Pain, described by Maggie O’Farrell

His head is filled with pain, like a bowl brimful of scalding water. It is a strange, confusing kind of pain – it drives out all thought, all sense of action. It saturates his head, spreading itself to the muscles and focus of his eyes; it tinkers with the roots of his teeth, with the byways of his ears, the paths of his nose, the very shafts of his hair. It feels enormous, significant, bigger than him.

from Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

‘Pure, liquid hope’: what the vaccine means to me as a GP – Gavin Francis

Giving a vaccination is about the simplest medical encounter it’s possible to have, though among the most transformative. … The numbers are daunting, but there’s a spirit of anticipation and celebration in the air. Many are starting to dare to plan for a world post-Covid, and I’m tempted to share that optimism. Opening my first box of vials, I thought of a friend in Orkney, a GP who’d already vaccinated all the over-80s of his practice, and who’d begun to call in the over-70s. We met briefly in Kirkwall, outdoors, on my journey from Orkney back to Edinburgh. “How did it feel to get started?” I asked him.

From https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/11/pure-liquid-hope-what-coronavirus-covid-vaccine-means-to-a-gp-doctor

The nurse stands in their place – Doireann Ní Ghríofa

I watch a screen assembled around their baby, a boundary intended to generate an illusion of privacy. The screen cannot mute the infant’s screams, however, nor can it block the song of the nurses who stroke its brow, who coo as they hold it still for whatever agonies of syringe or cold scalpel that follow. This tiny howl is a sound I will never excise from my memory. I weep as I listen – I weep in helplessness, yes, but I also weep in gratitude for those nurses’ certainty that parents must spare themselves from witnessing a child’s agonies. The nurse insists. The nurse stands in their place.

from Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat

Medical gaslighting: The women not listened to or viewed as overdramatising or catastrophising

Dr Marie Theresa Ferretti, neuroscientist, co-founder and CSO of the Women’s Brain Project, says the same symptoms that tend to be attributed to organic disease in men, are much more likely to be diagnosed as anxiety or panic attacks in women. Women with acute pain are less likely to get opioid drugs and more likely to receive sedatives. Dr Ferretti views the recognition of mental health issues in women as a positive, but she argues that it becomes problematic if doctors dismiss the original symptoms because the women may end up with an incorrect diagnosis or ongoing pain.

See here for full Irish Times article >>>

Roddy Doyle’s short story, ‘Nurse’

They washed him. And they spoke to him. They told him what they were doing, even though he was dead. She said nothing at first, then she copied Áine, the senior staff nurse. We’re turning you onto your side now, Joe. It was easier when you talked to him. No one spoke when Áine closed the first body bag. The rasp of the zip, like it was being pulled through wood – it’s the last thing she’ll hear when she closes her eyes. When she goes to bed.

Read the full story here on the Irish Times website >>>

New term: new texts: new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic is so ubiquitous it would be perverse not to focus on it in this year’s Literature & Medicine module, so we are. (Having said that, I’m planning be perverse in the second term and escape from the pandemic, metaphorically, into Elaine Feeney’s As You Were.)

The low-hanging, extremely appealing option (though problematic in a number of respects) would be Camus’ deep-dive novel, The Plague, of course. But as I’m determined to play my part in overturning the patriarchy, I cannot ignore the almost complete absence of female characters in that novel (not to mention native Algerians); and anyhow I want to put female authors first. (I will, however, be quoting from Camus where it sheds additional light on the theme.)

So, without any reservations, I’m opting for Emma Donoghue’s just-published The Pull of the Stars. It is set in Dublin in 1918, with a focus on the suffering caused by the Spanish Flu as reflected in one small hospital ward. Another plus is that is narrated by a woman. And another is that she is a nurse. Another is that it is a maternity ward. All fitting in perfectly with the underlying (occasionally explicit) principles of my courses.

Additional reading:

Fergus Shanahan’s new study The Language of Illness, especially the last chapter, ‘The Language of Plagues and Pandemics’ > https://libertiespress.com/product/the-language-of-illness/ (Here’s a link to the recent launch of that book > https://youtu.be/6UilktxKLVc and I’d particularly draw your attention in our context to the contribution of Professor Mary Horgan of UCC, consultant in infectious diseases.)

