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For various sad reasons, I’ve had cause to spend a lot of time in my native city recently. However, this is a silver lining with a fairly substantial cloud attached in the shape of both my parents being hospitalised, one in ‘De Mersee’ and the other in ‘De Sout’. To the uninitiated, these are Mercy University Hospital and the forbidding-sounding South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (that’s why they call it ‘De Sout’) respectively. So quite a few days recently have been spent parked on the South Mall, rambling back and forth around the old city between these two old Grand Dames of Cork medicine.
One of the things that has surprised me is how care has been reorganised in Cork in recent years in a fairly stealthy manner. I was surprised to learn that the emergency department in the South Infirmary has closed but close it has, and the facility now offers excellent, spotlessly clean and comfortable rehabilitation wards, where my mother was transferred to a mere two days after having her traumatic hip fracture repaired at Cork University Hospital. Not unlike the amalgamation of maternity services and the repurposing of the old orthopaedic hospital to a community healthcare facility, it seems to have gone off without much protest and fuss, publicly at least.
‘Not unlike the amalgamation of maternity services and the repurposing of the old orthopaedic hospital to a community healthcare facility, it seems to have gone off without much protest and fuss, publicly at least’
I wondered why this was. I haven’t worked in Cork for 12 years and am highly unlikely to ever do so again, until such time as I am appointed manager of the Cork senior football team, so I’m not up to date with how things are on the ground. That said, I’ve worked around the place and seen the righteous wariness and reflexive anger in provincial hospitals when services are re-organised and the Game of Thrones-style, ego-based medical politics that exists in Dublin hospitals that prevents any meaningful attempt at it.
I mean, think about it. Wherever you work in Ireland, there’s probably a Cork man or woman in close proximity to you. Now, it’s always unfair to generalise but it would probably seem reasonable to say that they may not be entirely satisfied with every aspect of their existence. Equally, it might be said that they are rarely encumbered by too much shyness about expressing this dissatisfaction. How can it be therefore that these changes happened without much fuss in the midst of a half a million of these contrary creatures? I’ll tell you how. Corkness.
‘What’s that?’ I hear both of you say. The unmissable Irish (Christ, that grates) Examiner sportswriter Larry Ryan describes Corkness thus: ‘Leave them off’ are the three words essential to understanding Corkness. The Dubs might get everything, but they’ve nothing we want anyway.”
Ryan is a man from the greater Cork area (Tipperary), who works and lives in the city and as such can speak with the greatest of authority on his topic. I can only assume that when the forces that would normally assemble to resist the reorganisation of healthcare were mobilised in Cork, that their reluctance to demonstrate to the rest of the country that something untoward might be happening in the damp Shangri-La by the Lee came into play. The only other explanation is that being away from home stirs a restlessness and a yearning in a Cork man that is only stilled by proximity to the life giving force of the Lee and that when at home he grows content, sated and, if he is not careful, fat.
Wandering around the little lanes and bridges on the city island, I got a sense that the city, although cosmetically different, was still much the same chippy, theatrical, brave and slightly comical place it had been when I hurried between the two hospitals as a medical student 15 years ago. I sat in with my mother and behind the curtain while an intern clerked a patient in the bed next door. He had the confident, thorough, efficient and firm manner of a young man full of Corkness.
You know inside how terrified he probably is but if you were a layperson meeting him, you’d trust him with your mother’s life. You know when you hear someone speak before you see them and build a picture of them in your head? I envisioned this cool, dark-haired, well-dressed, handsome, athletic-looking bloke who probably played a lot of sport and went to one of Cork’s ‘old money’ schools for boys. When he stepped out from behind the cubicle it was clear he was all those things, but also very clearly the dark-skinned, first-generation child of immigrants.
Cork may have changed, but Corkness hasn’t.