“A document of emergency.”

An epistolary essay on the terms of engagement between patient and doctor.



After the Hospital

He took me to the Big Fancy, that grocery store
where illusion back-lights the dairy case & everything

pulses with blue light. I shuffled the store, still unsteady,
still in my pajamas. In the snack aisle, fifty-seven kinds >>>

“When we sought a second opinion the doctor told me I was attention seeking and asked my mother if there was something going on at home that would have me act out in this way.

“I’ve had doctors tell me I was purposely not relaxing my muscles to make the pain worse,  that I was faking it and making up how painful my periods were,” said Noelle.



In The Good Mother, Moriarty writes with compelling authority about the world of hospitals; the febrile atmosphere, the logistics, the visceral reality of being an unwilling patient in a hospital bed, when you’d rather be literally anywhere else in the world. She probably didn’t realise it, but her own unexpected stint in hospital some time ago gave her first-hand experience to draw on for this novel.

A year ago, Moriarty was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, something that she is now choosing to speak publicly about for the first time.

“I had a sore knee for no reason,” she recalls. “I had iced it, taken anti-inflammatories, had physio, and it still wouldn’t go away. I was freezing during the day, and waking up at night drenched in sweat, and was exhausted all the time.” Her GP sent her for tests, and she remained in hospital for a week.


1. I read Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming: “
                                                     … and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

2. We continued our analysis of Eithne Strong’s relentlessly grim epic poem, Flesh: The Greatest Sin; in which Ellen’s innocence is destroyed by the poverty and weakness of spirit around her.

3. We listened to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech in the Dáil about the Tuam Mother & Baby
 from which …
“we [had] better deal with this now” because if the Government did not, another taoiseach in 20 years would be saying: “If we only knew then, if only we had done then.’ But his or her then is our now.”
And I wonder what will be the Tuam Mother & Baby Home issues of your careers that you will have to be strong about and face up to so that future generations don’t castigate you for burying your compassion, mercy and humanity.
4. We read through a few scenes from a play together: ‘Eclipsed’ by Patricia Burke Brogan; highlighting the way innocence gets drowned in the contingencies of life, and how compassion can be squeezed out of us under pressure.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has described the Tuam Mother and Baby Home – where hundreds of babies’ remains were discovered – as “a chamber of horrors.”
1. Quickly referred to the non-fiction feature article written by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (in week’s 1 handout) about her overpowering desire for another child:
My Ma is amazed that five of my seven pregnancies were planned. “We just got pregnant; we were glad of a miscarriage,” she said after my second loss. But I find miscarriage extremely hard to get over – apart from the avalanching hormones, there is the anger towards my body and what I have begun to refer to as “my rotten eggs”

I’m frozen – I cannot shake the cold from my bones. From my seat on the stage in County Hall I can see a slice of the sea. When my fellow reader is answering his interview questions, I focus on that wedge of water but, like a phantom, the scan image of the empty pregnancy sac floats into view. The black, black hole of it. And the sonographer’s words: “Blighted ovum”, words I have heard before. Words that mean this foetus was, most definitely, made from one of my rotten eggs.
2. ‘Quare Name for a Boy’ by Claire Keegan (in her collection of short stories, Antartica), a story about a woman who is unsure of what she is doing about her pregnancy and “comes home” to decide. She observes her relatives’ reactions and describes their routines (involving tea and potatoes) … their interest in how she making her way in life, in her clothes and how they fit her body. And then she meets the father of the baby she is carrying:
“The green wood hisses in the grate, the resin oozing out from the loosening bark. Lines of connecting sparks, what my grandmother called soldiers, march across the soot, but you say nothing. Whatever you say, I’ll manage. I will live out of a water-barrel and check the skies. I will learn fifteen types of wind and know the weight of tomorrow’s rain by the rustle in the sycamores. Make nettle soup and dandelion bread, ask for nothing. And I won’t comfort you. I will not be the woman who shelters her man same as he’s boy. That part of my people ends with me.”
‘Drink up,’ you say, gesturing to my glass. ‘A girl in your condition needs lots of iron.’
       And so I drink my pint of Irish stout [ALCOHOL], taking comfort in the fact that you’ve named the mineral hidden in the white stripe of its head.
3. ‘Emissary’ by Angela Patten: the cows, “mouths stained green with grass stubble”, remind the poet of a famine story and she wonders why, fleeing to the town and the pub [ALCOHOL]:
“It’s still potatoes and conversation,
the same trick of living between two worlds.
No part of this watery island is more
than sixty miles away from the sea.
The stories creep up like water in your lungs,
and you can’t breathe for choking on the past.”
4. I Could Read the Sky by Timothy O’Grady
What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the MANNERS of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P. J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand THEIR jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering.
Then he describes his father’s funeral, for which he has returned to Ireland, including the appearance of the men down the back of the church
“The heads are like the eggs of a giant bird balanced in a line along the back pew. The skin on their heads is dry and papery and white, some maybe with faint brown marks from age. You would only see this skin when the men are in church or in their beds for at all times they are in their caps…
“In the eyes of Sarah McCabe there is a look of awakening.”
And particularly the Protestant boy who learned the Irish flute from his father, travelling 11 miles by bus.
5. ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’ by Paula Meehan
“I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,

and she lay down alone at my feet

without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand

and she pushed her secret out into the night,

far from the town tucked up in little scandals,

bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,

and though she cried out to me in extremis

I did not move,

I didn’t lift a finger to help her …”

6. ‘Long Distance’ by Belinda McKeon, about a woman who comes home to Ireland not long after the death of her father … It captures a new generation of Irish adults emerging from a family-based, largely closed community 
“… just one more thing on the horizon of things unbothered with; just part of the rainfall, part of the wind-gust, part of the pile upon pile of day upon day.”
The mother is NOT peeling potatoes but preparing roses.
” … They are all over the stems; they are all over … the parts fallen into sink and onto the floor; they look like a virus still thriving and still spreading; a virus of blankness and space.”
But “they” are ONLY the bites of leafcutter bees… “Sure you’d only notice them if you looked up at them too close.”

Emotionally it was draining, constantly feeling like I couldn’t do stuff, missing activities, missing school. I had appointments every six months. At one of these, in 2014, when I was 12, I was told to throw the brace away, that it was no good for me anymore and that I would just have to go for the operation. I was told I was now on the surgery waiting list.

We had known I would need surgery from the start so I was prepared for getting the news. But then we just waited to hear when I would actually have the surgery. I was always thinking “maybe it will be this month”, but it never was. That was so frustrating. My parents were annoyed as well, they felt that there was no forward planning; all along, the hospital knew I would have surgery but they waited until it became critical before putting me on the surgery waiting list.”


In the hospital, they would use the word deformity in front of me a lot. I know that’s what it is, but when you’re 13 or 14, it’s not nice to have adults talk like that and say things like “your deformity has got significantly worse” right in front of you. The consultant was good at talking to me and explaining, but he wasn’t always available when we went up, so we wouldn’t always see him; when we didn’t it wasn’t always as easy for me, it could be very formal and ‘doctory’, and, ironically, I felt a bit out of place in a children’s hospital!

I was told in February 2015 that I was going to have my operation and the date was set for March. Because my curve was so bad by that point I was going to need two surgeries. Initially I just thought it would end up being another “it’ll happen next month” thing but as the date came closer we started to feel like it was actually going to happen this time.