A powerful 'nobody'

Janette Byrne describes herself as a nobody (Irish Independent) .

In fact she is more powerful than any politician or bureaucrat. If the power she holds could be instilled in even a significant minority of Irish citizens then this country would be rid of the likes of Harney, Ahern and their army of faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats. Here’s her letter (Emphasis mine).

I write to you in light of the recent uncertainty surrounding the exclusion of oncologist John Crown from ‘The Late Late Show’ panel.

I had the honour of being a ‘Late Late Show’ guest over a year ago (September 29, 2006). I was there, in part, to highlight my book, ‘If It Were Just Cancer’, but also as a founder member of the lobby group Patients Together. I am just an ordinary person, a cancer patient who suffered the indignity of A&E, a filthy ward, the fear and terror of not getting a bed and, as a consequence, being denied the right to avail of my urgently required chemotherapy.

From the day I was given the all clear, I vowed that, on behalf of the other girls, women, and men, not as blessed as me, that I would highlight our suffering. I wanted the nation to know, what it meant to be seriously ill in modern Ireland. I am not an academic. I am not a mover and shaker.

I grew up in a close, loving family of eight in Finglas in what was known as a “Corpo-bought” house. I left school at 15. I worked as a hairdresser, had a son at 19, worked in a tyre outlet and then as a rep. I eventually started my own business in 1994.

My new position in the spotlight on ‘The Late Late Show’, in the papers and on the radio was terrifying. I lost many hours of sleep with the worry of letting everybody down. My mother believes I survived at God’s will to do this work. I am inclined to believe I am driven by those gone before me, goading me to stand up and be heard.

Where am I going with all this?

The night I appeared on ‘The Late Late Show’ was one of the most privileged in my life. My family, friends and supporters were dotted around the country watching, my heart was bursting with pride and fear. I wanted to say something that would touch the Irish people; I wanted to make them understand how we, as patients, are being failed. I was sick with nerves, but I knew the girls on the ward were with me in spirit.

I made it through the show but fell into my son’s arms crying and shaking when it finished. It was just all too much for me. I remember one of the researchers hugging me, “Well done Janette, you were brilliant and you have caused such a fuss”.
I was surprised and worried. What had I done?

She explained that “certain people” had been screaming down the phone wanting to know: “Who made the decision to put her on the show? Why were we not told she would be on?” The researcher took delight in their annoyance given that they can find it hard to get any comments or even returned calls from these people.

And here they were, hopping mad, phoning more and more irritated as I continued speaking. What in God’s name could make these people so irate? Little old me rattling on about the indignity of our health service, what was I saying that incited such fear and upset? I have found the answer.

I was telling the truth.

I was an ordinary person telling how it is. I had nothing to gain and nothing to lose. Until that moment, I had never realised how powerful the ordinary person who is willing to stand up and be heard can be. I find it so sad that we have a section of our community who want to silence the truth.

Following the show and my naive decision to gate crash a HSE press gathering, I received texts from a renowned health correspondent saying he had received calls questioning who I was. Who was funding Patients Together? Who was yanking my chain? How many members do we have, etc?

I will save these scrutinisers any further time-wasting and stress worrying about me.

I am a nobody, a taxpayer, an Irish citizen, an honest and loyal person who whispered a promise to the dead that I would be their voice until our overcrowded, under-funded, diseased Health Service learns to treat us with dignity and care.

Really you have nothing to be afraid of.

Janette Byrne
Patients Together
Finglas Park
Dublin 11

One thought on “A powerful 'nobody'”

  1. Hi

    Thank you for your comments re my letter in the Indo Friday 16th Nov 2007.

    If only I could plant a seed of awareness in every home or a seed of comradere.I think of us Irish as a proud and strong nation and I am confused by the indifference to the suffering of patients across our country. The closed mouths ,the acceptence, it is hard to comprehend.

    I feel an epedemic of indifferences has swept across our once great nation.

    A lady wrote to me from Cork last week she has tried to gather support for patients there and with sadness her writing tells how people have responded to her ” we are lucky to have anything” imagine that is how insecure and worthless some of us feel. It is as though we ‘ deserve no better’

    Why do we accept the abuse of our Health Service, why to we listen to government telling us “all is ok, things have improved”. Why do we no longer believe the patient and the frontline staff. this is the place you will find the truth. These are the people who have nothing to gain but a Health Service that is humane and dignified and accessible to all.

    If I could I would visit every home across Ireland and bring the horror stories of our brothers and sisters with me. The photographs of filthy wards, blocked sinks, no toilet paper, no soap, blood and vomit splattered floors. A cancer patient urinating in a plastic cup because nothing else was available, an old lady taken from her home bandana left behind in the rush, she sits in her nighdress on a chair in a door-way waiting for care. I could go on and on. I wake everyday praying I will be inspired or find the magic words or potion that will touch the hearts of Ireland and stir the old embers of pride in a nation who should stand together and say “we deserve better, no more, no more”.

    Good health

    Janette Byrne

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