Friday, June 26, 2009

For Noelle

By Susan Daly

Wednesday June 24 2009

Much can change in 25 years. Empires can crumble, floods can change the face of the earth -- even Mary Harney can get a new hairdo.

What cannot seem to earn a makeover is Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. The day I discovered that deja vu is not a trick of the mind was the day I stepped over its threshold for the first time since 1981. As a small child, I had a heart operation in the hospital. I recovered well, went home and, thankfully, have never suffered a day of serious illness since.

A quarter of a century later, I was back to spend time with my young cousin, who was receiving treatment in Crumlin for a life-threatening condition.

Now, you would expect a sense of familiarity with the place where you yourself went through a major life experience. But as I walked down the corridor to my cousin's room, I thought: This place hasn't changed one bit.

I rang my mother later that evening to describe the ward. "Sure, of course you know it, it's the same one you were on," she said. "And it sounds exactly the same as it was in 1981."

Now there's a sobering thought. The same attempt to lift the teabag-coloured walls with a few cartoons; the same low-ceilinged feeling of claustrophobia; the same jam-packed rooms in which my mother would take turns with the family of another little girl at visiting time because they couldn't all fit in. In short, no place to cheer up a child.

Although I know there have been some new extensions to the building in recent years, the only outward change I could see on my cousin's floor was the addition of a fish tank.

My cousin loved the distraction so much she would stand in front of it in her little dressing gown for as long as she dared before someone would hustle her back to bed. It is a nice touch.

For some of my cousin's frequent visits, her family were put up in a lovely shared house near the hospital so she could be treated as an outpatient.

The house, I believe, is part of a wonderful charitable scheme -- not State-sponsored, please note -- where houses are donated or bought and refurbished for this specific purpose.

It was a welcome advance from the trek my mother had to make that particularly icy winter to the only B&B she could afford, somewhere on the nether reaches of Dolphin's Barn.

It is absolutely necessary to say that one other thing had not changed in the years between my stay in Crumlin and my cousin's: the attitude of the staff.

Nurses, doctors, attendants, porters -- all of them utterly professional, caring and dedicated to doing their best with the resources they have for sick children. And it is also necessary to say that Our Lady's gives the most advanced treatment and houses a world-class Children's Research Centre (again, wholly funded by donations). But what other public building hardly changes at heart in 25 years?

Since the early 80s we have hauled ourselves out of a recession, rode the boom and plunged back into financial chaos.

Our main train and bus stations have modernised, government departments been refurbished, whole new magnificent edifices built for public administrations.

How can a children's hospital -- where the surroundings are so vital to their inhabitants, where many spend Christmas and holidays and weekends and endless days and nights -- receive so little attention?

It is gratifying to see TDs and senators pay a visit this week to Our Lady's in Crumlin.

Too often the people who are crunching the numbers and making cruel cutbacks are not in contact with the real, live people their decisions affect.

And I have been merely addressing the works needed on an ageing building -- at least my cousin got to see the inside of Our Lady's and did not languish on a waiting list.

My sincere hope is that the politicians who reached out will realise that a children's hospital is no place to cut corners.

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