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Column Here’s how the HSE turned my expectations upside down

Coached by the media, Sean Finn thought HSE care for his mother would be slow, unreliable and impersonal. Here’s his story.

MY MOTHER IS a medical card holder who was diagnosed with stage four, small cell lung cancer in early November 2011; which is, frankly, as real and as heavy as it ever gets for anyone.

She has had a litany of other health issues in the few years preceding this, from arthritis (severe and somewhat debilitating), constant infections of the chest, lungs and sinus, nerve pain, and severe back pain. . She was a heavy smoker, and without a doubt, the fact that she got this type of cancer was predominantly her own fault.

My family and I were made aware while she was in Mullingar General Hospital, that she probably wouldn’t have long to go, and behaved accordingly. She was then transferred to Tullamore Hospital, as it houses the local dedicated oncology service. Her consultant here was of the opinion that he could stave this off with chemotherapy, seemingly in direct opposition to the views of those who had dealt with her in Mullingar.

The decision was taken to put her through the chemotherapy (the in joke at the time being: who would ever have thought that we’d be glad our mother was getting chemo for lung cancer?) while at the same time to make the palliative care team available to her. The chemotherapy started and continues still. Four weeks ago, she was told that the tumour, and all associated speckles on the lungs were gone, yes, gone. It may come back, it is in it’s nature to, but it can and will be met again.

The thrust of my argument and this article is thus: Yes, the HSE is a leviathan, over managed and under resourced, overworked and understaffed where it matters. But I will say this: the speed, dedication, and professionalism of the care here, where it really counts, to prolong a life, to give a loving and loved mother a chance was simply breathtaking. The quality and thorough nature of the care took me aback as I had the media-forged impression that no help would come, or if it did, it would be ages in the coming. Not so… fast, professional, and above all effective.

‘In the HSE’s eyes; a person is not just another number on a trolley’

It seems to me that the consultant was the boss in all regards from a treatment perspective, and had a capable and steady hand in all aspects, from pain treatment to anti sickness and to the actual treatment itself. It also seems to me that all the different people involved – consultants, palliative nurses, GPs, pharmacy, day ward staff, chemo clinic staff, catering staff, and everyone in between – were singing off the same hymn sheet, under the guidance of the main consultant, and as such it was all coordinated with my mother as the sole focus.

I must add that I feel the best part of the treatment was the fact that the nurses from her day ward were available to field the questions, on the telephone (which some may have viewed as silly questions), whenever she, or my father needed them to be. Furthermore, while she was on the day ward, one of the nurses went so far as to bring her in a jar of coffee, as it wasn’t supplied by the canteen! It demonstrated a level of pride and care on their part which I feel is seldom seen in many public bodies.

As well as this, one very important thing: my mother’s hair; was addressed, I feel, astonishingly well. The wig fitting and production service was offered, never pushed. When she did go, I feel it was done in a most sympathetic fashion, and she has received any and all helpful advice needed in regards to it. I feel that the simple provision of this item, by the health service goes a long way to showing that, in the HSE’s eyes; a person is exactly that, not just another number on a trolley. A person who has strengths, weaknesses and fears unique to themselves that need to be helped, not just treated.

I genuinely feel that the personal, human, considerate, and swift, effective nature of the care which she received, and is still receiving would be very difficult to match anywhere, public, private, or anywhere in between, here, or abroad.

I feel the HSE gets a really bad rap, and I hope my mother’s story can show people that there is more to it than meets the eye. And above all, that while there are serious problems in areas of our health service, there are people at all levels who strive day in day out to provide this country with a health service that we can all be proud of.

To make a donation to the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day campaign, visit their website here.

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