Floating Away

November 30, 2009

There are few things in life which really bring out the ‘wow’ factor but floating along thousands of feet up in the sky in a hot air balloon, is one such experience. Hot air ballooning is extremely safe and provided that you are in reasonably good health, it is an activity suitable for all ages. It’s an experience of a lifetime that should not be missed.

I went on my first ever balloon flight last September and it was really magical. Peaceful yet exhilarating, it was like taking a magic carpet ride, floating silently over the countryside, as the people, livestock and the wildlife below went about their everyday lives. One of the great joys of ballooning is it’s tranquillity, as you float with the breeze, feeling absolutely no sensation of movement. The incredible feeling of time suspended as the world drifts quietly below, is one you’ll never forget.

We floated over rivers






and landed safely to enjoy a champagne toast.

champagne toast


As I float away under general anaesthetic tomorrow, I shall pretend I’m on another magic carpet ride. Fingers crossed for a smooth landing please!

Less Can Be More

November 27, 2009

I attended the sixth and final debate of the Pfizer Health Debates Series in association with the Irish Times. The series, which included six debates across Ireland in 2009, offered attendees an opportunity to hear important health issues being discussed in an open forum by leading commentators.The debates also provided an opportunity for audience engagement and open discussion.

The motion for the final debate was “This house believes that reduced health spending should not lead to poorer healthcare“. It transpired that the wording of the motion was somewhat misleading as both sides seemed to be in agreement that it isn’t about spending more money; it isn’t about cutbacks; it’s about spending more wisely. The motion was carried by a large majority.

These public debates have provided an opportunity for those attending to articulate perspectives and concerns through a question and answer session following each debate. They have been successful in raising awareness of the many wrongs in the Irish health system while also acknowledging the many good parts. At a time when the health service is facing cutbacks of over €1 billion, the positive message to take away from this debate is that money is not the sole factor in health. Better organisation will lead to better outcomes. Increased spending on healthcare does not necessarily lead to better results. Less can be more.

Protest On Here

November 24, 2009

More than 16,000 patients had procedures and appointments cancelled today as a result of a public services day of action in protest at proposed cuts in next month’s budget. A quarter of a million public sector workers took part in the 24-hour stoppage which resulted in closing schools, delaying social welfare payments and disrupting hospital services. Our economy is broke and with just weeks to go to a tough budget, a nationwide strike is the last thing this country needs.

Today’s day of action will have done nothing constructive and will only add to the problems. Those that work in public services are lucky to have secure jobs and pensions. The real casualties of the economic downturn are the many thousands who have lost their jobs in the private sector. Public sector workers are now threatening to stage a second nationwide strike on December 3.

After today’s disruption of the health service, I’ve lost any sympathy for public sector workers. In the midst of a serious swine flu pandemic, it’s outrageous that vaccination clinics were cancelled today. I find it totally unacceptable that the public sector unions have dragged the most vulnerable in society into a dispute with government over their terms and conditions. As my own health has been put at risk by this dispute, I have good reason to protest.

Coffee anyone?

November 20, 2009

Drinking a cup of real coffee is one of life’s small pleasures. Caffeine is the world’s most widely used stimulant drug and coffee is the form in which millions of people prefer to take it. It improves short-term memory, raises alertness and it tastes delicious. I love coffee. In truth, I crave the smell, the taste and the ritual of brewing it. I’m not a coffee snob but I know what I like. I’d be lost without my morning cuppa.

coffee fix

Caffeine is absorbed and distributed throughout the body very quickly. After absorption, it passes into the brain where it acts as a central nervous system stimulant. As it has diuretic properties, caffeine is not accumulated or stored in the body, but is excreted in the urine some hours after it has been consumed.

Contrary to popular belief, caffeine does not not reduce the effects of alcohol, so a cup of coffee will not “sober up” someone who is drunk. Caffeine may be used as a treatment for migraine and will, for short time spans, relieve fatigue or drowsiness.

However, excessive caffeine intake can lead to a fast heart rate, increased urination, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, depression, tremors and difficulty sleeping.

Abrupt withdrawal of caffeine may cause headaches, drowsiness, irritability, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. Reduce caffeine intake gradually to prevent any symptoms of withdrawal.

The body has no nutritional requirement for caffeine. However, a moderate tea or coffee intake is not likely to have a negative effect on health, as long as the person lives an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

While three 8oz cups of coffee per day would be considered a moderate intake of caffeine, ten 8oz cups per day would be considered excessive.

Information source: Irish Times HEALTHplus

These days, I restrict my intake of coffee to 2-3 mugs per day. When I temporarily lost my sense of smell and taste last summer, I gave up drinking coffee as it held no pleasure. Interestingly, I found this loss much more difficult to accept than the loss of being able to enjoy food. I know, I’m hooked! It was like manna from heaven to discover I could smell and taste coffee again. Life just ain’t the same without coffee!

Your health is…

November 18, 2009

I should have known better. Last week, I bragged about how many anaesthetics I’ve had. Yesterday, I got told I need another one.

I was reviewed at the hospital as I’ve been in trouble with headaches again. My sense of smell and taste has also gradually changed. On endoscopic examination of my head, the surgeon identified a new area of inflamed bone (osteitis) just above the bridge of my nose. Osteitis can be a precursor of osteomyelitis so prompt action is required to prevent further deterioration of the bone. I’ve been booked in for day surgery under general anaesthetic.

