I think that you can tell a lot from a person’s kitchen. In fact, if I feel comfortable in the kitchen then I’m reasonably assured of being comfortable with the person who uses it. The room in question here is in a lovely home just outside Headford, north of Galway.
It’s spacious and airy, looking out over open fields, which gives a pleasant feeling of lightness to the room. In the centre there’s a large, high table; and considering that on the day I visit there are children doing their homework on it, I guess that it probably serves for more than just dining at.
On the walls there are the signs of a happy home: drawings that the kids have done at school and which have been put up on spare surfaces, along with photographs of various family members. Comfortable, contented clutter comes to my mind. And yes, I think that it’s safe to say that I liked this room straight away– as I did the owner Rosie Conneely, who has invited Jennifer and myself into her home. In my case it’s for a chat; for Jennifer it is to do a bit of catching up, because in the past the Conneely’s have been a family that Hand in Hand has assisted through bad times.
She introduces me to two of her three children: Darragh (12), a remarkably polite lad; and his little sister Rachel (11). Later I’ll be meeting the small lady who is the reason for the visit, seven-year-old Aideen.
Mum Rosie is a petite young woman, open and easy to listen to. There are times, though, that her soft Fermanagh accent hints at steel and stubbornness in her makeup. And as she relives her pain of years previous, I can see that these are qualities that have stood to her and that she damned well had to be in possession of; for in September of 2010 Aideen was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, which can be a precursor to leukaemia.
“She just always seemed to be tired”, says Rosie. “It wasn’t right in a child that age. She had no energy, no life.”
Rosie lived through a frustrating—as well as what must have seemed like a never-ending– period of many months, when she seemed to be unable to get it across to those in charge that there was something seriously wrong with her little girl. Let me put it bluntly and then leave it at this: some people who should have known better didn’t seem to be responding to the concerns of a very frightened mother. As Rosie says: “Even the neighbours were coming up to me and asking how she was; even the neighbours were noticing. And yet I just wasn’t being listened to.”
And you would think, wouldn’t you…you would think that maybe a grey complexion and bluish lips would set off at least a few alarms.
However, if some people didn’t exactly emerge from this covered in glory, there were others who did and one of those was the junior doctor who enquired as to what treatment Aideen was receiving. At this point it seems to have been mainly blood tests in May, followed by more of the same just before the schools closed in June; and then Aideen just got worse and worse over the summer.
“After I answered her questions, that junior doctor wanted to do further tests; and the result was that Aideen was brought straight to Galway Hospital and they kept her in. Then on the Friday she was transferred to Crumlin Children’s Hospital. ‘You were right to be worried’, I was told. ‘There’s something wrong with her blood.’ Her haemoglobin was at 5.8 when it should have been above 12 and then dropped even further to 4.9. That was when Aideen got the first blood transfusion. I was running around like a mad thing, trying to organise the other children and call my husband Gerry, who was working in England.”
There’s always a fine line, isn’t there? I’m worrying at this point that I am opening up old wounds, but Rosie assures me that even now she has a need to talk about that terrible period. Still, I’m just a bit relieved when she tells me that she has to take a break for five minutes in order to collect Aideen.
I sit there with Jennifer, thinking, not talking. Instead, I’m looking around that lovely kitchen again. Yes, it may have all the hallmarks and atmosphere of now being the happy centre of the Conneely household; but it has suddenly hit me that it has also been silent witness to an awful lot of agonising worry.