After waiting 10 months for an op, I wept when it was cancelled minutes before surgery. Please Arlene and Michelle, sort this out for me and so many others
Preparing for surgery is an anxious enough ordeal, but when your long-awaited procedure is scrapped at the last minute due to cuts it only adds to the stress, as Karen Ireland discovered.
This week I became a statistic, one of hundreds of people affected every day by the current political climate in Northern Ireland. For 10 months, I have been waiting on an operation to relieve me of a lot of pain.
I have had three pre-ops, each alerting me to the fact that hopefully my date for surgery was getting closer, and finally I got the news I was waiting on - a date. My operation was scheduled for this week.
I am a single mum of three boys, so I had to organise my home life for when I wouldn't be here and be in hospital and my plans for recovering. I had to sort out lifts and depend on Jesse, my eldest son, who is now driving, to ferry his brothers about when necessary.
I organised work, and also turned down work, because of the all-important date.
As it approached I did what us women do - I had all my nail varnish removed and my skin waxed to within an inch of its life.
Physically I was as prepared as I could be and mentally I built myself up as well. I have a huge fear of anaesthetics, so I had to work hard at reassuring myself that all would be okay.
I took some time to get myself psyched up and even treated myself to a pre-op spa break in the build-up. Finally, when the day came I was ready.
My alarm went off early at 6.30am and I was in a bed at Craigavon hospital by 7.45am.
Half an hour or so later the anaesthetist came to see me and assured me that she would look after me when I was asleep.
She talked to me in-depth about my pacemaker and how it would be checked before surgery. I felt calm and confident in her abilities and she put me at ease.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love tea, so one of the hardest parts about the wait was the lack of a cuppa.
But still, I was waiting - and soon the event that had been looming for so long would be underway and about to be over.
Except, the next visitor to my room set alarm bells ringing. She was the head of midwifery and gynaecology at the hospital. I knew she wasn't just here to welcome me to her patch.
No, she told me that she was coming to bring me sad news - my operation was being cancelled because they had no recovery beds.
In other words, the operation could go ahead - that wasn't the problem - they just had nowhere to put me afterwards.
I freely admit that even though I'm a confident mum of three in my 40s I dissolved into floods of tears. I was crying out of a mixture of frustration and anger. As well, of course, because of a string of 'buts'. I told her how I had arranged my life around this date, about the build-up to it, the efforts I'd had to go to ...
With a lovely, well-practiced and professional bedside manner, she assured me that she knew how I felt. She said that everyone felt frustrated. But none of that changed anything - there simply were no beds. My operation could not go ahead.
The only surgery taking place that day was for cancer patients, and those at risk of cancer. I thanked God that I wasn't one of those, but my anger and frustration tumbled out.
They asked whether I would like a cup of my beloved tea? Even that didn't soothe me.
I had planned everything out - except this. I hadn't planned for this.
As I lay quietly sobbing, my consultant entered the room in his scrubs. He should have been there to assure me the operation would be a success and I'd be up and about in no time.
Instead, he was here to apologise. He said he was all gowned-up and ready to operate when he got the news from above that his list of patients for the day was being cancelled.
I told him what I did for a living and that I would be writing a story about it. He simply said: "Well, write about what the politicians up in Stormont who are being paid to sort the country out are doing about the health service."
I realised he was right. All my frustration had been directed in the wrong place. Everyone at Craigavon Area Hospital was lovely and acted professionally and I know that, from the top consultants through to the domestic staff, they are all just doing their jobs in very difficult and frustrating circumstances.
What happened to me - and no doubt countless other patients that day - is totally beyond their control.
So, again, I was waiting - this time to be taken home. Back to where I should have been recuperating and being looked after by my three merry men.
Instead, as each returned from school wondering what I was doing there, I had to recall the day's events repeatedly to each one of them, only adding to my frustration and fury.
As a journalist, I've covered many stories of people affected by hospital cuts. I've read and watched the news of the health service going into crisis. Now I am part of that very story.
I am a real person like the many others who, on that day and on so many other days, have been sent home without their surgery taking place. Like the people waiting for too long in A&E.
This isn't good enough and so I repeat the question straight from my consultant's mouth - what are our politicians doing about it?
Would they care if it was their mother, sister, wife or daughter in my situation? Sent home to wait?
I woke up the next morning with a sense of dread as I remembered I should have been waking up in hospital with the operation over me and on the road to recovery. Instead I was back at home doing what I do worst - waiting.
Now life is in limbo. The operation could be next week, next month or the month after that. That would bring me to near Christmas. A time when no one wants to be feeling below par.
I may not have the most serious condition. Mercifully, I don't require urgent lifesaving treatment, but still this does feel urgent to me. It means I have to put my life on hold.
I will go on waiting until I get another letter with another date and we go through the motions again.
I am a very private person and don't discuss my personal business with just anyone. Writing about this in a newspaper isn't easy. But I was so incensed by what happened to me and so many others that day, and on so many other days that I felt compelled to use my journalistic voice to draw attention to this dire situation.
The next day I heard of a tiny baby who needed a four hour lifesaving op and was being sent to Dublin, but her operation was also cancelled as there were no intensive care beds. This is a crisis that eventually comes to everyone's door in some form or other.
By all means, politicians should represent their respective communities and voter base in relation to outstanding issues, but I think everyone would agree that the health and well-being of the people of Northern Ireland is fundamental to everything else.
So, come on Arlene and Michelle, end this wait for me and so many others like me.