Treating patients under the glare of fans and television cameras puts a lot of pressure on sports doctors, but Dr Anthony O’Connor is still a little bit jealous
For those among us who are sports-obsessed medics, it has been a notable week. One of the things that makes me feel a little bit sad and jealous is that I’m no good at sports. I love sports, to the point where my fiancée memorably told her friends that ‘Anthony would take out a Sky Sports subscription just to watch two labradors chasing a ball in the Phoenix Park’. She’s right of course, I would.
I’m not that bad at my job and, in fairness, I work hard and do difficult, pressurised important things, but I’ll never know what it’s like to score the all important goal or win the medal or trophy. By extension, my family will never know that pride. Picture the scene of Padraig Harrington pitching in from a bunker to win a tournament, his wife barely able to watch as his excited son runs in to breathlessly tell her of daddy’s exploits. Gastroenterology just doesn’t quite work like that. I don’t see any son of mine jumping up and down telling his mother ‘Mammy! Mammy! come quickly, Daddy just got around this really difficult sigmoid, and now he’s cold snaring a large flat polyp at the hepatic flexure’. Until they start televising colonoscopy, it is likely to remain that way. So, for medics involved with elite sports teams, their lot must feel in some ways like the best of both worlds and one that makes the rest of us slightly envious.
The tracksuited colleagues of ours have had the busiest few weeks imaginable. Last month I went to see Ireland play Scotland at Landsdowne Road. A rip-roaring clash of the Celts was punctuated by a sickening head injury to Welsh-sounding, Scottish winger Lee Jones. I had a bird’s eye view of this unfortunate incident and the lightning quick reaction of Scotland’s team doctor James Robson. I’m sure Dr Robson wouldn’t be offended by me saying he is no teenager, but stationed barely 20 yards away from the clash he showed a burst of pace and disregard for his own personal safety that would put Tommy Bowe to shame, sliding in along the ground with boots and turf flying to stabilise Jones’s neck.
Later in the week I noticed a team of medics treating a stricken jockey just the far side of the final fence in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Without the horsemanship of jockeys Andrew Lynch and Barry Geraghty in skilfully managing to avoid the final fence with minimal notice from the race stewards, these plucky doctors could have found themselves in the fairly precarious way of several tonnes of speeding horse, pumping their sinews and fetlocks up the hill at Cheltenham.
The most dramatic sports medicine intervention of all, however, came at White Hart Lane where the quick actions of the team doctors of Bolton and Spurs as well as a team of paramedics managed to save the life of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, a tragic victim of a cardiac arrest. It was surreal seeing Muamba receive chest compressions and cardioversion on the verdant turf of Spurs’ home ground. I’ve resuscitated many people, some successfully. Most doctors will admit it is among the hardest things they do and although a big team is useful, a crowd of onlookers, visitors and other staff members not engaged in helping with the arrest is quite unhelpful. I can only imagine the stress of resuscitating a patient in front of 35,000 people with millions more watching on TV. Nonetheless, the job was done with what looked like steely calm and competence, assisted by a cardiologist named Andrew Deaner who fought his way onto the pitch past the stewards to help the player.
Closer to home it was also the week in which the GAA chose to honour Dr Con Murphy of the Cork GAA teams, an éminence grise on the sidelines at a remarkable 23 All-Ireland finals since taking possession of the magic sponge for Cork in 1975.
These colleagues across all sports are an unassuming yet constant presence in the background of many of the most celebrated moments of public life. Their confidence and competence in practising their skills on a public, pressurised scale when the stakes are high easily equates to the prowess of their much more celebrated athletic patients. They are all worthy ambassadors for the profession.