Swings and Roundabouts for Mike
Uncle Mike’s first night in hospital felt like a giant game of pass the parcel. He was shipped from emergency room, to X-ray, to intensive care, and back to X-ray again. Even though the doctors were all being very nice, Mike could feel the nervousness in the air. Mike was strapped to his bed by so many restraining straps, he felt like Gulliver, in the land of Lilliput. Mike’s eyelids had just closed for a few moments, when the breakfast trolley woke him up, again. No wonder there was so many sick people in hospital, thought Mike, no one could get a wink of sleep.
"Hey, nurse. Any chance of a cup of tea?"
"Sorry Mike, we can’t give you anything, until the surgeon has been to see you," she said, giving breakfast to the guy in the next bed. The smell was torture, he was starving, but he was always starving.
"Go on. A sneaky cup of tea, no one will know," Mike said, winking, and wiggling his fingers at her.
"Would you stop it," she said, slapping his fingers, but giving him a little smile. He still didn't get any tea. A little after ten, a tall doctor in his fifties arrived, with a load of younger doctors trailing behind him. He looked like a mammy duck leading her ducklings to water. Mike could see him outside the ward speaking to his group. After a few minutes, the tall doctor came in alone, leaving all his little ducklings clustered around the door.
"Good morning, Mr Beagly. I'm Kenny O'Regan, your consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon."
"That's mighty, Doc, I didn't even know I had an orthopaedic. Did I break it?"
The surgeon laughed, "Actually you did, Mr Beagly."
"Call me Mike, Doc," he said. "I would shake hands, but I am a bit tied up."
"It's great to keep a sense of humour, Mike, but this situation is very serious. By some miracle you have avoided any major damage to internal organs, but your spine has been fractured along your fifth thoracic vertebrae. You have been very lucky, actually. It’s a compression fracture which has not dislocated, but still might. The long and short of it is this, one jolt or movement in the wrong direction, and you may never walk again."
"So, you’re telling me, I'll be fine."
"I didn’t say that, Mike, but it could be a hell of a lot worse. You’re not out of the woods, yet. We need to move you to a special unit in Dublin."
"No way, Doc, why can’t you look after me here? Dublin is too far from Rita and the kids."
"Your treatment is too complex, Mike."
"I really don't want to go, Doctor, and anyway, going all that way in an ambulance will kill me. I think I would be better off, staying where I am."
"You're going nowhere by ambulance, Mike. We'll be sending you by helicopter."
Only for the fact he was tied to the bed, Mike would have shot straight out of it. "A chopper, are you serious?"
Doctor O'Regan laughed, "Of course I am, Mike."
A frown creased Mike's forehead, "Do I have to pay for it?"
"No Mike, it’s on the house. Are you up for a trip, so?"
"Count me in, Doc, are we going now?"
"Not just yet, Mike. Do you mind if my students come and review the details of your case? We don't often get cases like yours, plenty of broken bones, but you're a little special."
"No problem, Doc. I am well used to teaching youngsters a thing or two." Dr O'Regan beckoned to the group, and they filed into the room, surrounding the bed.
Uncle Mike took them all in, giving them a huge grin. "Jesus, lads, would you crack a smile," he said to the group, "or I’ll think ‘tis a wake you've come for." Uncle Mike pointed a finger in the direction of a tall ginger-haired intern. "Hey, freckles, are you one of the Cunninghams?" The young doctor blushed, as the rest of the group laughed at him.
"No, Mr Begley, My name is Sweeney."
"There is a breed of a Cunningham in you. You’re the spitting head of them."
"I assure you, I am all Sweeney," said the mortified young man, his face as red as his hair.
"Fair enough," said Mike, turning his attention to the group in general. "What do you lot want to know, first?"
The trainee doctors again gave a little sniggered, again, Doctor O'Regan turned to Mike, "Why don't I get them started?"
"Fair enough Doc, give me a shout if you get stuck on anything." More laughter flowed from the gathered students.
It was later that afternoon when they came to get Mike ready for his trip to Dublin. Once again strapped to a backboard, he was wheeled out to the car park, when the helicopter was due to arrive. Rita was there, to see him off. Two orderlies and a nurse were also alongside, to help with the loading.
"Do you think they will fly over the house, Rita?"
"Why don't you ask them?"
"I’d love to have a go at flying one. Hey - I think I can hear it coming. Can you see it, Rita?"
"It's off over there," Rita said, pointing behind Mike’s head.
"Hey, hey, hey, lads, will you twist me around, so I can have a look at it?"
The orderlies pushed Mike’s bed in a circle, making the nurse that was holding his drip go with them. The problem was, while Mike was making a circle, the helicopter was circling, as well.
"Keep going, you nearly had him," encouraged Mike, as the whole team danced a merry circle in the middle of the car park. Eventually both the massive Sea King Helicopter, and Mike’s trolley, came to a rest.
"Sweet baby Jesus, look at the size of the thing," Mike gasped. "How the feck can it stay up in the air?"
"You're not getting nervous, Mike?" asked one of the orderlies.
"Not on your nelly, lads, get me hooked up and let’s get going."
The nurse smiled at Rita, as Mike was being strapped into the back of the helicopter. "It's a blessing, if you ask me," she said, rather cryptically.
"What is?" asked Rita.
"Being a little innocent," she said, nodding towards Mike, wiggling his fingers and smiling wildly "There he is, perhaps never to walk again, and all he can think about, is taking a ride in a helicopter."
