In Remembrance

September 30, 2008

Laura has requested that we keep these ribbons circulating in memory of those dear to us who have lost their lives to cancer.

I’d like to dedicate these ribbons to…

my brother, Jack who died from oesophageal cancer in September 2002, aged just 48

and my aunt, Beth who died from pancreatic cancer in October 2003 and who packed so much into her 76 racy years of life.

I miss them both more than words can say.

Thanks Laura for alerting me to this selection of ribbons.  I wear them with pride on this blog.

Mamma Mia

September 18, 2008

That’s it! I’m off! I’ve had enough of this rain.  This time tomorrow, I shall be winging my way to sunnier climes for a real taste of summer. Think rolling hills clad in grape vines, topped by castles, and dotted with countryside trattorie serving handmade pasta with porcini mushrooms, aubergine parmigiana accompanied by gallons of Chianti, and you’ve got the picture.

Last May, when a work colleague of my hubby offered to lend us her little place in the southern hills of Tuscany, we certainly didn’t hesitate and immediately booked flights.  We opted to enjoy an Irish summer first and wait until September for a taste of Italy.  Of course, we didn’t know then what we know now. Our pre-booked holiday has turned out to be the only ray of sunshine in an otherwise dull and wet summer.

We’ve no idea what we’ll face when we reach our holiday destination.  The owner who lives in Switzerland, has simply told us where to pick up the key and to make sure we tip the ‘Mamma Mia’ who’ll have the place aired and ready for our arrival. The only description we’ve been given is that it’s rustic.  We can only hope that her definition of rustic is the same as ours! The area we’re staying in is famous for it’s hot sulphur springs (health spas) and mosquitoes!

I’ll have access to a laptop on holiday but I doubt I’ll write any posts as I hope to be too busy sipping wine while basking in the sunshine. It’s okay, you’re allowed to hate me! Roaming charges are likely to be high but it won’t stop me peeking at a few blogs from time to time to keep an eye on you all.  Now, I’d better get packing if I’m gonna catch that flight. I’ll be back on 30 September so be good in the meantime, and keep well.

And He’s Off!

September 15, 2008

You’ll remember I blogged about my son, Robin last week in his bid to make the final shortlist for Seedcamp in London. Well, he’s made it!  Have a look at this!

I think Robin’s infectious enthusiasm must have got to the judging panel as despite not making the final list initially, the ‘D4H‘ team has now been allocated a place at Seedcamp.  Robin’s new business venture ‘D4H’ is the sole representative from Ireland and it joins a diverse set of teams from across the globe – including Austria, Poland, Finland, Romania, Ukraine, France, Germany, Slovenia, US, India and Sweden.

Robin set off for London last night brimming with enthusiasm for the week ahead.  There’ll be no stopping him now!

Now Hear This

September 14, 2008

While out doing my shopping the other day, I found myself walking behind a young mum who was happily pushing her child along in a buggy. Nothing unusual in this or so I thought until I spotted that the mother was wearing bilateral hearing aids. She had a skin-toned hearing aid mounted behind each ear and they looked like the sort of thing that my granny would have worn. The poor girl , I thought.  It’s bad enough having to cope with a disability such as hearing loss but surely she shouldn’t have to put up with these very uncool-looking devices just to be able to hear.  Why can’t hearing aids look sexy?

As I walked back to my car I couldn’t stop thinking about this injustice.  In this day and age of technology where every second young person is wearing an earphone attached to a mobile phone, iPod or whatever, it seems incongruous that hearing-impaired people should be expected to disguise their hearing loss. Since the ban was introduced to stop the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, a huge range of fancy ear pieces have appeared to facilitate drivers who want to talk and drive.  I fail to see why hearing aids can’t be made to look like the multitude of earphones now on the market.  I guess like everything else, it all comes down to money and the skin-toned version above, is probably the best the HSE is prepared to fund on a medical card.

I did a little research and came up with the same old design but at least I found it in some more interesting shades.

Have you ever seen anyone wearing a funky looking hearing aid?  I know I haven’t.  Instead of blending in a hearing aid with the skin, why not make a statement with them? Wheelchair users get to have fun with colours so why can’t hearing aid users have fun too?

Then I looked a little harder and I came up with these from a US manufacturer.

