ARE YOU RIGHT THERE, MICHAELEEN?

Mary McEvoy writes about life, in and out of dirty Dublin, and about serious medical matters too.

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January, seemingly the longest month of the year, forced us to take desperate measures to relieve the dull boredom of a lingering winter. One remedy is to visit local tourist attractions which host thousands of visitors every year. By sharing in their view of Ireland, we are reinvigorated with the wonder of living in a capital city, and for a short time we discard our jaded view of what surrounds us.

Mary Kate and I visited the Ceol Museum, in the recently renewed Smithfield Market just off the north quays and adjacent to the Jameson Distillery. At £5.00 per person, we rambled through the interactive music displays, videos and panels of narrative, finishing in the restaurant area–a two-level glass, wood and chrome creation. Menus are cosmopolitan and pricey, and the ambience is punctuated by the staccato noise of Irish dances on a polished hardwood floor. Not a place for Sunday morning hangovers, but pleasant enough in an impersonal way.

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The MMR vaccine controversy continues and I am hopeful that the government commission–brought about by parental pressure–is effective in determining risk, real or imagined. Disability, caused either by inheritance or ‘act of nature’, is reconcilable, but when a human life is profoundly changed by a disability such as autism, perhaps because of a vaccine, that is irremissible.

I have no personal or direct knowledge of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism, but if I did, I would be relentless in finding out the scientific truth. My admiration of families who have taken on the medical world over the need to know is boundless.

As long as there is any doubt about the safety of this 3-in-1 vaccine, why can it not be freely available as the 2-in-1? Why are doctors so keen to defend the vaccine? Why are they ill-disposed towards separating the measles-mumps-rubella components within the vaccine? Why do GPs administer multiple inoculations on the same surgery visit? Why do we not hear more about homeopathic solutions to prevent the deadly rubella disease?

Lastly, where will the drug companies, general practitioners, paediatricians and health boards turn if the serum does prove to be causal in autism? It took more than thirty years for drug companies to respond to victims of the 1960s tragedy of thalidomide–a hundred of them in Ireland–with a paltry sum in recompense.

It is not cynicism which inspires my belief that the medical world is possibly in denial about one cause of autism, but reality based on examples caused by medical negligence currently reported in the Irish media.

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The wonder of television escapes us all too frequently, as its omnipresence links in various rooms of homes throughout Ireland. In February, on one of those evenings when there is ‘nothing on’, we stumbled across a Network 2 broadcast of an Andrea Bocelli concert in Pisa. A massive antique set of Italian architecture formed an elliptical and ancient backdrop for an enormous orchestra conducted by a classically handsome Italian. The summer night was lifted by hundreds of lights which came from inside huge empty windows staring down upon an audience of opera-lovers in formal dress and glittering jewels.

Although I had read the listing in the paper, I thought it was a repeat of a documentary about the glorious tenor which had been shown last year. A married man with two small children, he was revealed in the documentary as a man very much at peace in his invisible surroundings.

Bocelli is one of a kind. When he sings, he stands straight and motionless, his arms at his sides, head bent ever so slightly, dark feathered eyelashes framing lower lids. Slightly long jet-black hair with rare strands of silver grey frames a sallow, sensitive, benign face, above a short, neat, full-face beard. Being Italian, his clothes are beautifully tailored in formal, but loose, design–broad shoulders in need of no padding, slender, tall and graceful.

Unlike most classical singers, his face remains still during the performance, barely raising an eyebrow and free of the contortions which would distort and detract from his natural beauty.

And when he sings! Oh! And when he sings, as he opens his mouth the words and music seem to spill forth as if bursting to be heard, effortlessly. There is no ‘break’ in his voice as he glides over octaves with the ease of songbirds. Part of me wondered if musical notes would become visible in the air about him. His hit single with Sarah Brightman left me breathless and I envied her, as she rested her head on his shoulder and caressed that bearded, beautiful face.

I looked at Mary Kate. Mary Kate looked at me. We both wiped away tears. I felt like I was there!

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I am flabbergasted by the recently published research from the Human Genome Project (HGP) jointly with Celera Genomics, the former publicly funded, the latter a private firm. What primitive knowledge I possessed about genetics, acquired over thirty years, is shaken, and now all I know is that I know nothing!

There were two shocking revelations–the discovery that the human genome is highly repetitive and stuffed with what geneticists have termed ‘junk’, and that a relatively small number of genes are required to be human–between 30,000 and 40,000- What this will mean to families with genetic disorders in terms of prevention or ‘cure’ is unfathomable at present.

In Galway (UCG), Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, and in Belfast, current genetic testing is available to people with the excruciating question ‘Why?’ The service is free and is directly accessible to clients who can attend for a simple blood test, with results known in about four weeks. Although I have no idea how many people have availed of the opportunity for knowledge about the cause of disability, I suspect that it may be quite a low percentage. Now that identification of specific genes is promised in the near future, what possibilities, opportunities, medical miracles may be possible? I surely don’t know, but I would very much like to be informed.

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Spring comes early in Ireland. I used to think it was heralded by the Spring equinox, 21 March, but I abide by St Bridget’s Day, 1 February. Serendipity brought me to Newbridge on St Bridget’s Day this year. Bridget was my paternal grandmother’s name and it is my own confirmation name: Mary Michaeleen Bridget McEvoy. My parents were expecting a boy and they had planned to call me Michael–hence ‘Michealeen’ (no laughter, please!).

I stopped at St Conleth’s Church to find a St Bridget’s Cross. At the altar, a woman was leading the rosary, her Hail Marys answered by about 25 older people scattered about the huge cavern of a church. Even after all these years, the recitation hummed me into an old comfort zone. There were too many eyes watching for me to search altars and alcoves–I later found my Bridget’s Cross at the parish centre. They were made by local children and the proceeds of sales would go to victims of the Indian earthquake.

The Parish Centre, a two-storey modern building, hosts an endless list of community activities. Its central location is convenient to a spreading population. Showcases of religious gifts, books and videos make early Christmas or birthday shopping a painless exercise. For someone like myself who loves angel memorabilia, it was a treat. Angel rings, birthstone pins and collar pins are well-made and inexpensive, making wonderful presents for angel fans. Remember, we’re all meant to have one.

In Charlotte Mall, occupying both sides of the entrance, is ‘Bits and Bobs’, which sells a wide variety of household items and gifts of every description. For £1.99 each, I bought a set of four miniature picture frames (with glass insets, not plastic) and a composite frame for six photographs. Photo albums for 60 photos are £1.00, but best of all were the children’s savings banks, ceramic moulds of open cars and taxis driven by bears of various descriptions and a boot with lock and key–for withdrawals. Next door is the Hoky Poky–a self-service rustic-style café, which has brightly painted wooden booths, three separate seating areas, daily papers for borrowing and ‘lattés’ for £1.40-

Across the road, the Card Shop displays sales to empty its shelves, as its owner retires for more pressing commitments–namely a new and unexpected baby–I find St Patrick’s Day paper plates–50p!

… And then home to dear old dirty Dublin.

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