Limerick Leader reporter goes undercover at University Hospital Limerick

Due to illness, reporter Donal O'Regan went deep undercover at the University Hospital Limerick  and found the care exemplary. Picture: Michael Cowhey
GENERALLY journalists need permission from the HSE to gain access to University Hospital Limerick, but unfortunately this reporter just required a letter from a doctor.

GENERALLY journalists need permission from the HSE to gain access to University Hospital Limerick, but unfortunately this reporter just required a letter from a doctor.

The Regional, as it is still known by many, gets a bad rap. Anecdotally many in south Limerick head to Cork for treatment instead of the closer hospital in the city. Phrases like “stay out of that place whatever you do” are often bandied about.

But in my recent experience, – and I stress my experience – nothing could be further from the truth.

After fainting like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert four Thursdays ago there was obviously something wrong with me. I came around quickly and paracetamol brought down the temperature. I took the Friday off work thinking it was some kind of infection.

“A little bit of bed-rest and I’ll be grand for Monday,” I thought to myself.

Over the weekend I got progressively weaker despite eating like a horse. I was so pale that I made Casper the ghost look like he’d been on the sunbeds.

On Monday, my GP wasn’t happy with me and told me to attend the surgical assessment unit in Limerick University Hospital first thing the following morning. The name of the unit doesn’t give one a good feeling of what lies ahead.

I had never heard of that unit before but had prepared myself for a long delay before even being seen. I turned up at 8am and within 10 minutes a nurse was tapping my veins. Shortly after she took bloods, a surgeon assessed me.

Before I knew it I was hooked up to an IV and plans were in place. A young intern, who would have made an excellent reporter in a different life due to her judicious note-taking, was next to speak to me about my symptoms. Everything was done and explained to me in a professional, friendly and efficent manner.

The surgical assessment unit is an idea taken from England a number of years ago. As far as I can make out it is designed to streamline the intake of patients and keep those with certain symptoms away from A&E. There are about seven or eight beds and comfortable chairs. Within an hour of handing in my letter I had been seen by three people. Some service.

Later that day I was sent down for an endoscopy - a small telescope is put down your throat. Again the staff couldn’t have been friendlier. Everyone they deal with is scared, worse case scenarios running through their minds, but they do their very best to make you feel at ease.

After that I was taken to a room with just two beds. When I came around a bit I was told I had a duodenal ulcer that had been bleeding, perhaps for over a week.

Looking back I was more tired than normal, had less energy and was as weak as kitten but I guess you never realise how sick you are until you feel better.

As my haemoglobin or red blood cells had dropped to seven – it should be over 13 – the first of two blood transfusions and proton set me on the road to recovery.

It is caused by an infection called Helicobacter pylori. It was only identified in 1982 by Australian scientists, more than 50% of the world’s population harbour it but up to 85% of people infected never experience complications.

What happened to me was a pin prick compared to other cases in the hospital. Despite my minor ailment I couldn’t speak highly enough of how I was treated during my two-night stay.

As I had an IV line in each arm I had to press the button every time I wanted to use the bathroom and be released from my medical straitjacket. Apologies for constantly bothering the nurses were brushed aside with “that’s what we’re here for”. Pillows were plumped, headboards were heightened or lowered for comfort, one nurse at night time was even worried about the light shining in on me from the corridor and changed the door’s layout.

They are being pulled and dragged in every direction and are constantly on the go yet always made time for a smile and a chat. Two young UL nursing students I encountered will also be a fine addition to the profession in the years to come. Often boredom is the real killer in hospitals but they and the nurses helped pass the time.

On a walk through the hospital the surgeon who originally saw me stopped me. I must have been one of dozens of patients he assessed on that Tuesday but he still made the effort to see how I was. The young intern who saw me on the first day came back to take my bloods the next day and on the Thursday gave me the good news that I could go home with a prescription for enough drugs that I would have been hauled into Henry Street if stopped on my way home. Nice continuity to have the same person at the start and finish.

I can’t really comment on the food as I could only have one meal in my two and a half days there. I couldn’t have anything to eat on the Tuesday and Wednesday was confined to two helpings of jelly and ice cream. But they were undoubtedly the best jelly and ice cream I ever had!

Every morning a cleaner came into the room and it wasn’t a cursory rub down, she spent quite a while mopping and washing.

Most journalists go undercover to expose wrongdoing and incompetence but my forced investigative reporting uncovered efficiency and excellent care.

From my time in University Hospital Limerick whatever is wrong with the health service in this country it isn’t the staff on the ground.

No names have been mentioned in this piece to protect the privacy of staff but luckily I am in this position to be able to thank them for their kindness and excellent care.

Your health is your wealth.

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