Fr Kevin Neal
Well over 10 years ago I was visiting Fr Joe Grayland who was studying in Paris at the time.
We set off with great enthusiasm to see the sites of Paris which, of course, included the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to inspect the metal joints on the side of the tower, so we ran up the stairs.
But I hadn’t gone very far when I started to feel wheezy and by the time I had reached the first floor I was out of breath and a huge headache had overshadowed me.
I had to stop because a farmer of at least 70 with a roll-your-own cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth wanted to get past me!
When I was also hit by a terrific cough, I realised I was in trouble. I waited for a while on that first landing, had my photo taken and then made my way down again. I remember drinking a very welcome coffee at the bottom but I was off colour for weeks. In fact I’ve been off colour ever since!
After several other narrow escapes, abroad and at home, I decided to see a doctor when I reached my own address. I could see that the doctor wasn’t impressed.
At least he gave my condition a big name: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the start of my health difficulties. I carried that name for years as my health deteriorated.
Several doctors told me to ‘look after yourself’ quite knowingly.
Looking after myself was all I could really do and several symptoms reared their heads. One was the necessity of keeping away from anywhere that lacked fresh air. If I didn’t I would get a terrible cough and an amazing headache.
I continued working in the parish and we installed many aids which helped. By now I had always ‘had it’ by teatime and I had to slow down through the day.
I was in Stratford now and the spirit of cooperation was amazing. With the kind of help I had in every aspect of parish life, things were going extraordinarily well. But, unfortunately, this didn’t last long for me.
I was at the convent in Whanganui giving a retreat to lay workers in the diocese. Just before tea I was outside yarning with Claire Whareaitu when I felt my leg giving way. Several doctors had warned me of a stroke so I knew exactly what was happening.
Within a few minutes my life had changed forever.
Many people see me today and assume that, although my arm and leg aren’t too good, nothing else is really the matter. This just isn’t true.
I’ve written about those two months in hospital and the months in the old folks home that followed so I won’t repeat myself here.
What does need to be said is that there was, and is, much more than a sore arm and a numb leg. There are parts of me now that I don’t even remember. To be blunt, whole parts of my brain have now shut down.
I’ve got my belief in God back, mercifully, but I really can’t write homilies any more, although I can revisit old ones.
I still practise my faith but in a very uncomplicated way.
There are speech difficulties, too, but that’s another story.