18 March 2023

A year after a stroke, my eyes
have not dimmed and my
vigour has not diminished

Coffee under the magnolia tree in Milton Keynes Hospital in the week after my stroke last year (Photograph: Charlotte Hunter)

Patrick Comerford

It is one year today since I suffered a stroke in Milton Keynes on 18 March 2022. At the time, I was on leave from parish ministry for compassionate and personal reasons, and I was spending Saint Patrick’s Weekend in Milton Keynes when I had this stroke.

I was admitted to Milton Keynes Hospital immediately, and spent two weeks in hospital, first in Milton Keynes and then from 29 March in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Since then, I have been back to Milton Keynes Hospital for a number of check-ups and consultations, and to Sheffield Hospital for a consultation and a ‘Gamma Knife’ procedure.

The consequences of that stroke were extensive and far-reaching, beyond the hospital procedures and stays. I had already decided that I was going to retire from parish ministry after Easter, although I had not yet made any public announcement.

While I was in hospital in Milton Keynes, in advance of being moved to Oxford, I realised I was not going to return to parish ministry in Co Limerick and Co Kerry before my planned retirement date. I agreed with the Dean of Limerick as commissary of the diocese that I would take early retirement at the end of that month, on 31 March 2022.

I was moved to the John Radcliffe Hospital on 29 March and able to leave on 1 April. After another overnight stay in Oxford, I returned to Milton Keynes two weeks after I was first taken to hospital with that stroke.

I eventually moved into a flat in Stony Stratford in early April, and have been living here ever since. I have returned to Ireland on a few occasions in fitful but not-very-successful efforts to tie up some personal matters.

In many ways, these have not been 12 easy months. I was reminded last night how unsettling these changing times have been when I realised I have slept in over two dozen different beds in the space of 12 months – although that number includes five different hospital wards or beds, two return visits to Ireland, return visits to Lichfield and Tamworth, and visits to Hungary and Finland on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG.

I have now settled down into a flat overlooking the High Street in Stony Stratford – I suppose I could say that over the span of 50 years it has been a move from one High Street to another, from High Street in Wexford to High Street in Stony Stratford.

I had another check-up on my Vitamin B12 levels last week, and earlier this week I had yet another consultation with the University Hospitals in Oxford as a follow-up to my stroke a year ago. At 71, I may not quite be in rude health. But I have a distant ‘cousin’ who greets me on my birthdays with the traditional Jewish greeting of ‘ad meah v’esrim’, ‘may you live until 120!’ (עד מאה ועשרים שנה‎).

Deuteronomy recalls that Moses lived to be 120, at which age ‘his eye had not dimmed, and his vigour had not diminished’ (Deuteronomy 34: 7). Great rabbis of the Talmud, including Hillel, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, all lived to 120 as well. The blessing carries the implication that the receiver should retain full mental and physical faculties to the end of life.

With those implications, living until I am 120 does not sound so bad a prospect at all. Another half century after last year’s stroke, and yet another half century after moving into High Street, Wexford, may not be so dim or distant a prospect; it might be a real blessing with the love, care and attention I have been receiving over the past year.

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (25)

Samuel Johnson’s ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ remained the standard English dictionary for 150 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

The house in Lichfield where Johnson was born is now the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and Bookshop.

A work placement student in the Museum and Bookshop observed some years ago how it ‘is truly remarkable how the evolution of the dictionary parallels the changes of our society, and also the adaptations of our language.’

He pointed out that the Dictionary compiled by Johnson is substantially different to the dictionaries we use today, and how we use a dictionary in very different ways.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary aimed to convey meanings of words in a literary context. As an example, he looked at the word ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus,’ which is a hapax legomenon from William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. This particular word means ‘the state of being able to achieve honours,’ and it is the longest word in the English language that features only alternating consonants and vowels.

Today, we use a dictionary simply as a collection of words and their meanings. Many different types of dictionaries are published today, such as bilingual, specialist and etymological dictionaries.

Imagine how our lives would be very different without Johnson, and how games of Scrabble would cause many more arguments.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The sign above the ‘Dictionary Room’ in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and Bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)