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29 Sept 2022

The Good (Limerick) Doctor: Dr Catherine Motherway reflects on a challenging, yet very rewarding career

The Good (Limerick) Doctor: Dr Catherine Motherway reflects on a challenging, yet very rewarding career

Dr Motherway has worked at UHL since 1999 and said that although she has many nice memories, her line of work could be “awful” on occasion. | PICTURES: Adrian Butler

AS ONE of the pillars of staff at University Hospital Limerick, it came as a great shock to many when news broke that Dr Catherine Motherway would be hanging up her stethoscope for the final time.

Dr Motherway, who is the outgoing head of the ICU at the hospital, said it was always her intention to retire at the age of 60.

As she approaches her milestone birthday she reflects on her life and career with Limerick Live.

“I didn't think much about my affect on people other than my family and my patients so the reaction has been strange but gratifying as well. It reflects how people respect the work that the health service did during the pandemic and hopefully that good favour continues.”

Born in Ladysbridge, Co Cork, Dr Motherway started her career not in scrubs but in the kitchen of a local hotel, at the tender age of 11.

Even as a young girl, she had an interest in biology and science and went on to receive her qualification from University College Cork in 1985.

After completing her training in anesthesia in 1996, Dr Motherway did what many young people in healthcare have done and set off to Australia to train for two years in Intensive Care Medicines.

The consultant in anesthesia said she would encourage anyone in healthcare who has an interest in training abroad, to do so.

“People have always gone abroad and then come back and I would encourage them to go and do a fellowship in another country and bring back what they learn in other systems to Ireland.

“But we need to make sure when they come back that we can offer them work in what they have trained in.”

Dr Motherway has worked at UHL since 1999 and said that although she has many nice memories, her line of work could be “awful” on occasion.

“When you lose patients it is awful. There are certain patients I will never forget. But I also remember the patients who did well despite the odds being very much against them.

“You do tend to bring stuff home with you, especially from Intensive Care. You spend the whole week thinking about the individual's progress but then you may never know what happened to them. You have to let that go, you would go mad otherwise.”

The capacity issues at UHL have been well documented with wait times and trolley records being broken on a regular basis. Dr Motherway has been vocal about the issues at the hospital and says it is frustrating for everyone involved.

“If you go into work and you can't do your job properly, it would drive you nuts. As more beds come on stream, people will expect miracles but additional beds won't keep up with the fact that people are getting older and our population is growing. As treatments improve we have an expectation and requirement to offer them, which takes more time and resources.”

For 2020, the healthcare professional was given the accolade of Limerick Person of the Year for her work during the pandemic.

She remembers the Christmas 2020 wave of the coronavirus as being the worst stage of the disease. “At one stage, 11 of the 12 ICU beds on the ward had Covid patients.

“We had people from the same family upstairs and downstairs in the ICU. It felt like it was the only disease we were treating at the time. I will never forget it.”

Despite the relentlessness of the situation, Dr Motherway said she never contemplated taking early retirement and colleagues who were due to retire stayed to assist with the fight against Covid-19.

“If I could wave a magic wand I would wish that we had enough ICU beds in the first place. We could have protected more elective surgeries from being cancelled and I worry about people who missed being diagnosed as well.

“In 10 years’ time we will know what we did right and what we did wrong. Now I would be encouraging people to take up the booster but people need to live as well. Eventually it will become like the common cold.”

As far as future plans go, Dr Motherway said she is “living in the now” and enjoying spending time with her family and two dogs. Dr Motherway is married to Christopher Curley, a Galway man, and the couple have two children, Ciarán and Aoife Curley.

“I am going to Australia soon to visit my brother who I haven't seen since before the pandemic. I will be involved with Organ Transplant Ireland as well until Christmas and after that if I get bored I will think of something. My daughter is getting married next year so I am sure I will have plenty of jobs to do for that!”

Dr Motherway's greatest life lesson? “Try and enjoy life because you never know when some unpleasantness will come along. Of course you can't live every day like it is your last. I would be going into work tired but I would say to myself ‘at least I am not in that bed in ICU’”.

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