Writing a book is an ambition that many have, few pursue and even fewer realise. To see one’s name on the cover of a publication assembled largely by one’s own wit and recollection must be quite the sensation, akin to topping a cast list for a major stage production. A truly magical, validating feeling. But to take that step while receiving dialysis at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) adds another layer of achievement to ticking such a literary box from first time author Jack Kelly’s perspective.
In ‘77 Years A Dreaming’, the Portlaw resident takes us through from his early days in Glenstown, Clonea, to his childhood in Curraghmore, his short service with the Passionist community, through to married life in London with wife Bridget, before returning home to Portlaw and living with chronic illness.
The book, published late last year by the Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT), “came about by accident,” according to Jack, who had just begun a four-hour dialysis session when I pulled up a chair alongside him to chat. “The Waterford Healing Arts Trust are the people who are really responsible for this book coming into existence as they have an artist here, Boyer Phelan, who works in the wards, and she’s from Rathgormack. Now it turns out that Boyer is related to the Hassetts in Glenstown, which also happens to be where I was born. So one day in here, the two of us got chatting and that’s where the seed of the book was sewn.”
Jack continued: “What the Trust does for people such as myself who come in two to three times a week for dialysis, for four hours at a time, it’s hard to put a price on it. If we didn’t have the Trust coming into the ward, you really would be talking about four hours of complete boredom. There’s no pain involved in dialysis. I’m hooked up to the machine now, which cleanses the blood and then re-introduces it into my body over four hours and that serves me well until I come back in here for my next session in here, and this place has really become my second home. I’ve no fear coming in here, and that’s down to the wonderful staff here in the (Renal Dialysis) Unit and to the Waterford Healing Arts Trust. I truly mean that.”
The conversation with Boyer eventually led both she and Jack to discuss Clonea, during which time Jackie mentioned a Betty Hassett of Glenstown. “Betty is Boyer’s mother-in-law, and Betty went to school with my mother in Clonea and things developed from there. She’s got a wonderful way of communicating with patients and I really warmed to her. You see, the biggest problem in here is that we’re all separated during dialysis; it’s not as if you can talk freely to someone else getting treatment given the way the spacing works in here, so communication can be a bit of problem. We know each other in here and that develops over time, and the nurses are absolutely fantastic – a joy to behold – but we can’t have a chat in here the way you could in a ‘normal’ hospital ward, if you know what I mean. So having Bower coming into me was a real Godsend. The support she gave me, along with the encouragement the nurses provided, got me delving back into my childhood, growing up and all that came thereafter, and all of it eventually culminated to publishing the book, and I’m very pleased with how it all turned out.”
Jack admitted to being initially “terrified” of dialysis, but ultimately, he added, the only real fear he had to overcome was boredom, and that’s where the book came in. “Oh, it’s been great for me. It’s added so much value to my time during dialysis, to engage my mind the way I have thanks to the book, to have Boyer sit with me and help to tease things so many memories out of me, and commit them to print, it’s just been a wonderful experience, and one that I am so, so grateful for…“There’s a wonderful team here in the hospital: specialised doctors, the brilliant nurses here in the unit, with their smiles, their care and their warmth – I know them and they know me – and that’s very important to me, that I’m accepted here. They’re angels, working very long hours here and they’re always in good humour. And then, added to that, we’ve got Boyer and the Healing Arts Trust too, and the work they’re so committed to does so much for us as patients in terms of our own healing. We’re most fortunate to have such a team of kind-hearted people looking after us.”
With a previous short story about Curraghmore written a decade ago, Jack had a key link in the chain already in place.
From there, he began to write further short stories around that piece, including memories of An Rinn, Waterpark College, his faith, marrying Bridget (his wife of over 51 years), moving away, coming home, and learning to cope with failing health. The story he tells, augmented by Sean O’Brien’s photography, never sags over its 111 pages. It’s an accomplishment that Jack is deservedly proud of and represents a significant item marked off the bucket list. “I face the future with courage and try to live a better life, with the help of my beautiful wife,” he writes in the closing lines of his memoir. “I’ve a positivity now that I didn’t have when I first came in here,” Jackie told me. “And I’m so pleased to be able to say that that’s the case now, at this stage of my life.” Here’s to Jack’s next chapter.