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Wednesday 16 October 2019

'I heard a crack and I knew' - doctor Michele on breaking neck in fall

Dr Michele Cahill with best friend Anne O’Reilly
Dr Michele Cahill with best friend Anne O’Reilly

Psychiatrist Michele Cahill broke her neck falling downstairs a year ago - but as her loved ones raise funds for 24/7 care, she's hopeful of one day returning to work.

Dr Cahill (65) had just woken up when she heard the phone last May 20. She walked downstairs but tripped. It was a moment that would change her life forever.

Dr Cahill never made the phone. She rapidly realised she would not make it to work in the morning, or possibly ever again.

"I had tumbled down the stairs. I heard a crack and I knew," Dr Cahill told the Herald.

"I couldn't reach the phone. I lost all sense of time. I was just there, paralysed.

"I was trying to stay conscious. It was around 9pm and my son, Eddie, came home at 10.30pm. He got the shock of his life.

"But it helped that I was a psychiatrist. I used every skill I had to help myself cope."

Dr Cahill, from Blackrock, Co Dublin, who had spent her life caring for patients in need, suddenly found she was the one who was vulnerable.

She utilised specialist techniques to stay calm as she lay injured, and again during treatment at the Mater Hospital and the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, where she spent nine months.

Calm

"When I went into the Mater, I was in intensive care and I used all my medical skills, all of it, all the time, to stay calm," Dr Cahill said.

"I used visualisation, absolutely anything I could. My whole identity was as a doctor and a mother. They were my roles in life combined.

"Some people say this is catastrophic but I'm not sure what it is - it's life-changing but it can be life-enriching, depending on how you look at it."

Dr Cahill is today quadriplegic and has a team of carers. One stays throughout the night.

Though she receives a HSE homecare package, she says it doesn't cover 24-hour care and essential therapy.

"I'm in a situation where I can't do, so rather than do, I have to be," the mother-of-two said.

"But everyone has their own troubles and if someone loses their mother, or their house is burgled, that could be their catastrophe. So it's how someone names and labels their event and how they see it.

"Hopefully in the next year I'll find a role for myself in psychiatry again, a way to reach out in a fashion to help those who need help.

"How many psychiatrists are quadriplegic? I believe there is much more for me to do in future still."

Anne O'Reilly, who is best friends with Dr Cahill, said: "Michele was an independent career woman.

"She's a very bright and a strong woman. She was an excellent doctor, who was kind to her patients.

"Being a doctor was her world."

A fundraising lunch is being held on Thursday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm at the Royal College of Surgeons.

To donate, visit: gofundme.com/michele- cahill-benevolent-fund.

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