Now, I’m not talking about turning into the Incredible Hulk when you reach a certain age (although that would be pretty cool). I’m talking about the transition from the Children’s Heart Centre in CHI Crumlin to the Adult Congenital Heart Unit in the Mater. It is very different these days and for the better, in all facets.
I left Crumlin for the last time following an outpatient’s appointment in Spring 1993. I was 16 years old. Heading for 17 at the time. At that time, the clinic was headed up by Doctor Brian Denham. Does anybody remember him? The man was always in a hurry. Always rushing somewhere with a file under his arm. If I remember correctly, his goodbye was as brief as this sentence. He handed my Mother an envelope with my most up to date medical information, told her that the Mater would be in touch, shook my hand and wished me luck. And with that, he turned on his heels and darted off to see another patient. You can’t say that the man wasn’t dedicated!
Just a matter of weeks later I was summoned to the Mater for my first appointment with my new cardiac team. Except, there was no team. Congenital cardiology simply didn’t exist in the Mater at that time. The clinic dealt mostly with older people whose heart disease had been brought on by lack of exercise, smoking, bad diet, etc. I got puzzled looks from the other patients. I was the youngest patient there by at least twenty years. There was no transition as there is now. No greeting by a kindly nurse. No cuddly, bright cartoon characters. Nothing. I was just thrown in at the deep end. Everything seemed very serious. It was quite intimidating to be honest.
The service was run by Doctor Conor McCarthy – a very serious-looking, older gentleman who had a business-like demeanour. The outpatient’s department was accessed by a door in a semi-circular portico on the North Circular Road. Inside, there a huge hall with queues left and right for the different clinics that were running that day. We queued on the right at the end of a large black bench, one of seven or eight. When the person at the head of the queue was called in, everyone shuffled up one place to fill the gap. Frankly, it was bizarre. At my second or third appointment, the nurse came out of the clinic room and called the next patient. “John Lennon,” she said in a loud, clear voice. And as a short, elderly man in a long coat and hat, stood up, I blurted out, “NO WAY!” He turned, looked at me and doffed his hat. Cool! For some reason, that event made me feel much more relaxed about going to the new hospital.
Once inside it was chaos. There were three desks, each manned by a doctor with a seat for the patient. All the consultations happened there and then, in the ONE ROOM! No privacy whatsoever. You could see everyone and hear everyone. Sometimes I’d listen in to another person’s consultation because it sounded much more interesting than mine!
After a quick chat, the doctor would examine me in a room to the side. This was mostly about taking a pulse and listening to my heart and lungs with the forever-cold stethoscope. Sitting back at the desk, the doctor would discuss my progress, good and bad, with my Mother. It was like I wasn’t even there. I realised, at a young age, that this was ridiculous. I was nearly an adult. I would have to take control of my condition and its care like a responsible adult. But how could I, when two of the very people who should have been encouraging me to be more independent, spoke about me rather than to me? When Doctor Walsh joined the service, things changed drastically for the better.
Today the introduction to the service in the Mater is completely different. Now, staff in both Crumlin and the Mater communicate with each other and the patient before, during and after the transition is made. This continues until both patient and parents are happy and comfortable in the new environment. The process is years in the making and is down to the brilliant dedication and foresight of Professor Walsh and his amazing team. I wish they were there when I was 16….
Be Kind to Yourself