The time A&E stood for “Acute” and “Embarrassment.”

The Old St Vincent’s Hospital – a picture taken even before I got there.

I have spent an awful lot of time in A&E. 

Eighteen visits in the past ten years or so, all but one resulting in admission.

I was pretty ill.

But despite spending long periods on trolleys – being treated, by the way, not ignored and despite, on one occasion that trolley stay lasting 36 hours, my worst experience in hospital occurred, not in the past decade, but more than half a century ago.

I still blush when I recall what was the most embarrassing moment of my life.

I was only 12. But despite many, many embarrassments over my lifetime, this one was the worst.

I had been hiking in Powerscourt with the 44thBlackrock College Troop.

Back then, Powerscourt wasn’t the manicured place it is now. It was quite wild.

We were messing around near a half ruined, metal pedestrian bridge over the river, trying to swing a rope across.

I climbed a little way up a tree and rested on a bit of a branch as I tried to tie the rope.

The branch gave way. I fell maybe 10 feet (about three metres) to the ground landing on the base of my spine.

It was sore. But still I walked from Powerscourt to Enniskerry and we got the bus home.

It was later that evening, I think, that the pain really started.

And so my father brought me to St Vincent’s Hospital – the old one! On Stephen’s Green.

The first thing I remember was Daddy meeting a doctor friend on the way in who said: “Tom, don’t you go waiting in A&E follow me.” And so instead of being treated for nothing, we were marched off to the private area where Daddy had to pay. I wouldn’t mind, but back then there was never a queue in A&E.

I was brought to a room while Daddy waited outside. I was told my spine would be X-rayed.

A radiographer – a girl in her early twenties – told me to go into a cubicle, get undressed and put on the gown.

Lord, I thought, get undressed. And she’s A GIRL.

But I did what I was told and emerged wearing my hospital gown.

She told me to lie on my back on the table. I did.

And then she said: “Now open the gown.”

WHAT?.

I closed my eyes and pulled the gown open to reveal my … nakedness.

There was silence.

So then I tried a sneaky look at the radiographer.

She was laughing, the girl was laughing.

And when she stopped, she said it, with that kind of voice full of sympathy and, maybe, with a bit of mockery: “Ah, you could have kept your underpants on!”

A&E. Acute Embarrassment.

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