In December 2005, Fiddown man Noel Walsh met Health Minister Mary Harney to discuss the alarmingly prevalent levels of the MRSA superbug in Irish hospitals.
For Noel, who lived every day of his life battling the debilitating effects of Cystic Fibrosis (CF), enough was enough. “It’s gone beyond a joke at this stage,” Noel told The Munster Express at the time.
“One person in a hospital with MRSA is one too many for a person with Cystic Fibrosis if you’re waiting for a transplant,” said Noel, who was then waiting, hoping for a new heart and lung. “If I get MRSA, I will be automatically off the list.”
On December 27th 2006, almost exactly a year since that meeting with Mary Harney, Noel Walsh lost his noble fight for life, just shy of his 40th birthday.
Noel lived every day as best he could, even if many of them were spent in bed, days when the flesh made weak by CF couldn’t match his ever-willing spirit.
He worried about his wonderful mother Mary and prayed that she would be alright when the time inevitably came when he would no longer be her sole daily concern.
But his was a life far from dominated by thoughts of mere survival, of his own daily battle, of how he could cope with what life had thrown his way.
The plight of others with CF consumed Noel, as highlighted by his role in the MRSA campaign.
He had little truck with those who put things on the long finger. Promises and pledges counted for little with him, and rightly so. Action, surely the only response that truly matters, was all that he championed.
During hospital visits over the years, Noel’s apprehension about entering such a building has often come to mind.
And when I see people enter and exit without using the hand sanitisers, it angers me: after all, it’s hardly a time consuming task.
Hygiene – and by that I mean proper, thorough, ‘eat your dinner off the floor’ hygiene, can be the difference between life and death for a person with CF.
Cleanliness, the sort of cleanliness that all hospitals should always have and should never, ever have been subject to scrutiny in a so-called developed country, is paramount.
Yet in 2010, for all the ‘progress’ of the Celtic Tiger years in this ‘modern’ State of ours, there still isn’t a comprehensive unit in place that’s capable of adequately addressing the needs of people with CF in this State.
The eight beds on offer at Saint Vincent’s Hospital are an insult to the 1300 people living with CF in our country. Think about it: that’s one en-suite referral room for every 162 people with CF.
What’s been sought by CF campaigners from the Government is a dedicated 34-bed unit. That’s right – not a 300 bed unit, not a 200 bed unit, not even a 50-bed unit – a 34-bed unit.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that a 120-bed unit has in fact been promised, with the tender for the unit “due shortly” according to Saint Vincent’s Hospital. Due shortly – surely a phrase designed to further antagonise public frustration.
Sadly, that sense of frustration isn’t new either – for those such as Orla Tinsley who maintain the fight for those with CF, it’s much more than that.
“If there’s such a thing as campaigner’s fatigue, I may be experiencing it,” she wrote in The Irish Times of June 25th.
“I have been writing the same thing for five years. It’s a depressing thought that I will be doing it for another five.”
The 1916 Proclamation declares that the Irish Republic would “cherish all of the children of the nation equally”.
On that count, as well as a whole host of other aspirations read aloud by PH Pearse in front of the GPO, all who’ve governed us in the interim have let us down disgracefully.
A 34-year-old Waterford woman with CF who knew Noel Walsh well (“he was a dote”) recalled one of her unpleasant hospital experiences.
“I got a bed on a Friday evening at 7pm having waited in casualty in Saint Vincent’s since 10 the previous morning,” she said.
“I had to sleep on a stretcher all night, even though I was very sick with a chest infection and bowel obstruction. The facilities were absolutely disgraceful – I was afraid to use the toilet because of infection. Something drastic needs to be done.”
When someone is afraid to use a toilet for fear it’s not clean in an era when banks can have billions pumped into them, money we taxpayers will never see again, it’s difficult not to fear for this Republic.
That the CF issue falls on and off the political radar is appalling. One imagines that if a Minister had a child with CF, all would be changed in a positive sense – which says much for the nature of our political system.
Orla Tinsley knows she won’t always have the physical energy to remove herself from a hospital room she may be sharing with “a screaming room-mate or a dying woman”.
Noel Walsh was acutely aware of that very same scenario: the thought of a hospital visit wasn’t always one that filled him with hope given the lack of hygiene and isolation it regularly entailed.
“We’re not asking for gold-plated oxygen tanks,” Ms Tinsley wrote on June 25th. “We’re just asking those in power to help us stay alive.”
All those with CF in this country and those who care for them, surely, surely deserve better. Noel Walsh, were he alive today, would wholeheartedly agree.