28 June 2009

It’s a Protest

And it was my first. Yes, it’s true, I have never taken part in a public protest, until yesterday.

Hard to believe, considering I grew up in what I can safely term a “militant” country, and spent my teenage years in a post-1968 Paris. My parents and I moved back to Paris the Christmas following what has become known in France as “les Evénements de mai soizante-huit” (can be translated as “the Events of May 68”, as if no other “Events” happened around the world that year!... Typical French arrogance!). Throughout my secondary schooling in the 1970’s it was more than common place for pupils to join university students in a “strike” and march through the capital... by that time, most of the street cobble stones of the city, that has not been removed during May 68 to be thrown against the police, had been tarred over very thickly. Still I did not join in. I can’t say I always stayed safely in the classroom or the school library to study; I did my fair share of chatting away for hours in the school yard and enjoying the impromptu free time. I think that I do not like being roped into a conventional way of thinking, I do not appreciate my thinking being done for me, ideas imposed on my little brain. I have never joined a political party because I see more what any party could try to impose on me rather than what I could bring to it.

If you ask me to send a letter or an email, I will do so "my way", with my wording. But no protesting or marching ever! No militancy for me. No following the herd.

A few weeks ago, I did think of taking part in a march, the silent one, in support and memory of the ten’s of thousands of children who were abused in Irish Institutions. But I did not have enough personal conviction to publicly give such a reason to cancel a work meeting – had it been at a weekend, or an evening, I would have been there.

Yesterday was a Saturday. And yesterday, two simultaneous protests took place in Dublin, against the budget cuts to Our Lady’s Children Hospital in Crumlin that have resulted in ward and theatre closures. Enough is enough, and though I do not think my presence has made much difference, I was one extra person there, and everyone that afternoon added up to a nice little noisy crowd.

Several things struck me:

As I had previously seen on TV of similar protests, they were parents and children of course. But they were also older people, grandparents, showing that whole families are affected and concerned by this issue.

All were very well mannered. Yet the underlying level of anger was palpable. Some held posters made by the organisers, some had made their own. But the messages and the mood told the same story: this is an intolerable situation. What are € 9.6m when our bankers are being rescued to the tune of Billions? Where is the reassurance that no child will suffer at the hands of the state – a reassurance voiced again and again only a few weeks ago, following the Ryan Report?

The level of support from the passing cars was incredible. I was there for well over an hour, and I think that almost every driver that passed beeped his or her car horn. Even the ambulance drivers turned on there sirens for a couple of seconds as they went slowly by. I interpret this as a total disgust from the “general” public toward the way our current government is handling this issue.

Of course, they were the odd posters from what I would call more extreme political parties, and at least one trade union. But over all the people who were there seemed to be either from official parents groupings mainly concerned with the welfare of their children’s hospital, or simply (and mainly) parents, and grandparents, worried for the very lives of their children.

And the whole situation has reinforced a thought I have had ever since I first heard of the ward closures: “Thank God Cathal had the surgery last March, before budget cuts starting biting. Otherwise...” It does not bear thinking, and my heart goes to those children who are waiting for surgery, and their families.

It was an interesting experience, and another “first” I can put down to Cathal’s influence on me. This child is a major cause of challenge for me, and changes in me. I am so grateful for him being the way he is!

And to top it all off, a teddy with my personalised message is waiting to greet our TD’s and Senators at the gates of the Dial. If only one of them reads it, it is worth it.

And I am not militant? Who said?

25 June 2009

We are family!

En famille.

So we were all near Paris last weekend, that is Cathal, his Mammy, the Dad, his uncle, and myself. A big family do with LOTS of people. The first time in years that every member of my dad’s family (aka: Super-Grand-dad) was under the same roof. We realised afterwards that they were in fact 5 generations together, as one on my dad’s aunt was there too!

Donc nous étions près de Paris le week-end dernier, c’est-à-dire Cathal, sa Maman, le Papa, son oncle, et moi-même. Une grande réunion de famille avec BEAUCOUP de monde. La première fois depuis plusieurs années que tous les membres de la famille de mon père (c’est-à-dire Super-Grand-Père) était réunis sous le même toit. Nous avons réalisé après qu’il y avait 5 générations ensemble, puisqu’une des tantes de mon père était aussi là !

It was also the first time Cathal could travel and meet with his frenchie fan-base. And what a welcome they gave him! In the few days leading up to this weekend I was both excited and apprehensive. I guess that deep down I was been sort of worried about the level of acceptance into the family of a “different” person. You see, as a family, Cathal is our first experience of Special Needs, so it’s unexplored territory.