I should be having my surgery next Tuesday but unfortunately that’s the day when a national strike is planned. The protest will see most health, education, civil service and local authority services withdrawn for 24 hours. Hospital appointments and non-emergency surgery will be cancelled that day and many patients will suffer the consequences. It seems that wealth has become more important than health.

Blips of the Heart

November 12, 2009

If I were to tell you the number of general anaesthetics I’ve had over the years, I’d be afraid you might pass out. In the last 5 years alone, I reckon I’ve had about 20 hours of surgery under general anaesthetic. People often ask me how I remain in such good form. This could have something to do with being full of gas! 🙄

I’ve come face to face with many anaesthetists and I can honestly say that I’ve never met one that I didn’t trust with my life.

Special thanks to the comedy duo the Amateur Transplants.

Remembering Donald

November 11, 2009

Today is Remembrance Day. It is a special day set aside to remember all those who sacrificed their lives in action. This year, I’d like to pay special tribute to my uncle Donald, a Royal Air Force pilot, who died in action in Brittany in June, 1944.  I’d always been aware that Donald was buried in a war cemetery in France but until about six months ago, I never knew the full story surrounding his death.

missing in action

Extract from the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post dated Wednesday, July 5, 1944.

Last May, my brother was researching family history when he came across a genealogy forum searching for information on our late uncle, Donald Moffat-Wilson. We were astounded to learn that a group of French veterans, Association Bretonne du Souvenir Aérien 1939-1945*, were looking for relatives of Donald, in order to arrange a ceremony to pay tribute to him. They held the missing pieces of Donald’s story.

Donald + spitfire

Donald with his Spitfire Mark IX.

RAF Pilot Officer, Donald Moffat-Wilson, died aged 21 in an air operation over Brittany. It was six days after the Normandy invasion. The squadron had taken off in Spitfire aircraft from Cornwall, in England. The formation flew over the English Channel in search of the enemy when they observed a long German column on the move through Brittany. The column was made up of horse-drawn wagons and a large number of well-armed soldiers. The leader of the squadron gave the order to attack and the planes swooped down on the Germans. Unfortunately, Donald did not see the electric power line that lay across his path.The tail of his aeroplane caught on the electric wires and the plane became destabilized. It clipped the roof of a house, dived headlong into a little field before finally coming to rest by smashing into trees. The plane burst into flames and Donald died in the blaze in his aircraft. The Germans rushed to the spot and forbade the population to extinguish the fire.

Donald’s remains were interred on the farm by the local villagers. The priest of  the little town, Maroué organised a funeral ceremony with the participation of the locals.  The villagers placed flowers on Donald’s grave but each day the Germans came and took them away. Donald’s body lay buried there for about one year before being removed to the military cemetery in Bayeux.

In June, my brothers and cousins (all nieces and nephews of Donald) travelled to Brittany at the invitation of the association of war veterans, to meet with the Lord Mayor of Maroué. Exactly 65 years to the day after Donald’s death, his relatives gathered with villagers in the town square, to unveil a plaque to his memory. The young farm labourer who’d witnessed Donald’s plane crash all those years ago, was present at the ceremony. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as I was in hospital in the UK at the time,  recovering from surgery. By all accounts, it was a highly moving occasion.

My mother is the last surviving sibling of Donald but sadly, she is no longer well enough to appreciate this amazing tribute to her brother. Her family suffered great loss during WW2. At 11am today, I shall observe 2 minutes of silence in memory of Donald and all those who gave their lives for our precious freedom.

* With grateful thanks to the Association Bretonne du Souvenir Aérien 1939-1945.

One dose or two?

November 5, 2009

I received my swine flu vaccination yesterday as I belong to the category of people considered more ‘at-risk’ from the virus. The vaccine was administered by the practice nurse at our local surgery and it caused minimum discomfort. However, it seems that the mixed messages emanating from the vaccination campaign, are causing major headaches.

On arrival at the surgery, the reception staff were clearly harassed from trying to deal with multiple enquiries about the vaccine. I was asked to fill out a consent form which requested my name, age, at-risk status and a PPSN (Personal Public Service Number). The information supplied with the form clearly stated that two doses of the vaccine would be required, at least three weeks apart. I was surprised to read of this as I had understood from the vaccination campaign, that one dose was sufficient for adults.

vaccinationWhile having the injection, I asked the nurse to clarify the situation and she confirmed that a second dose would be required. She asked me to make a booking for it at the reception desk on the way out. When I consulted the receptionists, the story changed again. I was told that one dose may be sufficient for adults but that as studies are still under way to confirm this, I should check back with the surgery in a few weeks time. Having waited the required 15 minutes to ensure that no adverse reaction occurred to the vaccine, I left the surgery feeling decidely sorry for the staff caught up in this evolving campaign.

On checking out the HSE’s website (Frequently asked questions for Healthcare Professionals – last updated 28th October 2009), it read…

“Current recommendation is two doses of pandemic vaccine are required at least three weeks apart. Preliminary studies indicate that one dose might be enough to give full protection for those aged 13 and over but this has not yet been confirmed”.

I recommend that people consult the HSE website regularly for the latest updates on the vaccination programme rather than bombarding the busy GP surgeries with phonecalls.

For information, visit http://www.swineflu.ie or Freephone 1800 94 11 00

Today, I’ve experienced some of the common side effects of the vaccine and they’ve served as a welcome reminder of the need to be protected from the swine flu. Any adverse reactions to the vaccine should be reported to the Irish Medicines Board online.