A 90-year-old Shannon man, who was living independently prior to hospitalisation, was emotionally traumatised by spending two nights on a trolley in University Hospital Limerick (UHL), family members have claimed.
Mick Phelan endured a “horrendous” time on a trolley in December 2014, according to his son, Blaise, who has called on the UL Hospitals’ Group to address chronic overcrowding in the hospital.
His daughter, Marena, said Mick went from someone who had bought spare ribs and cabbage for his family before hospitalisation to a person who suffered emotional distress after his trolley experience.
A GAA fanatic and one of the founder members of Wolfe Tones GAA club, he trained club underage teams and was manager of the club’s best football teams in the early seventies.
In addition to travelling to see GAA games all over the country, he regularly acted as a steward for Leinster matches and All-Ireland finals in Croke Park up to the age of 83.
His last big match as a steward was the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary.
During the Emergency he joined the Defence Forces and was a horse rider in the Transport Company.
Well known for cycling around Shannon, the retired textile fitter cycled into town for messages the day before he was hospitalised. He grew vegetables in a local allotment and regularly distributed them free of charge to locals.
After marrying May Egan in Athlone, Mike lived in England, Galway and Athlone before settling in Shannon in 1971 where he worked for EI.
A committed Fianna Fáil supporter, he was a personal friend of Brian Lenihan Senior and believed the Soldiers of Destiny were the working man’s political party in the thirties and forties.
He won three senior football championships with Athlone from 1947 to 1949, but never got his first medal because his old friend, the late Fianna Fáil Brian Lenihan Senior, persuaded him to play a soccer match with UCD.
The following week when he went to collect his county medal at the dinner dance, he was refused admittance unless he denied it, which he refused to do.
Blaise recalled Mick was very fit before he went into hospital in December 21, 2014.
“He was on a trolley for two nights it was horrendous. It was like the third world. There were people drunk and people shouting. He got a bed in a stroke ward on the third day. He said “be careful there will be train passing in a few minutes’. I thought he was messing with me. Then he said something silly about the gardai coming.”
This prompted a discussion with his consultant who asked Blaise if he had dementia.
Blaise replied he hadn’t and claimed the consultant told him the trolley and hospital experience had left him very badly traumatised and added he may have had underlying dementia.
Blaise recalled bringing him to Wolfe Tones GAA clubhouse to meet his friends five days earlier as part of his weekly routine for years.
“Mick was never himself after he was admitted.”
Initially, Marena recalled Mick was in triage after a suspected stroke due to this age. “He was put in a trolley, but it was too small so his feet were literally hanging over the edge of it.
Too many patients started coming in that needed triage so they put him in a trolley bay. You couldn’t go to the toilet because there was so many trolleys there.
“There was an elderly man behind me who wanted to go to the toilet. There was no room to bring him so they got a screen in front of him so he could go to the toilet. Everyone could see and hear everything.”
“I was contacted to bring Mick home at 1am one night because I was told ‘he had lost the plot’. When I got to UHL he was coming down the stairs. Staff were trying to stop him, but they couldn’t physically touch him. When I came in, he calmed down a bit,” she said.
A few weeks later, Mick was transferred for recuperation to a general ward in St Joseph’s Geriatric Hospital, Ennis.
As his condition deteriorated near the end of 2015, Blaise recalled Mick was placed in a dementia ward when he became immobile and then it was proposed he should be brought home by his family.
However, Blaise pointed out the HSE was only offering ten hours home care support a week for Mick who now needed 24-hour care and a hoist to get him up out of a chair. With all three of his children working full time, Blaise explained they were not in a position to provide high dependency care.
Following a cut on his head sustained in fall, Marena recalled he had to be taken via ambulance to UHL and couldn’t go across the road to Ennis Hospital because of the ambulance protocol excluding the latter.
When he arrived in UHL, Mick was placed on a trolley and Marena claimed he should have been treated within a 45-minute period because he had dementia to prevent him becoming upset.
“That didn’t happen. We couldn’t get anyone to look or stay with him. Dad has a blanket and was convinced it was a jacket. He was trying to put it on as a jacket, he would take it off. Any time anyone came in they would try it and this was going on for hours.
“We left Ennis at 9am that morning. He wasn’t changed until 7pm that night. He had no food only water we gave him. We could get no one to help us. We saw a consultant and he eventually got some stitches on his head at 11.15pm. I will never forget it. I was told they would keep him overnight.
“I said I would head home once he was settled because I had to look after my granddaughter in the morning.
“Ten minutes later, they came back to me and said they were not keeping him in hospital and requested an ambulance. We were still waiting for an ambulance at 1.30pm. I was told it would be
about 3pm. I said ‘I have got to go home’. One nurse said why don’t you bring him in the car.
“I said we weren’t allowed to bring him in the car this morning to Ennis Hospital. One doctor said if we were willing to take responsibility, we can bring him in the car. We brought him back to St Joseph’s in a car.
“At 5pm, there were no porters only a midnight nurse who asked him if he wanted to dance and they literally danced him out of the car. That was the only way we could get him out before he was placed in a wheelchair,” she said.
Marena said they had to fight to get him into the dementia ward. She claimed she was subjected to severe psychological pressure to get him discharged home.
“I was told he would have to stay in an awful ward, not the dementia ward if he wasn’t brought home. I said we have no way of getting him home and didn’t have the support we needed for him.
“My son and his wife came up to see him. They kept me for 45 minutes in the office. I said I had to mind my granddaughter. I was asked could I not get someone else to mind my granddaughter so I could take my dad home.
“I was asked ‘would we ask dad’s friends would they come and help us to mind him. We couldn’t ask Dad’s friends to look after him,” she claimed.
Blaise claimed the pressure got so bad that Marena was coming home crying after seeing her father. Having recorded dates, times and alleged conversations, Blaise recalled they threatened to sue the HSE and shortly afterwards Mick was transferred to Carrigoran, Newmarket-on-Fergus where he was well treated.
About a month before Mick died, he was put on oxygen support and had to be taken by ambulance to UHL where he was placed on a trolley in a small room for emergency cases.
The following morning, Marena wanted to get him transferred to Ennis.
“I wanted him out of UHL. It was just dreadful. I said we will go anywhere. I was told by a doctor ‘he probably will not make the ambulance journey, but he will die with more dignity than he will here’.
“We got a ward in Ennis, which was totally different. It was great. It was like two different worlds, the care he got in Ennis compared to the hell he went through in UHL.”