Saturday, October 16, 2010

Erin go Thud, Part Three and Last

(Click the following links to see:
Part 1, or
Part 2.)

View northward from the Seaview B&B, Friday, 13 August, 2010.
This was the only photo I took that day -- a shame, really, since it was a spectacularly-clear day -- since we had a lot of other things to think about.

The morning of Friday the 13th was abysmal. Diane was in pain, since the prescription painkillers she had finally been given the night before had worn off, we each had virtually no sleep at all, we were afraid that we wouldn't be able to even go home (let alone follow our month's itinerary) as planned -- but, most of all, we were in a major medical situation in a country (the UK) that was foreign to the foreign country (the Republic of Ireland) in which our home base was.

We hadn't a clue as to what to do. So we cast about for information, and the best, quickest help we received was from our friend Lady Rosse back in Birr. She immediately contacted her own health-care providers with our questions, and kept us up-to-the minute with frequent e-mail messages and telephone calls. By mid-morning she had determined what we should do: as soon as we could, return to the Republic and go to the nearest Regional Hospital to Birr, one in Tullamore (only about half an hour by car north of Birr -- but about five hours away from where we were in Northern Ireland.) We shouldn't wait for a "fracture clinic," we shouldn't apply for an appointment with an orthopedist -- we should just get to Tullamore.

Just that information alone put us so much more at ease that it is hard to describe -- the pain and the anxiety were still there, but the feeling of being lost and totally ignorant was gone. And we have Lady Rosse to thank for that.

The remainder of the day was more or less adrenaline-free. We had to wait until the following day to try to drive south, since Diane's cast was still curing and travel was not advisable. She spent the day resting in Mabel Dunlop's spare bedroom, and I spent it driving around gathering various medical supplies.

Primary among the supplies I needed to get was a bottle of the pain medication that had been prescribed at the hospital in Coleraine the night before. I found a little pharmacy ("chemist's shop") in nearby Bushmills. The young lady to whom I passed my slip of paper looked at it, then at me, and asked a question in a language that had only a passing similarity to any English I am used to. Turns out that the Ulster brogue is far more like Scottish than it is like most Irish dialects, and I was baffled. We actually needed an interpreter (a very amused stock clerk) to communicate. We got our business done, but the poor young lady was irritated and I was embarrassed to my toes.

Given all of that, it wasn't until I got out to the rental car with my little bag that I realized: I hadn't paid for the pills! I went back in to pay... and was rewarded by a warm smile from my linguistic antagonist. It was a prescription. There is no charge for that.

Heading out of Antrim: serene farmland on a Saturday morning.

The following morning was clear and bright and augured well (and truly, as it turns out.) After our fourth great Ulster fry breakfast from Mabel, we set out southward for the Republic and for Tullamore.

At the Bernish viewpoint, just north of the border along the A1 motorway. Why the crutches are not attached to a human, and why the human is not in the picture in this isolated spot, will be left to the speculation of the viewer.

The drive south was very easy, facilitated by long stretches of brand-new "motorways" -- multi-lane divided highways -- in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Our route took us through Belfast, around Dublin, and then rapidly into County Offaly in the heart of the island.

Suspension bridge over the Boyne on the Republic's M1 motorway.

We arrived at the Tullamore hospital at about three in the afternoon on this Saturday, steeled to endure yet another long, long wait in an understaffed emergency room. Ireland, like the UK, has "socialized medicine," after all, so we just figured we were in for a dose of the same medicine we endured up in Coleraine.

Not at all.

We were in and out in an hour, and considerably happier on the "out" than the "in." Inake ("triage") was quick, efficient, and friendly. The wait in a nearly-empty A&E waiting room was mere miniutes, and the physician who saw Diane was -- probably just by extraordinarily lucky chance -- a retired orthopedist who was just helping out on that Saturday afternoon.

Emergency department, Tullamore Regional Hospital, Co. Offaly, 14 August 2010.

After a quick study of the x-rays we had brought with us from Northern Ireland, he saw that the bone chips in Diane's ankle were very old, that there was no bone injury involved, and that the "box" (as he called her cast) was doing far more harm than good. He hacked off her cast in minutes (meanwhile carrying on a charming chatter about all manner of things), told Diane that the best thing she could do to facilitate healing of her sprain was to walk on it as much as she could tolerate, and sent us on our way.

It was as though a slab the size of the Clonfinlough Stone had been taken off the tops of our heads. We would be able to fly home when the time came. We would not be immobile for the remainder of our stay in Ireland.

There were still concerns and regrets, of course: concern primarily about Diane's pain. That would continue throughout the rest of the stay, helped a lot by some painkillers and by a lot of her own stubborn determination, but strong enough to eliminate a couple of major excursions we had planned (which were replaced by adventures we hadn't planned, so no net loss!) Derry was out on this trip, as was a return to the Connemara Pony Show, but that only reinforces our determination to make at least one more trip to the island, somehow, some way.

