As a young dentist practising in the East End of London, Pádraig Ó Reachtagáin often treated dental injuries in women experiencing domestic abuse. He told Ryan Tubridy today that there was a women’s refuge located close to his practice at the time. Around 20 years ago, he had a patient in her seventies from what he calls “an aristocratic background”. She had been savagely beaten and had her denture smashed. Pádraig fixed the denture. A few days later, he heard that the woman had died. She made a life-long impression on him:
“She told me in as much as she could, while she was in with me, that all her married life had been like that. And I have never forgotten. I have never forgotten that woman.”
Dr Ó Reachtagáin has been awarded Caring Dentist of the Year 2019. He was nominated by a patient who chose Pádraig as her first confidante after suffering years of domestic abuse. She credits the Tipperary-based dentist with providing a listening ear and sound advice on taking action to keep her and her family safe.
“I was lucky to be the conduit by which she was able to help her family and to deal with a very very difficult situation in relation to domestic violence.”
The woman received a nominator’s prize of €1,500 from the Caring Dentist of the Year awards which she is donating to Women’s Aid. Dr Ó Reachtagáin was keen to protect his patient’s privacy, but he was able to tell Ryan the crucial conversation happened almost by accident. It happened on a morning when the practice waiting room was empty. Pádraig decided to sit and to chat to his patient while her injection took effect:
“Whatever way, the look in her eye or the look in my eye or whatever, she chose to tell me what happened and how it happened. And we had many visits to deal with her dental problems and over time the story became expanded upon with each visit. And it seems that our chats were the catalyst which caused her to take the action that she needed to take to keep her family safe.”
Paddy’s experiences in the UK had prepared him for dealing compassionately with the situation when it presented itself. He told Ryan that even before treating the woman who nominated him for the Caring Dentist award, he made a habit of “inquiring gently” of his patients when they present with an injury. He says most of them turn out to be harmless accidents, but it’s still good to give people a chance to open up, if they feel comfortable doing so:
“I think it’s important that we should show concern about any injury that we see and give people an opportunity to tell you about it, if that’s what they want to do.”
The award has led to many an interesting conversation in the surgery for Dr Ó Reachtagáin. One long-standing patient told Paddy he was “so brave”. He wasn’t sure he understood why:
“ ‘No’, she says, ‘You don’t get it’. I said, ‘What don’t I get?’ She said, ‘You’re a man’. And I go, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Most men would run for cover in that sort of situation.’ That was probably the most seminal thing anybody said to me yesterday, which I’d never thought about, because clearly this had been going through my mind for a year now.”
Ryan and Paddy continue the conversation about the role of men in the combating gender-based violence, the obligations of medical professionals in relation to suspected harm to children and adults, and more in the full interview here.
If you are affected by domestic violence, you can access information and support from Women’s Aid. Their National Freephone Helpline is open 24/7 at 1800 341 900.
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