Surgery gave me insight into our outstanding hospital staff

Trevor Laffan's stay in hospital recently gave him an opportunity to see first hand how a busy hospital functions
Surgery gave me insight into our outstanding hospital staff

Trevor Laffan wound up needing back surgery - and the experience gave him a newfound respect for hospital workers

I HAD hoped to be in Cyprus by now. Flights were arranged months ago, and I was looking forward to the trip - but, like the best laid plans of mice and men, the wheels came off. A trip of a different kind was on my flight path, and I ended up in Mater Hospital instead.

I’ve had a dodgy back for years and when I was leaving Cyprus to come home last November, I slipped on a wet floor in an elevator. I grabbed hold of the handrail to prevent a fall, but I knew straight away that I had jarred something in my back and trouble wasn’t too far away.

Sure enough, by the time I arrived home to Cobh, I was banjaxed.

My left leg was numb, so my GP sent me for an MRI and afterwards suggested that I should see Mr Paul Kiely, an orthopaedic spine surgeon in the Mater Hospital.

When I met him, I was hoping he would sprinkle some magic dust on the affected area and send me home to rest, but he had other plans.

After reading the MRI and X-rays, he told me I needed a couple of rods in my back to stabilise my spine. Wasn’t expecting that.

From the word go, I knew Mr Kiely was the right man for the job. His confidence was infectious.

Following the surgery, the wound stubbornly refused to dry up, so I got to see a lot more of him over my three weeks stay than was originally envisaged. He was extremely professional, thorough and caring.

Prior to being admitted to hospital, I had to attend the Mater for a pre-surgery assessment and one of the first things they required was a blood sample. For this procedure, I was introduced to a phlebotomist.

I’ve had blood drawn from me many times over the years, but this was the first time I had heard this term. One of the other nurses told me she is also referred to as the vampire, but I hoped she was joking.

Phlebotomy isn’t a new term though. According to for thousands of years, medical practitioners clung to the belief that sickness was merely the result of a little ‘bad blood’. Bloodletting, or phlebotomy, probably began with the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, but it didn’t become common practice until the time of classical Greece and Rome.

Patients with a fever or other ailment were often diagnosed with an overabundance of blood. To restore bodily harmony, their doctor would simply cut open a vein and drain some of their vital fluids into a receptacle. In some cases, leeches were even used to suck the blood directly from the skin.

While it could easily result in accidental death from blood loss, phlebotomy endured as a common medical practice well into the 19th century. Medieval doctors prescribed blood draining as a treatment for everything from a sore throat to the plague, and some barbers listed it as a service along with haircuts and shaves.

The practice finally went out of fashion after new research showed that it might be doing more harm than good, but leeching and controlled bloodletting are still used today as treatments for certain rare illnesses.

Luckily, my phlebotomist was up to date with modern practices and didn’t resort to leeches or cut a vein. She just used a needle.

The ancient Egyptian physicians had their own peculiar remedies. They often used lizard blood, dead mice, mud and mouldy bread as topical ointments and dressings, and women were sometimes dosed with horse saliva as a cure for an impaired libido.

They also used human and animal excrement as a cure-all remedy for diseases and injuries. Donkey, dog, gazelle and fly dung were all celebrated for their healing properties and their ability to ward off bad spirits.

Thankfully, Paul Kiely and his staff are a lot more sophisticated and there wasn’t an animal to be seen. The nursing staff, the catering staff, the physiotherapists and the cleaning staff were amazing, and we even managed to have some fun along the way.

My stay gave me the opportunity to see how a busy hospital functions on a daily basis, and it was an eye-opener. 

It takes a large team of highly trained, dedicated professionals, working in unison in a sterile, often stressful, environment while maintaining a calm, pleasant demeanour.

That’s not always easy, as I know from my own experience of working with the public. It can be trying at times but the abuse they have to put up with is totally unacceptable.

The Echo had a report on nurses being assaulted in our hospitals every day. Thousands of assaults on nurses, most of whom are female, occurred between January, 2021, and October, 2022, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). And that’s only the assaults that were actually reported.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said more than 9,000 assaults occurred during that period, almost double the figure recorded by the HSE. They included being shouted at, spat at, having things thrown at them, and even being threatened with stabbing.

Assaulting nurses is so mind- numbingly stupid that anyone found guilty of an offence of that nature should be automatically jailed.

According to the Irish Examiner, Judge Olann Kelleher agrees with me. He said, “People acting the maggot with hospital staff should go to prison.”

He was addressing a defendant in court who was highly intoxicated and became violent towards hospital staff at the Mercy University Hospital. The man pleaded guilty to the charges and the Judge told him: “I know one person who is out of work for nine months from A&E because of people like you.”

Instead of sending him to prison though, he issued him with a fine. The mind boggles.

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