‘You’ll be waiting one hour’ – cue 13 hours in hell

After one half of a human day staring at the words Accident and Emergency painted red on the wall, they appeared to my sleep-deprived mind to spell out ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’. . .

Friday evening last week I went to my GP (general practitioner) with mild but persistent pains in my chest – I’d been having them on and off all week long. It hurt to eat or even to breathe too deeply. The doctor couldn’t pinpoint the cause and so, wanting to rule out anything wrong with the heart or lungs, sent me to the A&E for more tests. To the hospital I went, girlfriend by my side and book in my hand, thinking I’d have a wait of five or six hours.

It ended up a 13 hour wait to see a doctor – from 6.30 pm Friday evening to 7.30 am Saturday morning – and ne’er a wink of sleep in between. Now I realise that in any A&E department there are going to be backlogs and waiting times of a few hours, but this situation dragged us firmly into the realm of absurdity.

These people do their best with limited resources; I admire their cool and ability to handle stress in the face of aggressive drunks and hypochondriac junkies. But the fact is that it was an extremely quiet night; my girlfriend and I had been expecting truckloads of Friday night drunks. There was talk of popcorn to accompany the entertainment.

No need: there were only two drunks and two junkies in the whole 13 hours we sat there.

The title of this post comes from a seminal moment in the night when I asked a nurse who was taking my blood sample how long more I’d be waiting to see a doctor. One hour, she said (it’ll be grand, she said). Two hours later I went to the desk to ask an administrator why I hadn’t been seen yet. When I said that a nurse had told me (two hours previously) I’d be waiting an hour, the administrator laughed in my face. The insolence of bureaucracy is astounding, sometimes; she was lucky there was a thick pane of glass between us.

Eventually I was seen, diagnosed with nothing more than bad chest muscle pains, given a prescription and sent on my way. We then slept away our Saturday, my girlfriend and I.

As fumingly pissed off as I was at the time (we were near tears more than once), I see, now that a few days have passed, that it was not the fault of the administrators, nurses and doctor who dealt with me. They are hamstringed by their circumstances; understaffed and overworked, dealing with too much bureaucracy, often working with outdated practices and technologies. Their entire IT system was apparently down the whole time we were there, in fact. This is simply unacceptable in a hospital that deals with a catchment area of about 400,000 people.

All of this is because the Irish government has no clue how to effectively manage its healthcare system. Why not take a lesson from the Netherlands, France or Canada, whose health systems are lauded the world over? I realise the same economies of scale may not apply given the population disparities, but only by investigating new methods and implementing changes, however small, will things improve.

The Irish government not too long ago was praising itself for exiting its bailout programme, oblivious to the fact that this means absolutely nothing to the average citizen who faces the same bleak economic outlook as ever.

Successive Irish governments have treated their people with utter disdain, preferring to salvage corrupt and bankrupt banks than to ensure decent healthcare and education systems. They facetiously claim that unemployment is falling, not mentioning that this is because people are emigrating at an alarming rate.

A friend argued, not long ago, that the communist system failed when the Berlin Wall fell, and the capitalist system failed when the banks fell – and were bailed out.

I do not think he was wrong.

Anyone reading this from a different country, please comment and let us know how long you can expect to be waiting for treatment in an emergency department there.

Advertisements

‘It’ll be better before you’re married’

Most if not all Irish people will be familiar with this expression. Little Johnny has fallen and scraped his knee or cut his arm while playing. Mammy to the rescue, cleaning the wound and kissing it better with this adorable expression on her lips: ‘It’ll be better before you’re married’. It has been a staple saying of parents (read: the children-afflicted) for generations. Its beauty lies in the fact that its semantic value is on a par with ‘If you fall and break both your legs, don’t come running to me’. And what child hasn’t heard that one while trying to scale a tree, wall or fellow human being?

Back to marriage. The more cerebral child will be thinking, ‘It’ll only be better before I’m married? That’s years away! How serious is this wound, mother?’ Little Johnny is very precocious, you see. This vague future date is, you will soon come to understand, when all your dreams will come true, and not just the immediate wish for haemostasis.

