Making History

October 30, 2009

Last June, I was admitted to a specialist unit of an NHS hospital for surgery on my head. I was no stranger to the place having had a major operation there two years previously. Revision surgery was now required as further complications had developed. On this occasion, I was under the care of  a surgeon who specializes in image-guided endoscopic surgery. I was about to undergo an operation which required high precision and carried a significant risk of accidental damage to critical organs. I was also about to make medical history.

I was admitted to the hospital the day before the operation, to be assessed for the complex surgery which lay ahead. My first port of call was to a photographic studio in the basement of the hospital, to have my head photographed from every angle. This was because of my stunning good looks to record the cosmetic defect in my facial profile, due to previous surgery. Next, it was off to the nuclear medicine department to have my head scanned under the supervision of the surgeon. These scans were subsequently used for navigational purposes throughout the technically demanding surgery.

are you totally lost

When all the preparations were complete, it was time for a consultation with the surgeon and his team. It was at this stage I learnt that plans were afoot to record my operation for teaching purposes. My history of multiple sinus surgeries* provided the surgical team with an unusual challenge and the operation now planned, had the potential to become a valuable training resource. I had absolutely no hesitation in granting them permission to make me a ‘film star’ for a day. Anything that helps to lessen the risks associated with complex surgery and ultimately, increases patient safety, is to be encouraged.

*For those with an interest in Otorhinolaryngology…

My ENT surgical history includes : A bilateral antrostomy; a Caldwell Luc procedure; multiple endoscopic nasal surgeries; 5 external frontoethmoidectomies; a Riedel’s procedure and a modified endoscopic Lothrop procedure (Draf 111).

My ENT medical history includes recurrent sinus infections, chronic frontal sinus disease, MRSA infection, orbital cellulitis and osteomyelitis.

I also have an inherited connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) which has added to the complications over the years.

Well, as you can see, I’ve lived to tell the tale. While the signs are encouraging, it’s still too early to know if the latest operation will prove successful in the long run. After what seems like a lifetime of surgery, I feel I’ve earned a place in medical history.

Any guesses what label I’ll be given? 🙄

Original of the Species

October 22, 2009

I recently wrote about a crisis point when I came close to losing hope of winning the battle against a serious infection. I’d been re-admitted to hospital having developed complications at home following specialised surgery in the UK. It was a tough time but I never expected the outcome that followed…

Osteomyelitis, an infection of bone, was raging inside my skull and was failing to respond to a combination of IV antibiotics. I was considered at high risk of developing cavernous sinus thrombosis, meningitis, intra-cranial infection or septicaemia, all potentially fatal conditions. My eyesight was also under serious threat. When my condition deteriorated further, it was decided that I should be taken to the operating theatre to have multiple bone biopsies taken for analysis. On waking from the anaesthetic, I was informed that osteomyelitis had been confirmed and that a new regime of IV antibiotics would be commenced. Within hours of starting the new treatment, I’d turned the corner and was out of danger.

rare specimen

When the surgical team arrived at my bedside the following morning, they were beaming from ear to ear. The senior registrar turned to me and said, “You do realise that you’re famous, don’t you”? I looked at him in puzzlement. He told me that when my head was examined in theatre, it had caused enormous excitement. The pioneering surgery carried out in the UK, had proved fascinating to the Irish surgeons. The internal anatomy of my skull has been so radically altered, I’ve become an original of the species. It seems I’m now regarded as a rare medical specimen. Thankfully, an alive one!

Next week, I’ll tell you about how I became a ‘film star’ for a day.

Saving Your Bacon

October 16, 2009

At long last, the swine flu vaccine has arrived in Ireland. The vaccine and it’s administration, are free of charge for everyone. The distribution of the vaccine to GP surgeries begins today and the vaccination programme will start on November 2nd. It’s not a minute too soon. Rates of infection with H1N1 virus have been increasing week by week. So far, four people have died from the virus in Ireland, of which three had an underlying health condition. The arrival of the new vaccine brings a whole new meaning to saving one’s bacon!

swine flu vaccination

At-risk people will be vaccinated first. Pregnant women, patients with underlying health problems, people who live with someone with a compromised immune system and healthcare workers, will be the first to be offered the vaccine. People aged 65 and over seem to have some immunity to swine flu so they are not in the most at-risk group and will be vaccinated at a later stage.

Most people will need only one dose of the vaccine although children will be given two. Test results of the swine flu vaccine have indicated that children under 10 are likely to need two shots to be fully protected.

The HSE has a 24 hr Flu Information Line Freephone 1800 94 11 00 for up to date recorded information on swine flu or you can link to

The H1N1 virus is highly contagious and spreads quickly from person to person through tiny droplets in coughs and sneezes.