We were almost giddy when we finally rolled through the castle gates that evening, and up to the Bothy's door. Our plans had taken a major hit, but not our prospects.

"Home," inside the Bothy, 2010.

Coda: Trying to draw any conclusion about the benefits or ills of "socialized medicine" based on our experience with Diane's ankle injury would be silly. For one thing, each experience -- the negative one in Coleraine and the positive one in Tullamore -- was anecdotal and the product of a unique constellation of surrounding circumstances. Our feelings about the two hospitals could easily have been reversed. What if the major auto accident had taken place on Saturday afternoon in Tullamore instead of Thursday afternoon in Coleraine? What if the retired orthopedist had been helping out in the North instead of the South? Everything would have been different.

What is lastingly alien about both medical experiences, though, is that neither one of them included any financial stop along the way to treatment. We only recently received a small invoice from Tullamore (after a bit of fumbling on their part about where to send the bill), and have yet to hear anything from Coleraine. Our impression is that, in both countries, actually billing patients for medical care is so unusual that people "on the ground" in A&E facilities just don't think about it much, so bills can be very late in arriving, if ever.

We'll see. I still check my mailbox every day for a bill from Coleraine, but I'm not going to call them and ask them where it is.

Nymansay eucryphia near the Bothy on the Evening of Great Relief.



Dann said...

Wow! I'm glad that it wasn't anything worse than what it was...or I'm glad that things went as well as they did.

I'm so confused!!!

Say something nice to Dianne. Tell her you're passing it along from Dann. That will cover my end nicely!

Glad you both made it home safely, if a little worse for the wear.


ronnie said...

Excellent ending to your story. I'm so glad Diane didn't have to suffer a cast and you didn't have to change your return plans.

I think I can sum up my (and I suspect a lot of Canadians') feelings about socialized medicine. There can be problems at times with waiting lists (although I have had zero negative experiences in this area, even in ERs) but overall, any health crisis is mitigated enormously by the knowledge that at least you never, ever have the added stress, anxiety and negative impact of knowing there'll be a bill, nor an insurance company to fight with. That, in a nutshell, is why we value it so much.

ronnie said...

PS Gorgeous photos. What a beautiful country! Thanks for sharing your remarkable experiences.

Margaret Ryall said...

Ditto Ronnie's comments re: health care. Don't hold your breath waiting for the bill and if it should come it will not "break the bank".

You never know what will happen on a holiday do you? I see from your Bothy photo we have some updated wallpaper and a different couch. Are there any other changes?

Sherwood Harrington said...

Thanks, Dann, ronnie, and Margaret!

Margaret, there were some other changes that we noticed -- none very dramatic, but nice. I just put together a little page for you showing most of them.

Mike said...

I, too, join in the group relief that the injury was not more serious. But I'm the only one, apparently, who will admit it's because I was feeling guilty for being a wiseass about it when we all assumed it had been you in that cast.

Dann said...

See?! SEE??!!!???

That's what wiseassery will get you.

Every. Single. Time.

Smugly Yers,

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

When i read "bone chips" in your previous "Thud" entry i cringed. They sound awful. I had no idea such things could hang around to become old chips and not cause trouble.

What a nice ending to that saga! I'm enjoying the photos tremendously, and, yes, you really have to go back.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Aww, Dann, cut 'em some slack. If you remember, I set the whole thing up for misunderstandings -- and expected some pretty funny wiseass comments. Mike and ronnie didn't disappoint! I even trapped my own son in the "A Quick Teaser" misdirection, which should probably make me feel guilty, but doesn't.

Anyway, everybody's comments -- funny ones or more conventional wishes -- have been greatly enjoyed by both Diane and me, and we thank you all very much.

(And a side-note to ms. cat: now that all is said and done and properly diagnosed and pretty much healed, I actually think your injury in Cuba was worse than Diane's in Ireland.)

Xtreme English said...

A captivating series, Sherwood. I hope Diane's ankle continues to feel better. And what good luck that all of this happened to you in Ireland and not in, say, remotest northern California, where you could have experienced the same kinds of snags you did in Northern Ireland but then had to pay buckets of $$ for it.

You two certainly do get around! Your photos are lovely, as always, and your prose interesting and succinct. I'm sorry you experienced all the pain and anxiety. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Sherwood Harrington said...

What a lovely comment, Mary Ellen! Thank you; coming from you as it does, the description of my prose as "interesting and succinct" has me -- a science-type who "hardly knows what a verb are" (to steal from one of my colleagues in the DeAnza College Academic Senate) -- ... wait, where did this sentence start?

Anyway, while Diane's pain was annoyingly persistent, the anxiety was pretty much gone after our visit to the Tullamore hospital. The only really gloomy day was...

... Friday the 13th.