat it but it was appreciated. I owe my sanity to my sister because she, better than most, understood what I was enduring. Sometimes help came in the shape of a thoughtful word, or a prayer, or a text, but each one of those gestures mattered because most people are genuine and their intentions are positive. Admittedly, a few are nosey but all one can do is laugh at them and tell them tall tales.
Therefore, when I wish you all a Happy Christmas or a Happy New Year, I don't say it with just the usual cheerful undertones but I also say it with a sense of relief and thankfulness. We've lost a few friends this year because of one kind of illness or another and I guess you have too. Life is for living. But please stop complaining about things that don't really matter. For all our sake, don’t be a saint either because saints are alright in heaven but they’re hell on earth. Just make the best of life because it gives us the chance to love, and to work and to play, and to look at the stars. Happy New Year!
Keywords: Bon Secours, cancer, care, Christmas, clergy, Cork, decency, dinner, doctors, family, Fermoy, friends, hope, intensive care, love, lymphoma, Mitchelstown, New Year, non-Hodgins, nurses, Taoiseach
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