C’était aussi la première fois que Cathal pouvait voyager et rencontrer ses fans français. Et quel accueil ils lui ont réservé ! Pendant les jours qui ont précédé ce week-end j’étais à la fois excitée et anxieuse. J’imagine qu’au fond de moi, je m’inquiétais du niveau d’acceptation dans la famille d’une personne « différente ». En effet, en tant que famille, Cathal est notre première expérience d’un handicape, donc terrain inconnu.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone welcomed him like any other new member of the tribe, like any of the three other babies who were there on the night. They also demonstrated a generosity towards him that moved me deeply. The fear of the unknown often poisons a positive view of life, isn’t it? And I am learning that fear of rejection, because of a “difference”, is the worst of all.

Je n’avais pas besoin de m’inquiéter. Tout le monde l’a accueilli comme tout autre membre de la tribu, comme les trois autres bébés qui étaient présents ce soir-là. Ils ont aussi fait preuve d’une générosité envers lui qui m’a beaucoup touchée. La peur de l’inconnu empoisonne souvent une conception positive de la vie, n’est-ce pas ? Et je réalise que la peur du rejet, pour cause de « différence », est la pire de tout.

This welcome and acceptance shouldn’t have surprised me, their support throughout his surgery adventure was well demonstrated via emails exchanges. Yet it was nice to witness it face to face, or “live” as someone put it.

Cet accueil et acceptation n’auraient pas du me surprendre, leur soutient pendant toute son aventure chirurgicale avait été démontrée par échange d’email . Mais c’est bien d’en être témoin face-à-face, ou « live » comme a dit quelqu’un.

This weekend was also the opportunity for Cathal to catch up with his Mammy’s only first cousins who are now aged 9 ½, 6 ½ and 2 (last Monday!). They had not seen him since he was a tiny baby, awaiting his first surgery in Crumlin Hospital last year.

Ce week-end était aussi l’occasion pour Cathal de retrouver les seuls cousins germains de sa Maman, qui ont maintenant 9 ans et demi, 6 ans et demi, et 2 ans (lundi dernier !). Ils ne l’avaient pas vu depuis qu’il était tout petit et en attente de sa première opération à l’hôpital l’an dernier.

Here are some photos – I had to be selective, so many have been forwarded to me!
Voici quelques photos – il m’a fallut faire une sélection, j’en reçu tellement!

With the Mammy’s cousin, Brieuc
Avec le cousin de la Maman, Brieuc

With the Mammy’s other cousin, Guilherme

Avec l’autre cousin de la Maman, Guilherme

And with the youngest of the Mammy’s cousin, Gaétan, who tried very hard to comfort Cathal during the BBQ the day after the night before, when things were not going Cathal’s way

Et avec le plus jeune des cousins de la Maman, Gaétan, qui a tout fait pour réconforter Cathal pendant le barbecue le jour après la nuit d’avant, quand les choses n’allaient pas comme le voulait Cathal.

Two generations – Deux générations

Partying is so tough! Thank God for Nan’s shoulder...
C’est dur de faire la fête! Dieu merci il y avait l’épaule de Nan...

© photos: Dom, Lucien.
Merci !

18 June 2009

To All the Dads

It’s your turn. Didn’t I tell you it would come, some months back when I celebrated all the Mammies? Well here it is.

Daddies are great. They come in all kind of shapes and sizes, physically, mentally, emotionally. Yet what you see first is only a front: I love the way they can just transform before your eyes once they start talking about their children. Forget the tough guy attitude, forget the professional business man, forget the hard negotiator, forget the legal expert, forget the sports fanatic, forget the IT genius. They just melt and transform when Baby comes into the picture.

Cathal’s Dad has been incredible since this little boy came into our world. It has not been easy, as we know, but he stepped up to the challenge, and I want to publicly acknowledge that I do not think Cathal could have chosen better.

Through blogland I have come to know a little about some other great dads, especially those “DS” dads. So to all of you, I say: “Here’s to you!”


PS. I know that Daddy’s Day is next Sunday (at least here in Ireland) and that I am a little early. But I will be away from any internet access this weekend, forcing me to detox from my web-addiction. So better early than late ;-)

14 June 2009

Please, oh please don’t!

I amended my last post with an afterthought, a little tongue-in-cheek to lift the mood. And I need to lift my mood. Because I have been feeling a bit down these last few weeks. Is it the reactions to the emotional trauma we went through two and three months ago? Is it the reality of the full blown harshness of life, as I witnessed it around me when Cathal was in hospital, just hitting me now?

