Would you put your heads above the parapet?

Jan 21st, 2009 | By | Category: Ministry

The GP glared at me across the dimly lit room, “I want to make it clear that I am calling an ambulance purely for social reasons and not for clinical ones.  He has a chest infection, he does not need a hospital bed”.

I nodded meekly.

Were the conversation to happen now, I would employ some of the Dublin vernacular I have learned in the past ten years, and convey to the doctor my sentiments that I didn’t really care what he thought; that he was standing there as a public servant; and that he might consider what it meant to be a public servant, just occasionally.  But I was thirty-two years old, grew up believing that doctors stood only slightly lower than God, (if not on the same level), and stood and accepted whatever was said.

Bob lay in bed looking bewildered; his breath came in short, sharp rasps.  He was eighty-eight years old, a widower with no family.  He lived in a three roomed cottage.  The room was so dimly lit because he worried about having enough money to pay the bills; he had a single, bare 15 watt bulb in the socket that hung from an old and frayed black flex.

The paramedics could have taught the GP about bedside manner.  They put Bob in a chair and gently carried him to the ambulance outside; Bob’s front door opened directly onto the country road.

Bob died from pneumonia the following afternoon. “What did he die from?” asked a neighbour that evening.

“Social reasons according to the GP”, I said.

Had we been more assertive at an earlier date; had we demanded that something be done before he had become so weak; he might not have ended his days gasping for breath at home and then frightened in a country hospital.  A few weeks previously, the local social services office had reduced his home help hours from three hours to two hours a week: the home help could only come for twenty minutes a day instead of half an hour.

Glimpsing a few moments of a BBC documentary last night, cutbacks and mismanagement of resources seem to have left countless people stranded and voiceless; a similar documentary here would undoubtedly draw similar conclusions.

When the statutory agencies have failed, who is there left to speak?

Politicians? Journalists? Community workers?  Certainly.

But there’s one group with a mandate for justice and mercy who seem very quiet; one group who could tell stories of those like Bob, again and again and again.  One group, certain of jobs and incomes, who might use that very invulnerability as a base to say uncomfortable and disturbing and troublesome things in defence of the vulnerable.

Doing sums from the parish accounts, I worked out that without another single cent coming in, there would be enough to pay me for two years; I cannot be sacked, I cannot be made redundant.  In some situations, there is enough to keep people in post for years to come; should that security not be a base to speak for the poor?

Colleagues, which Bible are you reading that keeps you so quiet?

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  1. Ah there should be more like you! Actually, the Church and their charities here are a Godsend (literally) to the poor and homeless. Our government agencies can’t cope and rely heavily on organisations such as St Vincent De Paul and the Salvation Army to pick up the slack. Oh, and I’m very cynical about doctors, sadly science and empathy rarely mix. I’m still bemused though by the fact that we left our local parish once the kids completed school and nobod enquired about our welfare . . we could have been on the streets and the local priest barely knew our name.

  2. I’m sure that despondency is to blame here. No matter how hard you shout, the primary care services simply aren’t there for the most vulnerable in our society.

    The GP’s, social workers and public health nurses are snowed under with requests for home help but the mismanagement of resources by our government, has ensured that only the very sickest get help and like Bob, by then it’s often too late.

    I despair at what Harney’s doing to our health service. Maybe the church should consider speaking out about this on behalf of the poor?

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