The Everyday Irishman


Heroes

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on June 27, 2009
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I tried to write a column about Michael yesterday, but I was overcome. He has been such a presence in my life for so long, I feel I have lost an older brother. The memories were joyous and hence the sadness so much more. I’m just a fan, but when someone gives so much of himself to the world, we all feel we know him.

Next week will be better.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll accept this short extract, which was originally part of the last chapter of my book Two in a Million. In the end the book read better without it, but it seems appropriate now.

Rest easy, Michael. Some lives last forever, and yours is one.

‘Heroes’

My last hour of therapy with Dr Gina MacDonnell was held on Wednesday November 19, 2003. On the day before, members of the FBI and local police raided Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California, as news surfaced in the world’s media of an ongoing child molestation investigation.

I walked into Gina’s office dispirited. Since becoming a fan, I had, of course, read all about the first abuse allegation against Jackson, made by a thirteen-year-old boy in 1993. And, after perusing an article by Mary A. Fisher from GQ magazine’s October 1994 issue, I became convinced that in that instance Michael was utterly innocent, the victim of a diabolical scheme to extort money from him.

These new, emerging allegations upset me greatly. Not because I thought MJ guilty of any crime, but because I felt so angry and sorry that this was happening to him again. I loved Michael Jackson. His music had been there for me when nothing else was; it had lifted me up when nothing else could. I’d spent endless entertaining hours watching his videos and live performances, left breathless by the sheer magic in his movements. I wanted to be able to dance like him, to make music like him. But acting was the closest I got to dancing, and poetry was the closest I came to music.

I didn’t just love Michael Jackson because I enjoyed his artistry, however. To me, he was a paradigm of humanity. I didn’t care about his cosmetic surgeries or whatever eccentricities he may or may not have possessed – to me he was a beautiful person. The way he just kept on giving his music, his time, and his money to the world no matter what the media or other detractors threw at him; the way he strived for genius in everything he created… these were sources of limitless joyous inspiration to me. I’ll never forget Aisling’s comment the first time I showed her one of the King of Pop’s performances. ‘He makes you believe,’ she said, ‘that some people can achieve perfection in what they do.’ That’s how I’ve always felt.

‘One of the many contradictions that are Ben’ were the words Gina used to describe my faith in Michael Jackson. Given that my worldview was so cynical in other respects, I suppose there was a contradiction to be found. But in anybody’s life, there are absolutes. Faith in Michael Jackson was one in mine.

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A Living Word: Five Hospital Days – Friday

Posted in The Origin Stuff by everydayirishman on May 1, 2009
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RTE Radio 1’s A Living Word begins and ends each day with a religious or secular two-minute meditation on any topic under the sun.

This week you can tune in to hear me read a thought each day, at 06.40 and 01.58. The Theme is ‘Five Hospital Days’ and the thoughts are based on my book, Two in a Million: A True Story about Illness and Love.

Friday’s piece is below.

One outcome of a successful bone marrow transplant is that, afterwards, the recipient’s body contains the DNA of two individuals – his own, and the donor’s.

During one of my post-transplant visits to Crumlin Hospital some years ago, a nurse needed to take a sample of my own DNA, and she told me that the best way to get a good sample was to swab the inside of my mouth. Swimming in my blood is someone else’s blueprint.

I remember the day I got my new bone marrow. I sat on the edge of my bed in the High Dependency Unit in Crumlin, and my consultant attached a six-inch syringe to the catheter that was coming out of my chest. Slowly, he pushed my new marrow into me.

The extreme sickness and the battles with infection would come later. The process of actually getting the marrow was painless, and lasted just ten minutes.

The marrow had been harvested from my American donor less than twenty-four hours before. I didn’t know who my donor was; he or she was willing to undergo a painful bone marrow harvest in order to save the life of a teenager he or she had never met. For ethical reasons, we would never be allowed to meet.

As my new marrow was injected, I wondered about my donor’s interests, his or her hobbies, what he or she liked to eat for breakfast.

Someone I didn’t know was giving me back my life, right down to new DNA. I could offer them nothing, except thanks they would never hear.

A Living Word: Five Hospital Days – Thursday

Posted in The Origin Stuff by everydayirishman on April 30, 2009
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RTE Radio 1’s A Living Word begins and ends each day with a religious or secular two-minute meditation on any topic under the sun.

This week you can tune in to hear me read a thought each day, at 06.40 and 01.58. The Theme is ‘Five Hospital Days’ and the thoughts are based on my book, Two in a Million: A True Story about Illness and Love.