I know that the revelations of the Ryan Commission on Child Abuse at the hand of so called religious institutions still have me reeling. The results of the local and European elections 10 days ago are also for me a symptom that there has been something very wrong with this country in the last few years, and that at last our eyes are opening.

But what a mess! What a sorry depressing mess!

Then today I read Cathal’s Mammy’s post about Crumlin Hospital. It stirred up all those emotions again that I felt when we were there, when I used to join her and the Dad by Cathal’s side, or by the door of ICU, in that lift lobby she describes. I suppose we all need to go through those feelings again until we can exorcise them and lay them to rest, finally.

But what has me really, deeply angry, and sad, is the situation in Crumlin Hospital. Please go and read her post for full details. I do not have the heart to go through it again here. And she says it all so eloquently – and I am not biased here, I swear!

I have seen the situation deteriorating over the last year and half. Not just in Crumlin, but across all the hospitals. My job takes me into them on a regular basis. My role and that of my colleagues is one of support to the Irish Voluntary Hospitals ,and Crumlin Hospital is one of those places where I have learned to locate the back doors, and walk the corridors more than a year before Cathal was rushed there the day he was born.

How can our Minister for Health say that no front-line services will be affected by the cuts? How can she affirm that no patient will suffer because of the slashing in funding? Every day I witness the palpable panic of those working in the health sector. How on earth can they keep providing the same level of service, keep on saving lives, when they have so little funds that anyone who is out sick, or on maternity leave, or on a (more than well deserved) holiday, is not even replaced? How they keep on working, and with the grace and patience they show patients and their families, is beyond me. And I know what I am talking about; I talk to these incredible people almost every day.

The thing is, our health system is becoming caught in a catch 22 situation. It’s simple logic: the more people become unemployed thanks to the collapse of our economy, the less contributions to the 2% Health Levy (which goes straight from our pay-package to the Department for Health, via the Revenue Commissioners) – hence the lesser the revenue for the hospitals. At the same time, the more people become unemployed, the lesser number of people maintaining their private medical insurance (which has often been paid by employers), the greater the numbers depending on the public health system. Hence the more resource needed, but with less money available. See what I mean? Catch-Twenty-Two!

If this is not depressing, I don’t know what is.

But there is something we can do. Actually two things, simple, maybe even over-simplistic, but it can add to the pressure on our current government. And maybe, just maybe, get them to reconsider the budget cuts imposed on Crumlin Hospital. After all, this is THE only cardiac paediatric centre in Ireland, one of those “Centres of Excellence” so dear to Ms. Harney and Prof. Drumm.

So to say to the powers that be “Please, oh please don’t put the lives of our children at risk” you can:

- One, sign the on-line petition to save Crumlin Hospital, it takes only a minute (don’t mind the donation request that
follows your petition, once you click, after your name, you’re registered)
- Two, email all our Ministers, TD’s, Senators, and let them how you feel about these cut-

Every extra voice adds up, until the whisper becomes a roar of dissent.

I don’t feel any better after typing this post. But at least, my conscience is clear, I know I am not putting the lives of children at risk…

By the way, has any one yet realised that our Minister for Health has no mandate anymore? The political party she is supposed to represent in this coalition government has been dissolved, hasn’t it? Will it not cease to exist in a few weeks? So what is she still doing at the helm of our health system? I suppose no one is willing to take on this “burning hot potato”. So better leave her there, isn’t that right? Typical Irish answer to an Irish problem…? It would be funny if it was not so tragic!

    08 June 2009

    Where did it all go?

    From my first hand – and first time – experience of the Women’s Mini Marathon a week ago, I have been mulling over an impression I got on the day. I remarked on it to Cathal’s Mammy as we were making our way through the crowds, passing some, being passed over by others. And it is this: baring two exceptions, all the women I saw on the day were wearing T-shirts of organisations that provide support and care for what I would describe as “vulnerable” people. And all these are based in Ireland.