These ones are glitzy enough to resemble jewellery.  I’m sure they’re very pricey but they’re fun and this new generation of hearing aids can be used as wireless receivers for cell phones as well as computers, iPods and TVs. It’s great to find that for some people at least, hearing devices can become an item of self-expression. Some manufacturers have even renamed them PCAs or Personal Communication Assistants.

I’d be very interested to hear other people’s views on this issue. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks that the hearing aids supplied by our health service, are seriously uncool?

Swallow This

September 12, 2008

I had the dubious pleasure of donning a theatre gown again yesterday but thankfully, only briefly on this occasion.  Some weeks ago, I attended my GP with intermittent discomfort in the centre of my chest. The pain had gradually worsened over a period of days and as there is a strong history of hiatus hernia in the family and I was otherwise feeling well, I felt sure that a hernia must be to blame. Following examination, my doctor agreed that a hernia was a possible explanation for the symptoms but refused to prescribe treatment until first ruling out other potential causes. Despite my protests about not wanting any more medical intervention, he put me on the waiting list to have a gastroscopy performed at our local public hospital.

These days, GP surgeries are able to bypass the consultant system to fast-track patients for endoscopic investigation. In the past, a patient had to be referred to a consultant before a decision could be made to proceed with further investigation. Nowadays, family doctors have set guidelines to follow and if the patient fits the particular criteria, they are referred via a direct access scheme for endoscopic examination. This speeds up the investigation process and eliminates unnecessary specialist consultations. The endoscopy unit is consultant-led, it’s highly staffed so that it runs efficiently and the waiting list is the same for everyone regardless of health insurance or medical card status.

I only had to wait three weeks for the gastroscopy appointment and attended the hospital yesterday having fasted overnight as instructed. I’ve undergone this procedure before so I knew exactly what to expect.  There was no delay, I was assessed immediately by a nurse and asked to change into a theatre gown.  Following a short wait, I was escorted to the examination room to meet with the doctor and his assistant. I was given the option to have light sedation for the procedure and I didn’t hesitate in accepting. I’ve seen enough of hospital procedures to know I’d rather not see any more. I lay up on an examination trolley and following the insertion of a cannula into the back of my hand to administer the sedative, I was asked to lie over onto one side. A plastic mouth guard was placed between my teeth to protect them and stop me biting the endoscope. The next thing I knew was when I awoke in the recovery room feeling relaxed and sleepy following the sedation. An hour later, I was ready for home having received the diagnosis. I was informed that I have a significant peptic (gastric) ulcer in my stomach and shown the pretty pictures taken during the procedure. This news came as a surprise as I was expecting to hear I had a hernia but No, there was no evidence of a hernia seen.

The leading cause of a gastric ulcer is currently believed to be infection of the stomach by a bacteria called “Helicobacter pyloridus” (H. pylori). Another major cause of ulcers is the chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). I had two biopsies taken yesterday which will show if H. pylori is the cause of the problem and in the meantime, I’ve started on a six-week course of tablets to reduce acid production and aid healing of the ulcer – yet more pills to add to the daily pile!  If H. pylori infection is found, I will be commenced on two different antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria.  It’s quite possible that NSAIDs are to blame in my case as I’ve been on various types for years (though always in conjunction with a gastro-resistant medication), to control the joint pain I experience from my connective tissue disorder (EDS). Whatever the cause, I have to return in two months time to have a repeat gastroscopy performed to assess the situation.

I’m really in favour of this direct access scheme for out-patient care as it’s an equitable system which is efficiently run. I left the hospital yesterday feeling lucky to have received such good attention. The only difficult thing to swallow now is the fact that when I next return to see my GP, I have to admit that he was right and I was wrong.

That’s My Boy

September 9, 2008

There’s been a real air of anticipation around here for the last week or so.  My whirlwind son, Robin arrived home from Chicago and within an hour of touchdown, he had heard that his latest venture Decisions for Heroes (D4H) was short-listed for Seedcamp.  Life has been somewhat in limbo ever since.

Seedcamp is an intensive week-long event in London, targeted at young entrepreneurs.  Once a year, Seedcamp brings together a group of top young founders to spend a week with Europe’s leading technologists, company founders, venture capitalists, and marketing strategists. This diverse mentor network is on-hand to help the selected teams put together the foundations of a viable business.  The aim of the week is to condense the time it takes start-ups to make and develop critical relationships, and to establish an unrivalled foundation on which a business can be built.  At the end of the week, 5 teams are selected out of 20, to receive an investment of up to €50K per team. The winning teams are invited to stay in London for a further 3-month period to work on building their business idea and product further.  Decisions for Heroes is one of 40 new fledgling companies short-listed for the coveted places at Seedcamp.