Michael D Higgin’s speech from last year on remembering the Spanish Flu > https://president.ie/en/diary/details/president-hosts-a-reception-commemorating-the-great-flu-epidemic-of-1918-1919/speeches

Surprisingly, at least to me, we are running the classes, at least for now, face-to-face, in a classroom. So, I’ll be feeling a bit anxious, and I imagine some or all of the students will be too. While reading and talking about a deadly virus that spread rapidly through communities across the globe 100 years ago, specifically in Dublin city centre, we’ll be doing our best to avoid contributing to the spread of another deadly virus, specifically in Dublin city centre. If we’re not careful, we could end up creating the perfect setting for a new work of existential fiction.

Marian Keyes on her alcoholism

From How To Fail With Elizabeth Day podcast > https://podcasts.apple.com/ie/podcast/s7-ep6-how-to-fail-marian-keyes/id1407451189?i=1000464666298

Alcohol had been a great friend to me from early teens, and it just became a better and a better friend… Everything was getting worse… My drinking moved from a worry to obviously alcoholic. I felt very depressed and I felt very hopeless, and I was so grateful to alcohol, because I thought, my god, this is helping me, because I was so unhappy, and how would I manage if this was taken from me?

I woke up one Monday morning and I was due to go to work. The depression that goes with heavy drinking is hardly a surprise considering that alcohol is a powerful depressant. I woke up and I thought I cannot go on like this…

Alcoholics are addicts who decide to get help. They often talk about a kind of jumping off point, where you realise you CANNOT CARRY ON as you ARE. But the idea of living without the … alcohol … Well I was in this paralysed, powerless, terrified state; I was on anti-depressants and I was on sleeping tablets; and I had took them all. And I don’t think I wanted to die, I wanted help. I wanted somebody to come along and helicopter me out of it… But by trying to kill myself, no matter how half-hearted it was, it kind of forced me into a point where I could no longer pretend that I was okay. And that got me into a rehab place. But even when I was going in there, I thought I was really DEPRESSED… I thought whatever was wrong with me … I needed to have therapy and some sort of trauma would be identified and then it could be sort of plucked out of me, and then I’d be fine and then I could go back and I’d be a normal person who could manage life and I could drink normally. Jesus, I was delusional, but that is part of the whole illness.

I was just very lucky that I went there and very quickly it dawned on me:

The only thing that’s wrong with me is that I’m an alcoholic.

And the only way I’ll ever be okay is if I stop.

And it was a clear revelation. But also I was heartbroken because this had been my best friend, it was the LOVE OF MY LIFE, it took away my pain, it took away my fear, it took away my sorrow and my heartbreak at my empty life and at my loneliness. The thought of being without it … I grieved it, like the way you would grieve a lover or a person who died. It’s a very powerful relationship, addiction, it’s incredibly enmeshed… and passionate… It’s like having a dysfunctional relationship with an abusive person. I knew what I had to do. And very quickly I became hopeful. My feelings changed really quickly. I was lucky, I think a lot of people who don’t get that immediate lift might relapse. But just because I wasn’t pouring this powerful chemical into my any longer, my mood changed. I could see the wonder of the world, which had seemed like it was misty and ashy and shrouded in grey for so long. And I had hope that I could have a life which was more like the lives other normal people had.

It’s such a hopeless condition, addiction – that feeling that every door is locked, that you’re trapped in this underground room. It is POSSIBLE to recover. It is POSSIBLE. And really and truly for me it was my waking thought, it was all about how I could drink, where I would get it, how I got the money for it, it was everything to me. I can be out now, I can go to parties, I can be at dinner with people, people can drink. I am almost literally blind to alcohol. The freedom I’ve been given, when I was such a prisoner. And now I don’t care if I accidentally smell someone else’s wine – I feel, oh my god! no get it away from me! It’s like horrible stuff.

All it made me feel was miserable for years and years.