Emma Mhic Mhathúna’s tortured voice blared through the car radio during my rush hour dash to the Wound Management Clinic yesterday morning. I suspect every Irish citizen’s heart slumps each time we learn of another woman facing the prospect of premature death, as another young family is left behind, forced to come to terms with the preventable loss, deceit and fierce injustice of their situation.
When I heard my name called, I followed the kind and bubbly nurse to my allocated bed. The familiar flimsy blue curtains on either side separated me from the other patients who were also there to have their wounds administered to.
I smiled when I heard the voice to my right. I don’t personally know the woman who lay on the other side of the curtain but we seem to get matching appointment times. By now, I know her name, her voice, that she has a daughter and a great pain threshold, she’s calm and sweet with everyone and I’m aware of the type of surgery she’s had. I’m glad to hear her wound is coming along nicely. The walls (which are only curtains) are quite literally paper thin.
After the consultant saw me and gave me a quick inspection and a bit of advice, he made his way to ‘the lady behind the curtain’. I lay in wait while my lovely nurse went off to get my new dressing and I smiled when the good doctor told my comrade on the other side that her wound was also making great progress. I was delighted we were all grand.
However, I wasn’t prepared for what came next. On the other side of the panel of pleated paper, only a couple of steps from where I lay, just off the busy waiting room, a kind woman with a daughter and a soothing voice was delivered the worst kind of “positive” news.
I stared at the ceiling, still naked from the waist up and had no alternative but to be present in a stranger’s nightmare. I heard the lady behind the curtain’s detailed, devastating and deeply personal results at the same time as she did. No cup of tea, no family present, no comfy seat.
The nurses were immediately compassionate, asking her if she had someone to bring her home. She didn’t. She had driven herself to the appointment, obviously unforewarned about what she would learn while having her dressings changed. Understandable.
It felt like we were in a game of roulette but I was on the lucky side of the curtain. I was not the recipient of the awful news nor am I facing the array of interventions they discussed with her while I lay mere feet away. This is not my story. However, I had quite a battle to keep my tears and emotions in check as she and I put ourselves back in order at either side of the curtain.
I wasn’t crying specifically for her. I don’t blame the consultant or staff. As the nurse who discharged me from the private ward, while I was still bleeding and vomiting one day after my surgery informed me. This is “normal protocol”.
What devastates me is that in 2018, a woman can walk into an outpatients ward, uninformed, unaccompanied and be told that she has cancer in several areas. She is expected to get up, get dressed, queue to make her next appointment and drive herself home with the weight of what she has just been put through on her mind.
What is sadder still, is that given what’s happening in our health system right now, she has to be grateful for this barbaric, bog standard level of care because thankfully they didn’t muck up the results and at least they didn’t lie about it.
The Anti D Scandal, the Eighth Amendment, The Cervical Screening Cover Up…..One insult after another to women’s health and human rights.
I look out my window and the landscape is dotted with contempary architecture. People are walking around in weatherproof coats. The cars are up to date. There’s a water treatment centre out the road. All this progress yet when it comes to medical treatment, we have to be thankful for a hospital bed and we are fortunate if we’re told the truth.
Big wigs determine what our doctors are allowed to tell us and the state govern our uterus.
Mary McAleese said that the institution of the Catholic church was an “old imperial system of clerical, elitist governance”. It has taken years to rid our education system of the debris that the clergy left in their wake. I think it’s possible that the same hierarchical and clandestine system established by the church, which played such a huge part in the running of our state for so long has yet to be exorcised from our health system. Tony O Brien would have been sent off to the African Missions weeks ago if it were possible, along with any records of wrongdoing.
One can only hope, that the strength and tenacity these women are showing in the face of such villainy will sew a few more seeds of change.
Unfortunately, it appears that our state was misogynistic and morally barren from the offset and sadly it seems to take the immense suffering of women and children in order to take each step in the right direction. It’s a slow process.
However, we have to stay positive because if this teaches us anything it’s that life is a gift and hopefully one day compassion, truth, privacy and dignity will be “normal protocol” when it comes to our health and well being.