Trevor Laffan: Sometimes, a stranger can be a friend you haven’t met yet...

Brief encounters with strangers can often lead to friendships, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly article
Trevor Laffan: Sometimes, a stranger can be a friend you haven’t met yet...

FRIENDS IN NEED: Trevor Laffan bonded with a fellow patient while he was undergoing prostate surgery in hospital

SOME people are good at striking up conversations with strangers.

They’ll chat away in confined spaces like elevators, waiting rooms, planes and trains, but I tend not to do that. I prefer to keep to myself.

I suspect many of us are like that, which is a pity because you never know what you’re missing out on by not making the effort.

Back in 2017, my wife and I went to Tenerife for a few weeks. We stayed in Los Christianos and found a lovely pub run by an Irish couple, Brendan and Annette, called The Devon Arms.

They were very welcoming, had a nice clientele, and did lovely pub grub, so it quickly became our local watering hole.

Brendan, the landlord, was a character and football mad. He kept a referee’s whistle and a red card behind the counter. He was an Arsenal fan and if you cheered for the wrong team or insulted one of his players, he blew his whistle, and you were sent outside. It was all in good fun.

We hadn’t seen him around the bar for a few days and when we inquired about him, Annette told us he was taking it easy because he was having treatment for prostate cancer. That came as a shock.

I discussed his ill health with another man I met in that bar called Richard Harris. He and I had only exchanged a few words previously, but we discovered we had something in common; we were both retired police sergeants. It was a brief encounter and when the holiday was over, we parted company to return to our normal lives and that was that.

The following year, 2018, I had my own brush with prostate cancer and, while I was at home recovering from the surgery, I got an email from Richard. He had read a piece I had written about my prostate saga, and he told me he was facing similar surgery.

We kept in touch after that, exchanging news of our highs and lows, and became what you might call modern-day pen-pals. In one of his emails, Richard gave me the sad news that Brendan from the Devon Arms had succumbed to his illness and had passed away. I was sorry to hear that, and I was surprised how much it bothered me, because we didn’t know each other well. In fact, I’m sure Brendan didn’t even remember who I was, but I still felt the loss.

Only a short time previously, the three of us were complete strangers and we only met because we were thrown together in a pub while on a holiday. Little did we know the time would come when we would also be linked through diseased prostates.

My life was certainly better for having met both of those guys, and that brief encounter with Brendan left its mark. Richard, I’m happy to report, is still doing well.

I had another experience with a stranger when I went to the Mater Hospital in Dublin for the prostate surgery. I arrived in the hospital the day before and had some pre-op checks before being sent to the ward for the night.

I was a bit apprehensive about facing into surgery the following morning, so I was happy to be alone with my thoughts.

But when I entered my room, there was a guy sitting on the other bed and he was having none of it. He hopped off the bed and marched over to me, stuck out his large hand and introduced himself as Matt Butler. He was a big man in his seventies with a firm handshake.

Matt had spent his working life in the market in Smithfield so he was a real people person and, boy, could he talk. If telling yarns was an Olympic event, I’d put serious money on Matt to take the gold medal.

He had several issues with his own health, but he didn’t let that bother him. No matter what was thrown at him, he accepted it and drove on.

Matt was a regular visitor to the hospital, so they all knew him, and he had a word for everyone. He was the life and soul of the place.

He had an interesting life and I got to hear most of it in the short time I spent with him. Even when I was stiff and sore, he had me laughing, but it is for something else that I will remember him fondly.

The day after the surgery, I was wired up to various bits and pieces and getting to the bathroom was a bit of a trial. Without going into too much detail, after one of those trips, I came back to the bed and there was blood leaking out of me.

I panicked because I didn’t know where exactly it was coming from, but I knew it shouldn’t be there. My pyjamas were a mess.

When Matt saw the state of me, he sat me in the chair while he went for a nurse. He calmed me down and offered me spare pyjamas he had in his locker. He took control of the situation which, in the cold light of day, might not seem like such a big deal, but to me, at that time, it was everything.

I wasn’t thinking clearly so he did the thinking for me, despite the fact he was unwell himself. He offered me his spare pyjamas without thinking twice, even though he could have found himself in urgent need of them at any moment. Fortunately, I had my own.

We only spent a few days in each other’s company, but we keep in touch by text and his messages always make me laugh.

Another stranger who became a friend in unusual circumstances.

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