When it comes to hospitals, I am very much a doctor pleaser

How did our forebears manage without so much medicine and knowledge about the workings of their bodies, asks Colette Sheridan
When it comes to hospitals, I am very much a doctor pleaser

LAID UP: How did our forebears manage without so much medicine and knowledge about the workings of their bodies?

I NEVER thought that I would look forward to a cup of Bovril, that beef extract with added boiled water, that we used to have to warm us up after school.

It’s like penitential food, good for you but about as enticing as a bowl of semolina.

But it has come to this since I had more than three hours of keyhole surgery on a huge hiatus hernia recently.

Now I’m having to be very careful of my ‘swallow’, which I’ve learned is probably the most fundamental aspect of good health.

My sister, a latter day Florence Nightingale, is up to speed on all this stuff. Looking after me with great care, she has somehow managed to get me to eat smooth yoghurts (I don’t like yoghurt) and drink awful protein drinks, all part of a fluid diet I’m on which will progress to a diet that includes eggs with bread (no crusts, no toast).

Thankfully, I’ve been allowed to eat ice-cream since day one after the operation. It’s my little bit of heaven. A friend is going to bring me some gelato from Casanova on George’s Quay. Bliss!

There are two types of patients; doctor pleasers like me who have learned the hard way that following the rules actually works. 

And then there are the rebels that do everything from discharging themselves early from hospital to having a drink or their favourite takeaway far too soon after surgery, in complete denial that they are in a highly vulnerable state.

This latter group think they’re being heroic, or firmly believe they’re invincible. They are actually being foolish.

I used to blather on to a GP I attended years ago that I only smoked light cigarettes, when he used to give out to me about smoking. Now that I’m off all that s***, it’s probably inevitable that I would become interested in health, nutrition, exercise and all those things that I used to ignore or even scoff at.

Shouldn’t healthy habits be taught to kids at school? Not in biology class, but in a general class called something like ‘stuff you need to know’. (This might also include basic life administration chores like learning how to do tax returns (yawn) and, ahem, broaching the prickly subject of pensions.)

Being informed smooths the path of life. 

In the hospital ward I was in, a woman in her late eighties who had a condition that was being investigated, was no daw.

A science graduate of UCC, she politely but firmly questioned every bit of medication that came her way while the rest of us just kept taking the drugs, hoping for pain relief, avoidance of infection and strength.

The pharmaceutical industry has us enslaved. You hear of people on 30 tablets a day. It’s insane. I guess half the time, it has no more efficacy than the placebo effect. Still, though, I’m willing to pop tablets to keep my cholesterol levels healthy.

How did our forebears manage without so much medicine and knowledge about the workings of their bodies?

My late aunt Jean Sheridan Healy (1916-2006) was the eldest of a large family from a farm in County Meath. When she was 19, she had surgery on a hernia. After being discharged from hospital, instead of going to her digs and falling asleep with a hot water jar, she climbed the steep stairs of the Irish Independent offices in its former HQ on Middle Abbey Street with her cuttings file under her arm. The cuttings were her articles she had written for the Drogheda Independent.

She asked the Indo editor for a job. Frank Geary said: ‘Don’t write us, we’ll write you.’ Ten days later, she got the nod and was told to come into the office.

Jean was the first female reporter to be employed by the paper, going out on daily ‘markings’, covering the colour and style at race meetings and other events. She was always conscious of the poverty that existed in Ireland at that time.

I think she told me that reporters in those days didn’t have bylines. Her earnings were modest, initially just £3.10s. But she never got into debt and was always known, later in life, for her good taste and keen eye for furniture and art.

Starting out on her journalistic career, she was a country girl with grit.

When I think of how I am micro-managing my recovery, down to observing the one-hour rule between swallowing tablets and having food, I can only think of my aunt and her mental and physical courage. But better to be a pleaser of the medical profession.

Even within that profession, there are degrees of strictness.

I call one of the doctors ‘the casual guy’, who says I can eat proper food sooner than ‘the strict guy’.

But I’ll be sticking with the strict guy’s advice.

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