by Sr. Sheila Devane, MMM Ireland 26.10.2023
As a little girl I asked a lot of questions. All children do. I wanted to know so much about so many different things. No sooner had I got an answer than I was ready when another question and then another popped into my small head! Why did I not have grandparents living in the town of Boyle when other children there did? And why did my two sets of grandparents live in different places? How did my parents meet when one came from Kerry and the other from Donegal and these places are so far apart on the map? Why was mammy’s name sometimes spelled Friel and at other times O’Friel? And why did she change her name and daddy did not? Why did we have twins who were not born on the exact same day? And why were they not even born in the same town? Were they still real twins? ‘Why’ became one of my favourite words.
As I got older, I learned about questions not to ask and then about questions that one could ask but not to everyone. Later on, I learned which parent to ask and when was the best time to do so especially if either money or permission to stay out late was involved. It was all so complicated, but I was managing well and getting a lot of information though not always enough! There were always so many more things that I would have liked to know. At one time I was interested in how old people were, but this was really hard to find out especially when they were big people or adults; no one seemed to think this was a good or polite question from a child even though everyone asked me as a little girl what age I was! It didn’t seem fair.
In nurse training when a new patient was being admitted there was so much to ask and a lot of trouble if you missed out on some vital question; the ward sister would be so furious if there was missing information on a chart. It was even more serious in midwifery where the questions seemed to be a matter of life and death sometimes. In clinical psychology questions are central: open questions, closed questions, rhetorical questions and a group called Socratic questions among others loomed large in our training and in our everyday work. How to use these, when to use them, how to manage responses and how to handle the client’s own questions are all part and parcel of our skill set.
Then there are the awkward, or is it the crazy questions I find myself being asked these days: “Are all the nuns like you?” “Will this Pope allow nuns to marry?!” “Does the Vatican pay for your holidays?” “Will you retire from being a nun?”
I thought I had met, or had asked myself, most types of question until the Covid pandemic came along. It brought so much change and its own big, medium and small questions every day. Let me tell you about one really funny experience at that time.
We were most fortunate in Ireland as the vaccination campaign was superbly handled. By Spring 2020 the mass vaccinating sessions had begun, and people were prioritized by seniority of age and medical vulnerability. Large, wide, physical spaces were used to facilitate social distancing whilst also catering for big numbers in attendance at any one time. The uptake was impressively high, thank goodness. I was called to a vaccination centre in April in the classrooms of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Medical School situated in Beaumont Hospital on the North side of Dublin. This was a session for people aged 74-79 years and for a much smaller number of people over 60 years with immune compromised conditions – so altogether an elderly cohort. I joined two other MMMs and a member of our staff and we went along together following the instructions and clear signage.
Eventually after what felt like a long trail, I arrived at the injection booth where two delightful, recently retired female nurses were on duty. They had followed the government call to action and volunteered to return from recent retirement to assist in this campaign. So, the questions began-every question was asked twice and fed into the computer; they took the questioning in turn and had a well-practiced protocol written out in front of them on the desk. So, I answered about every illness & infirmity I ever had. I answered my name, address, date of birth, what title I used to which I replied “Sister” and so much more once, then twice, later it was checked and recorded with both ensuring the accuracy of what was said. And the last question came from two solemn faces: “Now we have one more final question – a question we must ask ,and one we ask every woman: ‘do you think you could be pregnant?’
In the post-vaccination room later where we were observed for 15 minutes and offered bottled water and biscuits there was great hilarity and howling laughter. Some of the women (all pretty elderly) spoke of answering the last question with: “awaiting a scan”, “could be”; “with twins”; “possibly”; “I hope”; “on the pill twice a day”; “overdue”; “he’s dead over 40 years-thank God”; “give over”; “now you’re serious”; “IVF or is it IFA it’s called?”; “immaculate conception”; “full term”; and “definitely yes!”
Note: This is not a complete list of the answers
So much for questions, right questions, relevant questions, awkward questions, inappropriate questions, open questions and for rules & regulations! Most of all hurrah for the great fun and marvellous enjoyment provided by those witty Dublin women after many months of being in lockdown. They hadn’t lost their ability to give the quick one liner (answer) nor to find a reply to the most outlandish of questions. The palpable delight and sheer excitement of seeing one another in person and being together with time to joke were hard to beat! A party and a half in fifteen minutes! Thank you Covid!