After I woke in agony one morning, my life changed immeasurably
I was awoken by pain. My hands felt like blocks of ice with severe pain in my fingers
Dermot Ahern, former TD and Minister for Justice, in Blackrock, Co Louth. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill
In all my working life,whether as a solicitor, a TD or a minister, I cannot recall taking a day off work because of illness. My job never kept me awake at night. I was lucky in that sense, normally needing to sleep only six hours a night.
Outside of my working life, I was always active. I played competitive soccer until I was 33 and my other hobbies were windsurfing, walking and swimming when I got the chance.
However, my health changed, literally overnight, about mid-August 2009. One morning , I was awoken by pain. My hands felt like blocks of ice with severe pain in my fingers. Over the next few months, the pain spread to my left leg and back.
I went to my GP and was referred to a rheumatologist.
Apart from the localised pain, I seemed to have no enthusiasm or energy. I constantly felt completely drained. I later learned that this was one of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
I attended a number of consultants, and got varying diagnoses. I was tested for different diseases. Finally, Dr Conor Mc Carthy, a consultant rheumatologist in the Mater hospital , diagnosed me with sero-negative rheumatoid arthritis.
He said that this type of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was difficult to medicate. He put me on varying dosages of the steroid Deltacortoril. I had previously been on weaker medication, which didn’t have much effect.
The steroid gave some relief from the pain, but he felt I was on this orally for too long so he recommended steroid injections.
It took three attempts, with increased dosages each time, for the steroid injections to have an effect.
During this time , I began to notice a blurring in my left eye.
I went to my local GP. He was quite shocked and told me that I had a serious condition in my eye and recommended that I see an ophthalmologist without delay. He felt that the strong immune suppressant medication I was on, because of rheumatoid arthritis, was causing my eye problem.
The next morning, I saw Prof Michael O’Keeffe in the Mater and he confirmed that I had herpes on the surface of my eye. After seven hours of tests, he said that I was very lucky not to have lost the sight in the eye.
Dr McCarthy had been suggesting that I go on to stronger immune-suppressant medication, but in consultation with Prof O’Keeffe, I felt that this should not happen until I got rid of the herpes from my entire system. I was put on a course of tablets for three months to eliminate the herpes.