    I did see two women walking for Amnesty International, and two others walking for an African aid organisation. But every other woman I saw was walking, jogging or running for:
    either anyone of the three main paediatric hospitals in Dublin,
    - or a specialised ward in a regional hospital (usually cancer),
    - or Cancer research,
    - or Breast Cancer – or a number of other organisations associated with this
    - or their local hospice,
    - or Heart Children
    - or the Irish Heart Foundation
    - or various Alzheimer foundations
    - or Down Syndrome (DS Ireland and the Dublin branch seemed to be well represented),
    - or special schools for Autism (Saplings and ABA in particular),
    - or schools for other special needs
    - or…

    Do you get the picture? Basic needs, such as health, such as education, where the state should be providing in full. Basic needs that are in fact provided to the bare minimum, and for which ordinary people feel they have to take the matter into their own hands and ensure everyone gets the level of service they are entitled to. It is worth looking at the event website, and in particular at the list of charities that have used the marathon in previous years to raise funds. The numbers are staggering.

    I was watching a programme on Setanta Sport last week, all about this mini-marathon (in fact I did not get to watch it all, but most of it at least) and my unease was confirmed when one of the event organisers said that they estimated over € 14 m was raised last year by charities through this one afternoon alone. Personally, I think I could be more. Quick maths: 40,374 women completed the race this year. If everyone of them raises an average of € 500 each (it’s do-able, I am pleased to say that I am well over this figure by now) this bring us to over € 20 m ! ! !

    But my unease is heightened by the fact that women felt the need to raise € 14m LAST YEAR, when the going was good, when the economy had only barely starting to slip, when we were still enjoying the roar of our Celtic Tiger. And they also did it throughout the previous years, when the money was flowing around, when for several years the tax intake far exceeded the state spending needs, giving our nation a budgetary surplus for the first time in its history.

    For god sake’s, for two years running, Grafton Street in Dublin had the privilege of boasting the highest retail rent rates IN THE WORD, after 5th Avenue, New York! Is this being rich, or is this being “rich”? Ireland was no longer the poor relation at the edge of Europe.

    Where did the money go? Where did this surplus end up? Like the huge downpour of a thunderstorm, has it been sucked away into the bowels of the earth? Or into the sewers of our insolvent banking system?

    And now that the Tiger is only tiny little kittie, what is going to happen? How will all these organisations that CARE for the less healthy, the less able, the less strong, find their funding? In fact, why do these organisations exist? Should not the surplus share of tax euros over the last few years have been used to eliminate the need for them, and enable the state to do its job and CARE?

    Ireland as a nation is well used to survive hardship. The Great Famine and its long felt consequences made sure of that. The Irish have the reputation of being the most generous people in the world, contributing more per capita to charitable organisations than any other nation. But are we being taken for granted, simply because this is what we do?

    And the irony is that women will walk, jog and run for charities again next year, and I already know I want to be with them.

    I do love this country, I have been here for over 30 years, by choice, I have made my nest here. I have adopted it and I think it has adopted me. But sometimes, things just don’t make sense.

    Having said all this, you too can contribute to a local charity, all to do with Autism, if you need to change your phone and are in the market for a “smart” one. Check out Autism Action: for the month of June only € 10 of your purchase could help make a difference. Mean corporations giving money away…? Yes, it’s true!

            Update on this post:

            I had not meant for this post to be “party” political. And our local and European Elections last weekend had no influence on it. However, it is political, of course!

            In a weird coincidence, a few minutes after reading Lisa’s comment, I heard a song on the radio, one I particularly like. But today it just seemed so appropriate! Replace Lily Allen by the Irish Nation, and “her man” by the current government, and what do you get?

            “ It’s not fair, I think you’re really mean, I think you’re really mean…

            Oh it’s not fair, it’s really not ok, it’s really not ok, it’s really not ok…
            Oh you’re suppose to care, but all you do is take, yea all you do is take…”


            01 June 2009

            WE DID IT!!!!

            Cathal’s Mammy and myself took part in the Women’s Mini Marathon today, and we did very well. Not only did we walk the full 10 km, but we walked them in what I think is an impressive 1 hour and 52 minutes. A total of 112 minutes for 10 km, not bad considering that two months ago I found walking more than 2 km VERY taxing, and daunting, and that Cathal’s Mammy had done what we could term “very little” training for this.

            The atmosphere was brilliant, and I particularly liked the hosing down by some kind people along the way and Dublin Fire Brigade – no better way to cool you down on this gorgeously hot and sunny day!

            I never thought of taking a photo of the start, but here is the “end in sight” – with Cathal’s mammy’s back in the left corner – we passed the start line at 14 minutes, so you can verify the maths!

            And here we are back in Cathal’s home, showing off our medals.

            At the last count, my “little” walk raised over € 475, and I have been told more is on its way to me. So a Big Huge THANK YOU to anyone who sponsored me. For a first time doing it, I think I did quite well, if I may say so myself.

            I’ll be back, promise!