Thursday’s piece is below.

There is an old hospital adage, that the nurses in Our Lady’s in Crumlin used to tell me when I spent time there as a child and a teenager: When you go into hospital, you take two suitcases with you – one to carry your clothes, and another to pack away your dignity.

 

I have found that it is the little indignities of hospital that are often harder than the big challenges.

 

In the spring of 2002, months after being released following my bone marrow transplant, I still had to wear a mask while walking around Our Lady’s. I had to cover my nose and mouth, to protect me from infection.

 

One day, I was collecting blood test forms to bring to the phlebotomist, and a nurse handed me a mask.

 

I refused to put it on. It just seemed like I’d been through enough. I’d had needles jabbed into me for years; I’d had tubes shoved into every part of my body; during transplant, I’d been too weak to get out of bed and had to be washed by nurses.

 

Now I was supposed to be getting better – I felt healthy and strong. I wasn’t going to cover my face while walking down a corridor.

 

The nurse refused to allow me go anywhere.

 

I’d been worried about my pride; she was worried about my health. In hospital a little indignity goes a long way. I wore the mask that day, and stayed infection free. I’ve never had to wear a mask in hospital since.

 

 

 

A Living Word: Five Hospital Days – Wednesday

Posted in The Origin Stuff by everydayirishman on April 29, 2009
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RTE Radio 1’s A Living Word begins and ends each day with a religious or secular two-minute meditation on any topic under the sun.

This week you can tune in to hear me read a thought each day, at 06.40 and 01.58. The Theme is ‘Five Hospital Days’ and the thoughts are based on my book, Two in a Million: A True Story about Illness and Love.

Wednesday’s piece is below.

A lecturer of mine, drawing on Beckett, once wrote of the stages we go through as we move from despair at to acceptance of some tragedy or horror is our lives.

 

First we tell ourselves: ‘I can’t go on.’ Then we insist: ‘I must go on.’ Finally we simply say: ‘I’ll go on.’

 

When I returned home from hospital after my bone marrow transplant in 2001, I knew my life had nowhere to go but death. I’d been through months of the most severe pain I could imagine, drifting in and out of consciousness. I’d experienced psychosis and forgotten who my parents were.

 

My muscles were wasted; I had to learn to walk again. I couldn’t hold a pen because my hands shook so badly.

 

The most terrifying thing: I’d lost senses I thought I would never lose. The music I’d liked before my transplant, I didn’t know why I liked it. Movies I’d found funny weren’t funny anymore. My short term memory was gone.

 

I don’t remember how I got better. I don’t remember when the certainty of death slipped away, and hope crept into my thoughts again.

 

All I remember doing, is taking baby steps up and down our driveway, my mum by my side, as I tried to build up some strength. Every step hurt. Before each one, I’d think: I can’t do any more. My mum scolded me: You must do it. And then I did.

 

 

 

 

A Living Word – Five Hospital Days: Tuesday

Posted in The Origin Stuff by everydayirishman on April 28, 2009
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RTE Radio 1’s A Living Word begins and ends each day with a religious or secular two-minute meditation on any topic under the sun.

This week you can tune in to hear me read a thought each day, at 06.40 and 01.58. The Theme is ‘Five Hospital Days’ and the thoughts are based on my book, Two in a Million: A True Story about Illness and Love.

Tuesday’s piece is below.

The Chinese writer Lin Yutang once wrote that if you can spend an afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.

 

When I was 16, I paid a rather useless trip to Powerscourt Waterfall in Co Wicklow.

 

At the time, I was in the middle of a bone marrow transplant. Admitted to hospital in late June, I’d quickly become incredibly ill, in violent pain and too weak to lift myself out of bed.

 

It was now early August, and I was allowed out of the isolation ward for day trips. Even so, I clung to the idea of hospital, and the routine I had there. I was worried about infections and daunted by all the pills I had to take. Hospital was the only place I felt safe.

 

My parents had brought me to Powerscourt in the hope of rekindling memories from happy childhood days spent there.

 

But the weather was horrible, and we couldn’t leave the car. The sky was stuffed with grey clouds; the rain seemed to be falling in javelins. I sat in the back seat, listening to the rain and the thunder and the waterfall compete for attention.

 

And then, despite the absurd failure of the attempt to get me some Wicklow air – I laughed. My mum and dad looked at me. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t thinking about blood tests or needles, catheters or tablets.

 

I could spend an afternoon just listening to the rain. And I knew things were getting better.