Mark Dobson: 'I was left totally star-struck as I chatted with the players'
In the sixth of his exclusive weekly columns, Mark Dobson, the son of former MLA Jo-Anne, tells of his excitement at meeting the Northern Ireland team ahead of their World Cup play-offs.
Last week it was Mum's turn to spend a full day with the wonderful staff at the renal unit on Ward 11 South at Belfast City Hospital.
Even though I was hooked up to my dialysis machine in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, Mum stayed in constant contact via WhatsApp throughout the day to keep me up to date with all the tests, scans and checks she was going through.
All this was to see if she can be a match - fingers and toes crossed - to donate a kidney to me at the earliest in February.
Throughout the day and, under the watchful and caring eyes of transplant co-ordinator Pauline, assisted ably by Aideen, Mum went through what she described as a "full MOT test". This included ultrasound scan, chest X-ray, blood sampling, CT scan and finally meeting with doctors Finn and Courtney.
Dr Courtney and her team work so incredibly hard to combine so many tests into one seamless experience to assist and ease the process for those who take the brave step of putting themselves forward to be a live kidney donor.
During her meeting with Dr Courtney, Mum was told she had a very special link with Northern Ireland's first live donor - they share the same birthday, January 3. I know this meant so much to Mum as she prepares to go through a whole series of totally new experiences so that I might be able to get the chance to once again live as normal a life as possible without the three-times-weekly dialysis routine, which I am now, 14 weeks in, almost institutionalised into.
While everything went well for Mum, it will take some time for us to have a conclusive answer around when and if donation can proceed for us as we hope and pray for February.
Throughout the day Mum got to catch up with so many wonderful health professionals - people who have cared so well for me during my numerous times at the City Hospital, but it's a renal nurse from Daisy Hill who I particularly want to mention this week.
Back in August, Barbara Ashfield made me feel so at ease when I first arrived at Daisy Hill after I had my donated kidney removed. As a young man arriving into a new environment just after major surgery, I was met by Barbara, a welcoming and friendly face who patiently, and with experience and care, hooked me up to my four-hour dialysis sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Barbara, a nurse since 1981 and who has been caring for countless renal patients across three of Northern Ireland's dialysis units since 1984, is about to embark on a well-deserved retirement. While my fellow dialysis patients and I will be sad to see her leave Daisy Hill - although maybe not just yet - I know she does so after decades of dedicated service to nursing and caring for others.
While for me Barbara is so much more than a nurse, she is certainly not the exception across our hospitals. Day-in and day-out, health professionals across all specialties go that extra mile because they truly care. It's no exaggeration to say that nurses put the heart into healthcare - happy retirement, Barbara.
Following last week's health dramas, including A&E and admission at Daisy Hill, things ran rather smoothly with my lines this week. As a treat after dialysis last week, Mum and I went to Fitzpatrick's in Dundalk to see their Halloween displays, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy some traditional hospitality.
Being on dialysis can be a scary experience, so it's always nice to get some quality time away from hospital and to bring some normality into our lives.
Monday afternoons for me usually involve collapsing on the sofa after returning home exhausted by dialysis. But this week was destined to be different because, thanks to the Belfast Telegraph and the IFA, I was on an adrenalin-fuelled cloud nine.
The setting was the five-star luxury of the Culloden Hotel in Cultra, where I got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet privately with the whole Northern Ireland football team, and was so kindly given the first signed new-design Northern Ireland home shirt.
I was left totally star-struck as I got the chance to meet and chat with the players as they got their official photographs taken ahead of the World Cup play-off matches on Thursday and Sunday. Here's to a two nil victory at Windsor Park tomorrow and a one-all draw in Basel at the weekend. You heard my predictions here first.