Conor O’Sullivan, who lives with his wife Ann between Corofin and Ruan in Cooga, has had a quiet Christmas. Too quiet.
A paraplegic who has been confined to a wheelchair for 26 years, Conor has been stuck in his house since December 21.
Although his wife had a supply of medical supplies stocked up and he only had to do without antibiotics following an infection, Conor O’Sullivan ended 2009 and began the New Year completely demoralised.
“There was no way we could get out from our house. It was just pure ice on both sides of our drive and it was just impossible to drive down to the main road,” he told The Clare Champion on Tuesday.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair for the last 26 years due to cancer of the spine. I’m totally wheelchair-bound and I rely on my car,” he added.
Along with having to stay in his house for the Christmas, Conor also missed out on work. He is employed by the Central Remedial Clinic in Limerick.
“I help out setting up power chairs for other disabled people,” Conor explained.
“I haven’t been able to get into work at all. Lucky enough, my manager has been understanding about that. It’s something that keeps me busy, I’m not a lazy person. You can imagine now, being trapped in my own home because of this weather, it’s completely demoralising to be quite honest,” he reflected.
He made one attempt to leave the house but he didn’t get far.
“I went out in my car one day and it slid down the side of the hill. I was stuck for a good three quarters of an hour until my wife managed to get her brother to come up and try and get me out. The wheelchair was impossible to move on the ice outside so they had to lift me out of the car to get me back into the house. I’m a very independent person but I found my independence totally taken away. I actually felt like a prisoner within my own home because of the road conditions outside,” he said.
Conor can’t understand why the county council cannot grit secondary roads or at least do so when householders are either disabled or elderly.
“My wife rang the council a few times to find out could they make any special provisions for gritting roads, especially for someone like me who was trapped and needs to get out. I would go down to the chemist myself for my drugs and tablets because I like to stay independent. But the thing was my wife couldn’t even go out to get them and I think that’s what really frightened me. To think that in this day and age that you can be trapped inside your own home. Because of the road conditions and because nobody’s bothered to grit secondary roads, they forget that people like me are in this position,” he maintained.
“It was my wife that tried to get through to the council. I didn’t because I didn’t even know was there a special number that you could ring or talk to anyone in an emergency situation. But she said she tried a few times but the phone lines were either engaged or they rang off. I didn’t know if there was a special number. I didn’t hear anyone come out and say if you’re trapped within your home or you’re elderly or disabled, you can ring this line. So really, I was totally in the dark,” Conor said.
As he spoke he noted that the icy stretch might keep him confined for another while.
“I’m still pretty demoralised because even today our road was all iced up, like most people’s. I feel trapped now again. All you hear on the news is that it’s costing money; they can only grit main roads. But I wonder where the other money is gone that they can’t come out and do something about these side roads? That’s what really annoys me,” he said.
“At one stage I was suffering from an infection and I needed to get antibiotics. For three or four days I couldn’t get anyone to get down to the chemist in Corofin. That was a problem but that was the only major problem. Luckily enough, my wife had stocked up with other bits and pieces that were needed,” Conor, whose father was Marty Sullivan from Quilty, added.
Acknowledging that nothing can be done about the weather, Conor is adamant that some elements of rural society are left high and dry when inclement weather strikes.
“I know this is one of the worst spells of weather that we’ve had in Ireland for the last 50 or 60 years. But yes, I think that people in my position are totally isolated when something like this happens. I feel like there’s not enough services put in rural areas for people who are disabled or for elderly people,” he stated.
Originally from Slough in England, Conor has lived in Cooga, Kileen, with his Ennistymon-born wife for 12 years. He moved to Ireland with the intention of writing a book on his life as a paraplegic.
“I had full mobility. I was working at an apprenticeship in England. I was fine until 16 or 17 and then I was struck down with this rare tumour of the spine. That’s what started off my disability. This is why I’m writing the book because I was told that my diagnosis was that I had a few months to live,” Conor explained. “Touch wood, I’m still here to tell the story,” he noted.
Perhaps the sole positive to emerge from Conor’s virtual imprisonment in his own house is that it might add up to a chapter in his book.
“This will be another bit to add to my book,” he laughed.