Rita smiled, and said, "You could be right," wondering to herself whether the pot was calling the kettle black.
The orderlies and the chopper crew settled Mike in, while Rita and the nurse watched on from a safe distance. After a few minutes, Mike’s voice rose above the high pitched whine of the aircraft engine. "Rita!" Not many voices could be heard above the whirring Rolls Royce Engine, but Mike managed.
"What is it, Mike?"
"The driver fella said he will swing by the house, on the way to Dublin. Will you ring the kids and tell them to be looking out for us?"
"Okay, Mike," said Rita.
"Tell them to take a photo for the album."
"I will, Mike. I’ll see you on the weekend," said Rita, leaning in to give him a kiss. She couldn’t help but feel a little queasy, at the thought of him being up in the air in this thing. It was insane, but the nurse might be right. There he was, broken back, good chance of being crippled for life, small chance of dying in a huge ball of flames, and Mike was the happiest she could ever remember seeing him.
"Don't worry girl, I will be right as rain in a few days," Mike said, as they closed the sliding doors, and the engine began to build in pitch. Rita and the hospital crew retreated, as the blades of the helicopter began to whir through the air. Before the wheels left the ground, the noise was deafening. The huge machine inched into the sky, twisting away into the evening sunset.
True to his word, the captain of the coastguard helicopter diverted over Killblany, but the picture was never captured. Back in those days, it took longer for Rita to reach a phone, than it took the helicopter to reach Killblany. The kids actually did hear it, and even saw the huge red and white aircraft hovering over the house, before peeling off to the north east. If only they knew their father was in it, waving his fingers at them. The flight from Cork to Dublin only lasted about forty minutes, but it was a highlight of Uncle Mike’s life. In direct comparison, the next three months were some of the hardest days he ever faced.
When Mike arrived at the Rehabilitation Centre, he was prodded and poked for hours. Eventually he was strapped into a huge circler bed. It rotated constantly. For the first few days, Mike couldn't sleep, between the pain and the constant movement, it was agony. On the third day, exhaustion took over, and Mike passed out. Round and round and round Mike went, never stopping, except for more poking and prodding.
A sour faced old matron ruled the ward with an iron fist. Mike called her, “Sister Tank”, as he could feel her coming, long before he saw her. Back in those days, patients were allowed to smoke on the wards. Mike was very fond of his fags, as was the guy in the bed to his left. His skinny neighbour was a spotty-faced joy rider. Mike was glad this little runt was more or less, confined to his wheelchair. Otherwise, nothing would have been safe from his sticky fingers. The joy rider had crashed a car into a street lamp, while being chased by seven squad cars. He was on his way home from a night of ram raiding, when he bumped into a copper’s roadblock. He was very proud of the fact it took seven squads to corner him, and told Mike on several occasions, that if he had not swerved to avoid that dog, it would have taken another ten. The wreck left him paralysed from the chest down, and shaky from the chest up. The man in the bed to Mike's right was even worse, six hours a day he had to inhale pure oxygen, or he would just pass out. During these times, no one on the ward was allowed smoke.
A few weeks in, it all got too much for the joy rider, he drove at the man in the right hand bed with a flaming lighter in his shaking hand, and cursing with the lack of nicotine.
"Hey, you maniac, you'll blow the whole fecking place up," Mike said, but the joy rider advanced on the oxygen tent like some demented, shuddering, suicide bomber.
"Sister, sister, SISTER!" yelled Mike.
Nurse tank managed to turn off the manic joy rider’s chair, just on the point of mass destruction. She lashed the Dublin byo, with the sharpest edge of her tongue.
"Smoking is doing none of you any good, and is a filthy habit," was her parting shot.
Later that day, Uncle Mike was having a particularly uncomfortable time, he was given extra pain medication which helped him sleep. Mike came round in the early hours of the morning. Anyone that has ever smoked will understand that one of the first things that crosses a smokers mind when they wake up, is having a smoke. Uncle Mike was no different. As unhappy circumstances would have it Mike’s bed was rotating away from his bedside locker, when he woke. Mike waited and waited until the bed came around and lined up with his locker again. Mike groped in the drawer, but his fingers couldn’t find the cigarettes. He searched with blind fingers but before he could find the cigarette box, his fingers were dragged away by the rotating bed.
Mike had to wait an agonising hour before the bed again reached the bedside table. This time Mike wasn’t going to be outdone. He stretched as far as he could and delved his hand into the drawer’s depths. He just could not find his fags. As the bed began to rotate away Mikes sleeve got caught on drawer knob. Mike pulled, but this only got him more entangled. Mike felt the drag across the chest increase, as the weight of the bedside locker dragged on his pyjamas. In a sicking moment, the locker left the ground bringing with it the bedside light, water jug and bottles of Lucozade left by visiting relatives. The crashing of glass bottles brought sister Tank running down the corridor.
"Mr Beagley, what is going on here?" cried sister tank, from the door.
Uncle Mike twirled through the air entwined with the bedside locker. What could he say to explain what had happened besides the truth. "Just looking for my fag's sister."
It took a good twenty minutes to get the room back to normal. After the near firebombing and attempted destruction of a ward, it came as no surprise when Sister Tank confiscated all cigarettes, issuing them to the patents one at a time after meals. Only my Uncle Mike could cause so much trouble, while completely strapped to a bed.
You can get all of Uncle Mike's story in one place, along with the combined tales of Father Tom. Hope you enjoy them.
You can get all of Uncle Mike's story in one place, along with the combined tales of Father Tom. Hope you enjoy them.