And why must it be better before you’re married? Why is there such pressure on toddlers and preteens to settle down? We should be telling them that it’ll be better before bedtime or before the next time the ice cream man comes around; sometime in the near future. There should be something tangible for their minds to wrap around, to take them away from the blood and the pain.

But it’s a blatant lie in any case. It will not be better before you’re married. The scrape will heal of course and disappear in a few days. And yet it – life, existence – will, objectively, only get more difficult. Life is never easier for us than when all we have to worry about are cuts and bruises, contracting cooties, and where our next sugar fix is coming from. It is never better than when we can scream as loud as we want in public (try this aged 35), for no reason at all, and have people smile and laugh and not get overly annoyed at us.

Let me be clear in that I am not at all taking issue with this expression, I’m simply using it to illustrate the point that life is never as straightforward as everyone would have you believe. And I do mean everyone. School, college, job, marriage, kids; right? No, I’m sorry, but balls to that – there is too much variety and freedom in our world today for everyone to follow this rigid structure. There is in fact almost infinite freedom of choice which is, as it turns out, mind-freezingly terrifying. Nowhere is the crippling inertia and stuttering indecision that accompanies endless freedom better epitomised than in Jonathan Franzen’s magnificent novel… Freedom.

When just about anything is possible, how do we choose what to do with our lives?

Most of us simply go for what’s probable; the rigid structure referred to above is a safety net, a comfortable alternative to searching out what it really is that drives and excites us. We are taught – forced, almost – to want objects and the money that will procure them. We are taught to want marriage for the security and ‘status’ it brings. And so we pursue careers in such banal things as Accounting, IT and Insurance, the mental hazards of which I’ve already discussed here.

To highlight a perennial example, everyone and their mother keeps telling me about how important it is to have a smartphone. And that’s not to mention every second or third piece of advertising I’m assailed with. Important to whom, exactly? To Apple and their profit margins? No thanks, my ten pound (in both price and weight) prehistoric brick of a phone will do just fine. It can make and receive calls AND send these things called ‘text messages’. Magic!

What I’m trying to say is: enough of what they want us to want, what the fuck do we want?

‘Middle-class snobbishness’ curtails public transport use

This title I take from an article of the same name on the Irish Times website. I almost didn’t want to write this post, so obvious and telling is the lie with which it deals. But I’ve decided to give it a go anyway because silence (or a blank page, in this case) is precisely what politicians want.

And gods know they already get enough of that.

This is the most ridiculous and insulting article I’ve had the displeasure of reading in some time. Does this man think that all Irish people are idiots? Alan Kelly, Irish Minister of State for Public and Commuter Transport, is essentially trying to blame ‘the middle classes’ for the underuse of public transport. He says the vast majority of Irish people are too snobbish and proud to use public transport. I do not deny that this may be the case for some, but certainly not for all.

No, the main reason for which Irish people absolutely abhor using public transport is its blatant unreliability. In my experience, Bus Eireann buses are only on time very early in the mornings; as the day progresses all semblance of a timetable goes out the window. I am regularly waiting up to 45 minutes for a bus home from work in the evenings. There is meant to be one every 15 minutes.

When it finally does arrive and I hop on, the driver is by and large unbearably gruff, lacking the most basic interpersonal skills. And then there’s their actual driving, which more often than not is horrendous. I know a bus is much more difficult to drive than a car, but these people are meant to have professional training. They are forever scuffing curbs and mounting footpaths.

And their braking is just to die for, literally! Each one of the regular misanthropes I have the misfortune of driving with brakes too late, jolting their passengers forward – it’s only a matter of time until someone splits their head open on a grip bar. Or, for more hilarity, until an unintentional head-butt sends some false teeth flying.

And then of course there are the ever-increasing fares to contrast with the ever-dwindling services and quality thereof.

Alan Kelly would do well to climb down off his high horse – incidentally the only mode of transport known to Irish politicians – and get a clue. He and his ilk have no idea what it is to ‘rely on’ (read: be a time-hostage of) Bus Eireann every day, what with their chauffeurs and expense accounts and frequent Dáil bar sessions.

