Back on the mend after unexpected stay in St James’s Hospital

Our man Frank on having a pacemaker fitted, cheering on Rachael, Italy’s rugby heroics…and a bad week for seagulls

It’s Sunday morning as I write, a slightly cloudier day than we have had the last couple of days, but still dry and mild. I am thinking back to last Sunday, and to the very disappointing loss that our rugby team suffered against Buccaneers in the Junior Cup quarter-final. A last-minute defeat put paid to our ambitions for this year, and I can’t deny that the way we lost was particularly upsetting. Therefore, when I got home I put the extreme weakness that came over me down to the effects of losing the game.

  After about an hour or so I was more or less back to myself, and only for my wife, Carol, that would have been the end of it – and maybe of me as well. Carol, however, insisted that I go to the doctor on Monday morning, which I did. Having done an ECG, the doctors on duty were unanimous in their decision that it was time for a pacemaker, and so by 5 pm on Monday evening I was in the coronary care unit in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin. On Wednesday afternoon, my latest bit of metal, i.e. the pacemaker, was sewn into the top of my chest.

  Sometimes, maybe even more than sometimes, it is open season on the healthcare system in Ireland, but as someone who has spent time in Roscommon, Portiuncula, Merlin Park, the Regional and now James’s hospitals in recent years, I have to say that I have yet to have any type of negative experience. In fact my time in James’s was extremely pleasant – and nearly enjoyable!

  It has long been popular to deride the hospital food too, but the fare I was served up all week was perfectly acceptable. Remarkably, we were fed four times daily, and – at variance with popular opinion – the portions were quite substantial. On the staffing front, most of the nurses in the coronary care unit were Indian, and they were the nicest, friendliest people you could meet, all delighted to be in Ireland, although all horrified at the cost of living, and all appalled at the cost (and scarcity) of accommodation in Dublin.

  It’s funny how hospital always throws up different types of people and experiences. Over the last couple of days I was joined by Vince from Wexford, a 76-year-old man who was admitted after suffering a heart attack. After all the tests were conducted, the news he received was that he would have to have a quadruple bypass. When I was leaving, he still hadn’t made up his mind as to whether he’d bother or not. As he said to me, he had lived a good, full life. He didn’t seem too concerned about his future. Hopefully after talking to the doctors he will have a change of heart, literally, and will take the opportunity to extend his time on earth.

  As for me, for the moment I am grounded, not allowed to drive ‘til midweek, and advised to be careful for a few weeks or so. Long-term, my new pacemaker should make life a little better for me. I just hope the batteries don’t give up on me.

Rachael, Ruby and rugby drama

One of the great things about being in hospital is that when you get home you are almost treated like royalty. So, having made it back to Creggs on Friday afternoon, I was told to sit down, relax, and watch whatever I wanted to on the telly. So I was happily parked in my armchair when Rachael Blackmore once again rewrote history and became the first female jockey to win the famed Cheltenham Gold Cup.

  On Tuesday she had won the Champion Hurdle, and when she did the double by landing the Gold Cup she became the first jockey to do so since the great Tony McCoy back in 1997.

  As she literally ran away with the race (well, Rachael and A Plus Tard) there are many moments that will live long in my memory, but the footage of Ruby Walsh as he cheered her all the way to glory will be something that I will particularly cherish.

  As for the lady herself – who of course also won last year’s Grand National – her humility and natural grace make her a massive superstar, not only nationally but now internationally too.

  As we endure firstly the pandemic, and now the unforgiveable war in Ukraine, it’s safe to say that Rachael, the farmer’s daughter from Tipperary, has helped in no small way to lift the spirits of an entire nation. Long may her talent, dedication, and perseverance keep her at the top of the racing world, but if she was to call it a day tomorrow morning her achievements will never be forgotten, and in one hundred years from now they will be talking about the Tipperary woman who rewrote the history books and changed the face of horse racing for ever.

  As an example of her professionalism, on the day after her Gold Cup exploits she had one ride in Thurles, and true to form she turned up and (of course) had another winner. Good on you Rachael, you really are a global superstar!

  As I lay in my hospital bed, my brother ‘Duff’ rang on the Wednesday to see how I was. As an aside, he told me that he and his wife, Fiona, were heading off to Cardiff for the weekend. We made a bit of small talk about the numerous rugby tours we had been on in the lovely Welsh city.

  As we finished our chat Duff me that he had sourced tickets for Wales v Italy on Saturday. When I said that I couldn’t understand how anyone would go to see the Italians getting hammered for the 37th game in a row, he responded that it should be a great occasion, as Alun Wyn Jones was getting his 150th cap and Dan Biggar was making his 100th appearance.

  Little did anyone know at that time exactly how great of an occasion it would be as the Italians scored possibly the try of the tournament to snatch an incredible victory in the final seconds.

  One of the nice stories from that finale is that two minutes earlier Welsh player Josh Adams had been awarded the Man of the Match award. However, having been skinned by Ange Capuozzo as the Italian made the amazing break to set up the winning score, Adams sportingly gave his medal to his opponent, a really nice touch in difficult circumstances.

  A few years ago Duff met the outstanding Welsh player, Ray Gravell, in Cardiff, and they had a great chat. Duff actually allowed the Lions centre to be pictured with him, but Saturday surely had to be one of the most amazing and unexpected rugby days of all time. So in the future, wherever Duff decides to go, there will be no more scepticism from me. What happened on Saturday proves that anything can indeed happen.

And finally…

Over in England, seagulls had a bad week. First, at Chester Zoo, a monkey plucked a gull from the air and killed it. Then in another incident, a seagull was used by a drunk man to launch an attack on a total stranger.

  Paul Elcombe was on his way home from a two-day drink and drugs bender when he came across the injured bird. He brought it into a nearby shop, showing the seagull to startled customers and staff before throwing it at his victim. He then beat the poor unfortunate man with his fists, feet, and a belt, leaving the victim with a broken jaw.

  Elcombe was jailed for 14 months, while the seagull sadly died from its injuries. Often we might hear of gulls terrorising people and swooping on their food, so this was a most unusual example of the opposite happening.