People don’t stop getting sick or having medical emergencies just because it’s Christmas so of course doctors don’t stop working. Dr Brian Carey, Consultant Geriatrician at Bantry General Hospital is one such physician who will be spending much of the festive season in a hospital.
“I personally find Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be the most difficult days to work,” says Dr Carey. “The hospital is staffed the same as it always is but the patients don’t want to be there.
“There is a huge effort to try and get people home before Christmas but one of the difficulties we have is that people often delay coming in, so you get a lot of people coming in after Christmas and they’re often really sick by then.”
All going well, Dr Carey, who has four children, will be at home for the opening of Santa’s presents, before going in for his rounds. He’ll work until midday in the hospital and be on call for the rest of the day. “On Christmas Day, the hospital is staffed by two junior doctors but inevitably you are called in,” he says.
Dr Carey has been at Bantry General Hospital for 15 years and says the working atmosphere there is second-to-none. “I’ve always preferred working in smaller hospitals and even though it’s getting busier and busier (this hospital is doing double the work it did in 2009), everyone here is so pleasant and friendly.”
At Christmas time, the wards at Bantry General Hospital are decorated, staff are bedecked in Christmas ties and light-up parapharnalia and it’s a very festive affair. There is a Christmas party for residents in St Joseph’s long-stay ward, which staff attend, and of course the traditional turkey and ham is served up to patients and staff on Christmas Day.
The Acute Stroke Unit at Bantry General Hospital, which was the first of its kind in Cork and Kerry, is a source of great pride to Dr Carey, who says “we see approximately 100 patients with acute stroke here every year and it’s made a really huge difference to the lives of the people who have had the misfortune to suffer such an event. The multidisciplinary team does a fantastic job.”
The Acute Stroke and Rehabilitation Unit is however, also a cause of concern for Dr Carey and his team, who believe that the building is “not fit for purpose”.
‘We really need a new build,” explains Dr Carey, who last week highlighted the issue in discussions with Jim Daly, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People. “While we’re very fortunate that the Acute Stroke Unit and Rehabilitation Unit are side by side, we don’t have single rooms available for infection control purposes or to allow privacy for some patients. There are a lot of other infrastructural problems that I think the patients and staff do extraordinarily well with, under the circumstances.”
Dr Carey is also in charge of the ‘Funny Turns and Falls’ Clinic and part of the Age Care Evaluation team at Bantry General Hospital.
“We see a range of patients at the ‘Funny Turns and Falls’ Clinic, from people who have funny turns that are difficult to diagnose to older people who are particularly frail and at risk of falls. Some are straighforward but usually the people who are the most difficult to diagnose are those who come to that clinic with unexplained blackouts, fainting spells, seizures, that kind of thing,” explains Dr Carey.
Dr Carey’s role also includes visiting the community hospitals around West Cork. “I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like to,” he says. “as unfortunately we have been unable to successfully recruit a second geriatrician to Bantry General Hospital.”
Dr Carey was inspired to go into geriatric medicine by one of his mentors, Dr. Michael Hyland, the first geriatrician in Cork. “He made it seem so simple when in fact it’s very complex,” says Dr Carey. “I admired how he he could make a simple change with a single tablet and improve someones quality of life so much.”
Dr Carey is a compassionate doctor. “It doesn’t matter what’s happening with me, often what the patient and their family is going through is the most difficult thing that they’ve ever gone through. So whatever that is, a bad stroke or whatever, you have to be mindful that this is probably the worst point in that person or their family’s life. It’s just a matter of basic humanity but the way you treat people is terribly important.”
In his experience the amount of information that people want from their doctor varies a lot. “The way I feel is that if someone asks a straight question, they deserve a straight answer,” says Dr Carey. “I always answer to the best of my ability using layman’s terms. I usually like to finish a consultation by leaving the door open to questions. People who are better informed participate better in their treatments.”
For Christmas, Dr Carey leaves us with a few wise words of advice. “In the words of the late Maurice Nelligan, the esteemed heart surgeon, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation’.”
“I think that’s great advice,” he says laughing “and also if you need us, we’re here.”