I despise the Irish state; I think it is a disgrace to the Irish people. The condition of our public transport system is but a symptom of an illness that runs much deeper. From politicians and senior civil servants to the Gardaí, Revenue and HSE (Health Service Executive), right down to Bus Eireann, the Irish state is a complete and utter farce.

I am certainly not alone in this opinion and it is little wonder, then, to find someone dancing on the grave of Charles Haughey, the undisputed godfather of Irish political cronyism. It is not from snobbishness that I write this post or that Haughey’s grave was danced on; it is rather from resentment, distrust and anger. It is from an average of 40,000 people leaving the country every year since 2008. It is from sheer indignation.

It is for shame and to shame that I write this post, and I hope you will share – or at least understand – my outrage. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (read: Coke and Diet Coke) have let their tribal bullshit drag Ireland down the toilet for decades now. Our elected officials do not so much represent us as rule us.

I would sincerely love to have all Irish political parties abolished for the next fifty years, and be governed instead by the EU or – why fight it any longer? – directly by Germany.

They couldn’t do much worse a job than is already being done, and let’s not forget: you can actually set your watch to the buses in Germany!

‘Well, aren’t you lucky to have a job?’

Read: you’re lucky to have a job. It is not a question; it is a challenge meant to pacify your restlessness.

I am, I don’t deny it: I am lucky to have a job. This soothing banality does, however, hide a sad and infinitely damaging lie. I will pose a question: do you like your job?

You will spend about one whole third of your life working i.e. doing something for money to live. To buy food, to pay rent, to survive. I would venture a guess that very few people in this world enjoy their work. We have ‘evolved’ so far that we no longer have to hunt and gather to survive. Nor do we necessarily have to tend crops year in year out. No, now we are expected to sit in front of bright screens manipulating information for entities greater, in size and worth, than we, as individuals, will ever be.

Some people (certain professional rugby players come to mind) are very happy to tend farms to make a living, and I respect these people enormously. They know what exactly it is they want to do and they are very happy to do it. Their professional sporting careers seem more an interlude – an obligation to province and country – than a career. When age tells and the caps have accumulated, they return to the earth and to their happiness.

Very few of us seize this opportunity. Most often, we simply fall into a position wherein we earn enough money to live, or to exist only. We do not like what we do; there is no enjoyment in it. Perhaps in the beginning there is motivation and idealism, but it soon becomes lost in the mire of spreadsheets, memos and meetings about meetings. Where there is no passion there is only tedium. This is as true for an office job as for any other; manual labourers, craftsmen, lawyers and teachers are all in the same boat here.

I put it to you that this is not how things should be. I do not believe that we must hunt and gather or sit and Excel in order to live. I do not mean Excel as in ‘to do extremely well’, but refer rather to the manipulation of mind-numbing spreadsheets; yes, I’m attempting to coin a new verb. Example: ‘I’m Excelling the shit out of this information, Ted.’ For my money, Excel causes more depression than reading Waiting for Godot while listening to Nirvana in a dark room (not to be recommended).

Never-ending mindless tasks are the surest fountains of unhappiness.

Few people do what they want to do. There are traps we fall into which make us think that we want a job that pays well, and so we learn whatever skills will make us the most money. IT, engineering, insurance; our ancestors are laughing at us. From their warm and happy campfires they laugh at our poor posture and straining eyes.

What do you do? Did your five year old self want to do that? Your ten year old self? Probably not. But look, you were five and ten, and not to blame you for your lack of focus. Very few people truly want to or indeed end up becoming astronauts, cowboys or ballerinas.

But still, what says your inner voice now? (I will not call it your inner ‘child’, for it is certainly not that. It is wiser than you or I, in all our pubescent development, will ever be). Children: perhaps they are our future.

What you are reading right now is my stab at breaking out of this trap, at breaking out of the sickening circle of debt and consumerism.

Writing.

That is what I want to do. I want to study and research and read and write. I want to do a PhD in literature, but I do not want to deal, day in day out, with mindless technical documents while I work – and save – towards this goal.

Writing: that is why I have started this blog and why I will continue it.

Tell me, what do you want to do with yourself?