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State-of-art chamber is a lifesaver for divers



Date Published: {J}

It is as close as you can get to entering a spaceship, or a submarine, without leaving dry land in the West of Ireland, and it has helped save the lives of scuba divers. And yet many people might not be aware that the Republic’s national medical hyperbaric chamber, which opened late last year at a cost of €1 million, is located at University Hospital Galway.

No scuba diver wants to have to use it, and yet each and every one of them should be delighted that it is there. While the popularity of deep sea diving has increased remarkably over the past decade, the chamber ensures that divers no longer need to be airlifted to Plymouth or Portsmouth in the UK for top class medical treatment.

It is operated mainly by a team of committed, highly trained volunteers who are on call to help out medical staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in case any diver gets into difficulties in Irish waters. Whether he or she needs to be airlifted from Co Kerry or take an ambulance from Carraroe, a committed team of three will be on hand to administer the treatment once the alarm is raised.

Decompression sickness or ‘the bends’, caused by breathing excess nitrogen under pressure, is a hazard faced by divers who surface too quickly or are forced to divert from their dive plans. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only cure and UHG is the only hospital in the country to provide it.

Symptoms of ‘the bends’ include joint pains along the arms or legs, severe itching, numbness, staggering due to poor balance, and acute pain. It is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible if a diver experiences difficulties after a dive.

UHG was the first and only hospital in the country to get a hyperbaric chamber, pioneered by the late Dr Peter O’Beirn, who was also a keen diving enthusiast, back in 1976. A diver would be strapped into the old ten foot long capsule for treatment, but the unit became obsolete and had to be shut down a few years ago.


While the old chamber might have seemed uncomfortable, it did the job for any diver who got into difficulties through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But it was unrecognizable compared to the sparkling new facility at UHG which has seating for ten patients, audio and visual links, and even a DVD player if a patient wishes to watch a film during treatment which can last for up to six hours.

At the moment, the chamber is only used for emergency cases of decompression illness or carbon monoxide poisoning. But, were the funding to become available, it could have a host of other uses, tackling traumatic brain injury, stroke, air embolism, gas gangrene, and nervous system problems which can be tackled by allowing a patient to breathe pure oxygen.

“I looked for funding for this chamber back in 1994, because the old chamber was getting too old. There were no monitoring facilities in it. So, after many years of looking for funding, we finally got it in 2003,” explains anesthetist and Salthill native Dr Noel Flynn as he surveys the new ‘space age’ National Hyperbaric Unit at UHG.

“We also have full monitoring facilities in this chamber. We can look after patients who are ventilating and in critical care. We can monitor their blood pressure, their ECG, and their carbon dioxide levels. We have already managed intensive care patients here.

“The old chamber was 10 foot long and 38 inches in diameter. This one is over 20 foot long and it is eight and a half foot diameter. You can stand up in it. We have CCTV and full sound and video systems inside. We can watch the patients or divers and they can watch a movie or listen to their music. They could be in there for five or six hours, depending on their therapy session.”

A system has been in place for some years now in which divers who get into trouble make contact with the Coast Guard. Medical staff then give them advice concerning the best way to get to UHG and prepare the unit so that it’s ready for action when the patient arrives.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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