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03rd May 2024

‘Nothing can prepare you for when your mam gets sick’

Kat O'Connor

I could’ve lost my mam if it wasn’t for our healthcare workers

When you’re young your parents seem indestructible. They’re the ones who wipe your tears away, who bring you warm 7Up and Calpol when you’re feeling sick, and who hug you when you fall off your bike in the park. They’re the ones who are there to make everything better again.

They’re your first friend, your greatest protector, and the strongest person you know. So when they get sick, it can feel like your entire world has been turned upside down.

A couple of years ago my Mam suffered a severe seizure. I remember finding her in my sister’s room, she was grey and fitting and unconscious. The memory of that day is stuck in my mind forever. She was rushed to St. James’s Hospital and taken to ICU. Doctors put her in an induced coma and I sat down in the A&E waiting and wishing and praying to anyone and anything that would listen. I will never forget the moment we walked into the ICU. There’s a haunting quietness about it that I don’t think I’ll ever shake, even after all of these years.

My Mam has done everything for me. She gave up work, bought us the best school shoes, and always minded us when we weren’t well. She collected us from school, made dinners every day, and stayed up until all hours wrapping our presents from Santa on Christmas Eve. She was the one who fixed things when they went wrong, who cheered us up when we felt low, and who was always there when we needed her. And then the roles reversed.

“You don’t realise just how valuable your time with your parents is until it is threatened by health problems and hospital stays”

The fear of my Mam having another seizure, she has had multiple ones since the one that resulted in an ICU stay, haunts me. There have often been days when I’ve been too afraid to leave her at home. The way I view her has completely changed. I worry more, I overthink and fret about her.

I worry about lung functions, hospital appointments, seizure medication, and everything in between. She is incredibly lucky and lives a normal life, just with the help of some tablets and devices that keep her body doing what it needs to do. She’s cared for by doctors in James’s, Beaumont, and the Mater and I’ve never felt more grateful for a collective group of people in my life. If I had it my way I’d wrap her in cotton wool but I can’t do that either. I may feel like the parent, but she still is, no matter what has happened. Her health may have taken a couple of knocks but she’s still my mam, the first friend I ever made, the first person who ever held me and my sisters when we were born. She’s still witty and makes the best roast dinner. She still dances, albeit rather badly, to Rod Stewart and never fails to bring a bargain home from the shops, even if she doesn’t actually need it. She’s still the person who brought us up and cared for us.

Nothing can prepare you for seeing your parent in the hospital. They look so fragile and weak and like all the character that makes them who they are is stripped away. The fear will probably be there forever. I don’t think I’ll ever not worry about her anymore, but my mam is doing better than she ever has. She’s been seizure-free for four years and she’s constantly getting better.

You don’t realise just how valuable your time with your parents is until it is threatened by health problems and hospital stays. It is the most terrifying and anxiety-inducing experience, but it opens your eyes and makes you realise that you need to make the most of every single second. You’ll still fight and bicker and snap at one another when you’re both cranky and fed up, but amongst that will be happier days that you’ll cherish more than ever.