Christmas spirit has never been better

Tue, Dec 18, 2012, 00:00

With all the shopping, cooking and entertaining, Christmas can seem challenging but spare a thought for the thousands of patients up and down the country who are either residing in hospital over the festive season or preparing to go home after a long period away from their families.

Both situations are emotionally fraught in their own right and we caught up with two families for whom Christmas means a lot more than just receiving the perfect gift from Santa.

Seán Regan suffered a spinal spasm in September of this year and lost the use of his legs. Since the day he was admitted to hospital, the Mayo man (who lives in Dublin) has been working hard to try to regain some of the feeling in his legs and ultimately to learn to walk again.

He is not due for discharge until January but will be allowed home for a few days over Christmas and is determined to make the most of his “time out”.

“My wife Jean and I went on holiday to Portugal at the beginning of September and I began to feel something was wrong with my legs,” says the retired salesman. “We had a lovely time abroad but just 10 days after we returned, I had what is called a spinal spasm and was taken into the Hermitage Hospital on September 18th.

“I was diagnosed with some sort of a stroke, but the doctors couldn’t pinpoint what happened – all we know is that I lost the power to my legs on that day.”

After spending three weeks in the Hermitage, the 69 year old was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital where a team of occupational therapists and physiotherapists are working with him to help restore movement.

“I am very positive and have been determined right from the start that I will walk out of here,” he says. “I do a lot of physical therapy every day and I feel like I am improving all the time, but I’m not quite there yet.”

Getting home

“Everyone has been great to visit me, but I can’t wait to go home for Christmas. We will have the traditional turkey dinner, my children, Aisling and John, will be around as will Jean’s mother from Kerry and lots of other family members and friends will visit.

“It’s normally my job to decorate the house as I love doing it but this year things will obviously be a little different. But I’m so glad I had the foresight to leave the decorations on the tree when I put it back in the loft because John will take it down for me when I get home and it will be ready to go.

“They will also move a bed into the sitting room because I won’t be able to go upstairs so I can be a tenant in the front room for a few days.

“I think I will be allowed home for between six and eight days in total and I really can’t wait.”

Sinéad Duffy is Seán’s discharge liaison occupational therapist and it is her job to ensure the transition goes smoothly and everyone can cope.

“Every patient, their circumstances and their ability to cope with and adjust to an acquired disability, is different,” she says. “Throughout our input with patients, we have to constantly report back to the inter-disciplinary team around how the patient and indeed their family are doing overall and any indicators which we observe, particularly on a home visit.”

Christmas in hospital

“Home is a special place for people, no more so than at Christmas time. I see this every time I take someone home for the first time since their injury. While the role is very busy, it is also privileged, with people allowing you into their homes and letting you see the individual things that make them a person, not a patient.”

Liam Mac an tSaoi will not be fortunate enough to spend Christmas at home this year. In fact, the little Galway boy has never even seen his home and this will be the third year in a row which he, his parents, Louise and Seán, and his older brothers, Fiachna (22) and Cormac (20), will be celebrating the season at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

Born prematurely in 2010, the two year old has spent his short life undergoing treatment, surgery and round-the-clock care. But despite the endless medical intervention, his mother, Louise, says her youngest son is relentlessly cheerful.

“Liam was born prematurely at 24 weeks with a lot of complications,” recalls Louise. “When he was five weeks old, he got an infection which resulted in him losing access to the veins in his left leg which eventually meant it had to be amputated.

“He had several bouts of pneumonia, blood transfusions and operations in his first year and, to date, he has had 15 major surgical procedures – eight of which, we were told, he was unlikely to survive and although it seems awful now, we had to arrange a coffin for him, just in case.”

Communicating

“But he amazed doctors every time and has managed to pull through everything that was thrown at him. We were originally told that he may be brain damaged but although he is very behind in his development, there seems to be quite a bit of comprehension and understanding there.

“He had a prosthetic leg fitted a few months back and almost as soon as he got that he was able to sit up. He recognises all of us and seems genuinely delighted to see us, particularly his big brothers.

“Right now, he has the developmental age of a one year old but we hope he will keep on improving. Because he has a tracheostomy, we have never heard him speak and only hear the occasional little squeak. But we have been learning Lámh signs and he seems very alert and communicates with us in his own way.”

Although the family is desperate to bring their little boy home, they fully understand that he is not ready for life outside the hospital ward, particularly as he was only moved from ICU into the Transitional Care Unit a few months ago. But they will do everything they can to make his Christmas in hospital as festive and special as possible.

“This will be the third year that Liam has spent Christmas in Crumlin and although it is very hard to be away from home at this time, every effort is made to try to make things special for the children in the hospital,” says Louise.

“The Lord Mayor of Dublin comes to visit on Christmas Day, the President will be coming in to the TCU in the lead-up to the day as will some celebrities and each year, we put up a little tree beside Liam’s bed with baubles and tinsel and his letter to Santa.”

Christmas hopes

“Myself and Seán and the boys will have Christmas dinner in the canteen and although we won’t be able to eat it with Liam, at least we will all be in the same building. Our little boy has been through so much in the past two years but he is such a fighter and I’m hoping that next year will see a big improvement in him and we can finally bring him home for Christmas 2013.”

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