Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Head Down Eyes Opener-in-training, Denis McClean, celebrates how a thick skull can serve you well when wandering through the wilds of County Kerry.

My top 20 of personal misfortunes has a new entry this month. In the category of natural disasters, it has just overtaken an old favourite: being bitten some years ago by a dog on the Caribbean island of Montserrat during a volcanic eruption.

“New entry” is an apt term for describing the impression which a pre-historic piece of rock can make on the human skull when least expected.

I was taking what sun there was between the scudding clouds, and admiring the Blasket Islands in the distance while recovering from a bracing tumble in the cauldron of surf that helps make Coumeenole one of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches, when a fist-sized chunk of limestone jolted me from my reverie.

The sand around me was soon spotted with blood. Friends and family rushed to my aid with great wads of tissue-paper as we tried to make sense of what could have caused such an ugly gash on the back of my head.

We could only put it down to the Vivaldi weather – four seasons in one day – which has been plaguing the Dingle Peninsula for the past few weeks resulting in a loosening of the cliff rock as rain and wind continue their millennia-old work of shaping the unique Co Kerry landscape.

The steep stone road which spirals down to the cove which features in David Lean’s reworking of Madame Bovary, Ryan’s Daughter, is often lined with tourists looking aghast at the native Irish frolicking in the Atlantic rollers despite posted warnings of strong currents and what, to non-Irish eyes at least, must look like a clear ban on swimming there.

Legend has it that in those pre-climate change days, David Lean’s cast and crew waited for months to film a storm scene there, something that is pretty much a daily occurrence this summer.

These land-loving tourists often join the innocent souls sitting under the cliff face, oblivious to the threat posed by loose rock, so I am now urging Kerry County Council to put up a warning signs and some netting. Other weather-beaten maritime county councils might also take note.

In the meantime, I made the journey to Dingle with a splitting headache, but must have looked very relaxed with one hand holding the back of my head to avoid bloodying the upholstery of my brother-in-law, Peter Murphy’s car.

There I ended up on the operating table of Dr Margaret O’Shea at her Dingle surgery who kindly saw me out of normal office hours and deftly knitted up my scalp with seven stitches and threw in a hair cut for free to get at the wound.

She was anxious to have my skull X-rayed as quickly as possible, so the ambulance was summoned and I disappeared into the back of it feeling like a bit of a fraud.

Hoever, you soon get into the mood when you’re hooked up to an oxygen saturation monitor and strapped to a gurney while trying to take a swig from a bottle of Lucozade as the “white bus” shuttles you across the peninsula and you try to pick out landmarks such as Inch strand and Tom Crean’s South Pole Inn in Annascaul.

The journey was made that bit more agreeable thanks to the company of one of Ireland’s most well-known paramedics, Pat Hanafin, who was chairperson of the Association of Ambulance Personnel for eight years.

In light of recent tragic events in Croke Park, an ambulance ride across Co. Kerry is bound to awaken in any thoughtful Dubliner intimations of mortality, but Pat diplomatically steered the conversation towards more esoteric subjects such as how emergency medicine benefits from his passion: the high-tech world of Formula 1.

Pat bought one of its innovations, Water-gel, for the Dingle ambulance – out of his own pocket – some years before it became standard issue as atype of bandage which prevents further damage from burns and thus reducesthe likelihood of bodily deformity.

I felt a dart of loneliness as Pat said goodbye and left me sitting in a wheelchair in the A E department of Tralee General Hospital. My injury might have made the charts in Dingle, but it was only bubbling under as far as the busy medics of Tralee were concerned so some hours passed before, X-rays taken and examined, I was given the all-clear to be driven back to Dingle by my patient brother-in-law.

There was a full moon rising over the Conor Pass as we hit a rabbit on the road back. His head injury was a lot worse than mine. Ni fheicimid a leitheid aris ann.

This post first appeared in the Irish Times

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