Robin recently gave up a promising career with Reuters to work full-time on promoting his new business venture Decisions for Heroes (D4H). He’s designed a stunning collaborative rescue team management tool, to record and analyse rescue operations.  The aim is to help the emergency services save lives by making better decisions. Instead of archiving information as paperwork, D4H acts as a platform, generating real-time profiles of members, available resources, and activities.  Geo-referenced data from many sources can be analysed as statistics for entire organisations regions and countries. Robin is a volunteer cliff rescue climber and boat crew with the Irish Coast Guard.

The D4H team was in London last week to strut it’s stuff in front of a panel of 14 judges. Think Dragon’s Den and you’ll get the gist. It was definitely not for the faint-hearted.  Since then, Robin has been calmly waiting to hear if his company has been selected for Seedcamp while his mother has been agonising as the judging dragged on and on.  Even Grannymar had candles burning all week for D4H (thanks! GM). Today we finally heard that Decisions for Heroes is not in the final list of companies selected.  It was apparently, a very close call but it’s not to be.  Robin took this news onboard like a real hero. That’s my boy! I’m so proud of him for everything he’s achieved to date and I suspect that with his powers of innovation, we ain’t seen nothing yet!  Seedcamp have been very encouraging in their feedback to Robin. It’s been a very positive experience for him overall and now he’s ready to move Decisions for Heroes forward for the market for which it’s actually intended. Remember, it’s all about making “better decisions”.

Knowledge is Power

September 8, 2008

I wrote a post recently lamenting the lack of information available to the public on MRSA and suggested that a well-orchestrated campaign was needed to correct this deficit.  Well, now my wishes have come true with the launch of a new campaign group called  S.I.N. (Stop Infections Now). Would you like to consider becoming a SINNER?

Did you realise that members of the public get most of their knowledge about the measures needed to prevent MRSA from the media?  The information given to patients who have acquired MRSA in hospital can be insufficient or sometimes, even non-existent.  The result is that there are some thousands of patients being discharged from our acute hospitals every year with MRSA (in wounds, in bones or in their respiratory systems) and with very sketchy knowledge on how to prevent the spread of the infection to others.

Health Care Acquired Infections (HCAIs) such as MRSA and C. Diff, are a major problem in the Irish health system and many people have been affected.  These infections often result in prolonged stays in hospitals, sometimes with permanent disability or even death occurring.  The human and financial costs are enormous. Appeals to the Minister for Health, the HSE and hospital managements have proved ineffective in preventing HCAIs, so a campaign has been set up to approach the problem from a different angle i.e. people power.

The SIN Campaign has been established to do the following:

– provide information to the public (and to health care staff) about HCAIs, their causes and what is needed to prevent them.

– outline what can be done by a prospective patient before he/she goes into hospital to help prevent infection.

– what to do if an infection is acquired, the questions to ask, and the appropriate responses to demand.

– how to complain in a non-confrontational manner, and the options open if satisfaction is not achieved.  These options include legal action.

This information is contained in a Patient Information Kit which includes a leaflet, flyer and a CD.  Thus informed, it is hoped that people will simply refuse to accept a service which, while being excellent in some respects, is severely sub-standard as far as these infections are concerned. The SIN Campaign will also include research into the social and psychological effects of HCAIs from the point of view of patients and health care workers.

The campaign group is asking for help from individuals and from companies. This help can be in the form of:

– donations or sponsorship of any size to help with the information kits and the research,

– becoming a patron so your name can be used,

– helping with fund raising or introductions to others who can help.

S.I.N. is the brainchild of Dr.Teresa Graham (formerly of MRSA and Families Network) and the Campaign and Patient Information Kit will be officially launched next Wednesday, 10th September in Dublin.  I’ve already become a SINNER by registering my personal details with the campaign group and I’m very much looking forward to attending the public launch and meeting the people behind this worthy campaign.

If you’d like any further information on this campaign, you can contact:

Dr. Teresa Graham at 051 386651 or