Here’s something nicer to pass around instead…

A Smile

Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu.

When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too.

I walked around the corner and someone saw me grin.

When he smiled, I realised, I had passed it on to him.

I thought about my smile and then realised it’s worth.

A single smile like mine could travel round the earth.

So if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected

Start an epidemic and get the world infected!

A Bitter Pill

October 15, 2009

I don’t know about you but I’m finding the expenses revelations very hard to swallow. At a time when the country is in financial crisis, the idea that somebody who’s on more money than the Taoiseach, should get a bonus is highly questionable but it’s all the more outrageous when you consider the current state of the health service. Add to this, the revelations about expenses accrued by Mary Harney as Minister for Health and it becomes a bitter pill to swallow…

government jet

The Sunday Tribune has revealed that Mary Harney ran up the highest departmental bill in terms of ministerial costs and expenses. Granted our Minister for Health is a busy woman but you have to question why it was necessary for her to travel by the ‘€7,000-an-hour’ Government jet for her business trips abroad.

“Health Minister Mary Harney and her husband Brian Geoghegan ran up a bill of nearly €65,000 on hotels, limousine hire and accommodation in the space of just three years. That figure does not include the massive bill for the Government jet, which Harney used on almost every occasion she travelled abroad and which cost the taxpayer more than €735,000.” The Sunday Tribune, October 2009

Next, we are told that the HSE board has awarded it’s CEO Prof Brendan Drumm, a bonus payment of €70,000, based on his performance in 2007. This bonus is being awarded at a time when the HSE is making plans to reduce spending on the health service by up to €1.2 billion!

give your bonus back

Here’s what Dr James Reilly, opposition Health spokesperson, had to say on the subject…

Morning Ireland – RTE News

My thanks to The Sunday Tribune, to Dr James Reilly and RTE radio, for exposing this outrageous carry on.

Be Aware, Be Active

October 13, 2009

Did you know that regular physical exercise is important for your breast health? Inactivity is estimated to cause 10-16 percent of breast cancers. Engaging in moderate exercise for at least 30-60 minutes every day can help your future breast health.

breast health day

Breast Health Day on 15 October 2009 aims to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity on breast health and to encourage women to choose a more active lifestyle.

Europa Donna Ireland (EDI, the Irish Breast Cancer Campaign, is urging women throughout Ireland to do something active to mark the day. Events are taking place around the country and you are invited to come along and join in the fun.

Please see the EDI website for more details.  

This is an awareness-raising, not a fund-raising day!

Information source and graphic: Europa Donna Ireland and JBBC blog.

Where There’s Hope…

October 9, 2009

I’ve been in hibernation. I was battle weary after the long illness last summer and the medication which was prescribed to dampen down the neuropathic pain in my head, had the side-effect of dampening me down as well. For the past month, I’ve been sleeping like a baby at night and feeling drowsy by day. The good news is that the severe headaches have now gone and I’m beginning to feel energised again. There’s life in this old dog yet!


I’d like to thank those blogging friends who continued to send words of encouragement even after I’d disappeared off the radar. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt out of all of this, it’s never to give up hope.

The enforced rest has enabled me to rediscover the joy of reading books. Thanks to Lily’s recent review, I’m busily re-reading an exceptional book written by Lia Mills, an award winning novelist. Lia was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the mouth in 2006. She had to undergo radical surgery and aggressive radiotherapy in order to survive. Her book ‘in your face‘ is an account of that experience.

Lia talks about hope in a way that really resonates with me. She says “Hope is something you can’t always feel but I think you can lead yourself towards it even when you don’t feel it, by taking everything as it comes, minute by minute, and by appreciating small changes as they happen”.

While undergoing treatment in hospital last summer, my condition suddenly took an unexpected turn for the worse. The flurry of activity around my bed and the look of concern on the medics’ faces, was enough to confirm my worst fears. The infection was winning the battle and I sensed that my life was in real danger. Despair began to set in. The hospital chaplain happened to visit when I was at my lowest ebb and the poor guy got the full brunt of my despair. The infection was visibly worsening around my eyes so he went off in search of a fan to see if it would help to ease the discomfort. That fan was to become my beacon of hope throughout the difficult night that followed. It really was a breath of fresh air and bit by bit, I came to realise that I had the strength to survive. Hope had been restored.

Where there’s hope, there’s life. Check this out!

I highly recommend Lia’s book to anyone who wants to understand illness and recovery, fear and hope and love.

in your face’ is published by Penguin, Ireland (€19.99).