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Getting to the bottom of illness

by Jimmy Rhatigan

There is nothing like a visit to a doctor or dentist to rattle the nerves.

To be fair, most medics and orthodontists are quite civilized, competent and civil people. 

Their aim is to rid you of the aching molar that kept you awake or the throbbing tummy that had you parked on the toilet seat. 

Their ambitions are admirable. So why all the fuss, fear, trepidation?

Perhaps it is the image, the swollen jaw, the throbbing ear and then the big man or woman with the white coat armed with a scalpel or threatening instrument.

That was in the bad old school days of 50 years ago when men were tough guys with brittle internals.

They would break iron, until confronted by a dentist or doctor.

So from the days when I had my tonsils removed in St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny I flashed forward to a hospital visit last week to UPMC Aut Even Hospital.

What a transformation half a century can make, a whole new world, darkness to light, beast to beauty.

A head doctor roaming hospital wards at night chatting to patients. The Doc dressed in a natty shirt, flashy waistcoat, a fancy dicky bow, driving smoke from a fat cigar. 

The intention was good but the methodology was certainly different. Quirky?

That was Kilkenny circa the 1950s.

Today the old fashioned medic, kindly but different, would be turfed from the hospital for smoking and his post dark ramblings would probably get a red card.

On Wednesday of last week my rambling took me to Aut Even for a procedure.

I am no tough guy so I was a wee bit dubious wondering what was ahead, tormenting myself by thinking the worst.

My innate fear was crazy as I didn’t really know what I was fretting about. 

A positive was that there were no signs of wild men, or women in white coats waiting to carve me up.

Following a warm welcome from the lady in the hospital’s foyer I was ushered to another wonderfully chatty woman to sign me up for the medical experience and she then accompanied me to the team in the Day Room.

The latter meant going to hospital but not going to hospital, if you get my drift. My stay would be comparatively brief but that would not mean cutting corners.

Medical probing was such that there would be enough time in the day to avoid an overnight stay.

That suited.

The Day Room was busy, a plethora of doctors and nurses doing what medics do, take blood pressure, record height, weight and any other statistics that might be of concern or interest to a surgeon with a camera.

A surgeon with a camera! This is where my hero, superbly talented General Surgeon Mr Rick Pretorius firstly wooed my respect buds.

He injected his teasing South African friendly ways as he oozed positivity and won my heart and mind.

Surgeon Rick wasn’t going sight-seeing but yet he was. The view was hardly panoramic.

By this stage my nerves were cool, calm and collected.

Although they may not even have realized it the men and women in a multiplicity of garbs of varying hues had a soothing influence on patients – this one at least – poured cold water on hot foreheads and scattered any butterflies that had invaded nervous tummies.

It was as if ‘operation preparation’ was geared to coincide with a run-up to procedure following a short bedside briefing from Mr Rick, inspiring words from a son of South Africa who is in love with Kilkenny.

His team that included two super ladies won my heart and mind with fond words and kindness but perhaps even more with a task it undertook to wheel my bed to Rick’s mini surgery.

Rather than ask me to take up my bed and walk, the team sportingly wheeled me to the room where it all happens. 

Three highly qualified medics displayed their love hearts on their sleeves with a wonderful gesture that said to me that Dr Rick’s team was now my team too.

I was chuffed, thrilled with the spirited and spontaneous gesture of a hat-trick of talent in whom I had immediate confidence although I was meeting all three for the first time in my life.

I was expecting all kinds of shush and discipline as the action edged closer. Military-like methods; hand me this, pass me that?

Not on your nanny, there was friendly banter and good fun as Mr Rick prepared his photo shoot that would eventually be the means to an end of a colonoscopy examination and pile-driving!

The medical show in the bowels of Aut Even was a cracker, a pre Valentine’s Day performance perhaps but I was so content, ready for anything that I fell asleep, or rather was sedated.

Maybe I had misread the script. But I was no Sleeping Beauty.

While I was snoozing Mr Rick was investigating any bruising.

Injury, wear and tear, the Doc would get to the bottom of any problem.

Dr Rick was at my bedside when I woke up. He had deemed my engine, in its 74th year, road worthy but hardly fit for rallying.

Signs of aging were noted and immediately posted to my high class GP, Dr Richard Carroll at Lakeside Family Practice. 

Following the procedure that I feared would be an ordeal I was collected by my caring son-in-law, Michael Comerford. 

I was sad, I truly was to be leaving the medical cente of excellence and beauty that was founded by the then Dowager Lady Desart, a woman of philanthropic ways who helped to copperfasten the early foundations of Kilkenny business life.

From a woman with a big heart and an inventive mind, the hospital is now nursed by UPMC as it continues on the two- way street of staff and patients on one happy team, the modern day foundations of a strong and vibrant home of healing.

The respect that Dr Rick has for fellow staff and patients is a vital ingredient of the cocktail of cure that has a star performer in Donna Kelly, Mr Rick’s secretary who arranged and choreographed the procedure that infatuated me.

My fascinating experience renewed my faith in a profession that had waned since I read the then University Hospital, Cork gastroenterologist Dr Seamus O’Mahony’s book, Can Medicine Be Cured: The Corruption of a Profession.

My belief is that with people like Dr Rick on board no task of reform or revitalization would be too big.

South Africa’s loss is Kilkenny’s gain.

I would love to buy Mr Rick a pint of Guinness.


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