‘These are the happiest clinics I’ve ever had’


TEAM EFFORT Dr Blaise Brunker has said administering the Covid-19 vaccine is an onerous task.

Michael Gallagher

HE SPEAKS with a melodic tone – a symphonic mix of Newry roots, Moy melodies and an irrepressible love of life. Blaise Brunker, the well-known Ballina family doctor, is a tonic for the soul.
A chat with the sports-loving husband, father and grandfather can go anywhere. It can range from a night in The Skeffington Arms in Galway when he met Anita, the love of his life, to the intricasies of hurling and front-row rugby, and on to the pandemic that has gripped the world in the past year.
On Thursday evening, he had just administered 58 vaccines at his surgery on Cathedral Road and was enjoying a well-earned coffee as a smile spread across his face.
“In all my years, these are the happiest clinics I’ve ever had. The goodwill, delight, relief, fun and banter is something else. We’ve administered 360 vaccines here since last Saturday and at this stage all my patients aged 70 and over have been done.
“It takes a big effort to make this possible. I’m just the head of the spear, the rest of the team do all the hard work, from phone calls to cleaning, administration, greeting patients and so much more, but the happiness and banter made it all worthwhile.
“Last Saturday, we had two doctors, one nurse and four admin staff working. I drafted in my daughter Emma and future daughter-in-law Lucy and she was involved in the funniest moment of the day.
“Lucy and our son David are getting married in a few months and she told one of the patients that I had the ‘father of the groom’ speech already prepared. ‘You’d be a right fool if you let that eejit speak at your wedding,’ the elderly lady immediately replied.
“That’s the way it is here. They never let me away with anything,” Dr Brunker laughs.

Time slipping by
The Ballina doctor has witnessed first-hand the impact of the pandemic and its restrictions.
“Every area of society has taken a huge hit, and that’s very obvious in GPs’ surgeries. The lack of social interaction is hitting people very hard, and the increase in sleeping difficulties and depression is huge. Every day I see it in people from 85 to five.
“Young people are finding it very hard while the older generation are more stoic. The generation who went to England for work and later came back have experienced hardship, but for younger people this is the first time there has been a collective disturbance to their lives and it’s tough.
“People are losing time. Days, weeks and months are slipping by and they’re gone forever. Grandparents can’t hug grandchildren or, in many cases, see them enjoy the brilliant developments of early life.
“Time is very precious to everyone, but particularly so to the older generation, and this is causing a lot of stress. A fella in his 70s cannot afford to lose a year of his life compared to a guy in his 20s. Both are struggling in different ways.”

‘No appointments’
However, as always, Dr Brunker is positive in his outlook, and he looks forward to brighter days when restrictions ease and life by the Moy returns to something bordering on normality.
“One of the big things I’m looking forward to, from a work point of view, is getting back to our ‘no appointments’ policy. I never had appointments before Covid and cannot wait to get rid of them as soon as we can.
“I’ve always believed people come to the doctor when they feel bad or when their child has a pain or when they’re worried about something. You cannot plan when you’ll feel sick. Our surgery is a place where you come when you need help and that will never change. I look forward to that type of freedom returning.
“Of course, sometimes, when the surgery is quiet, I tend to have great chats with patients and when I look out at the waiting room again there’s a bit of a queue, but that’s easily remedied.”
Brunker played football, hurling and rugby in Newry, trained in medicine in Galway and Enniskillen, practiced in Lurgan, Bolton and Strokestown, before arriving in Ballina on an August day in 1990. He likes a challenge, and never stops looking to the future – and it’s an exciting one.
His son, David, will join the team at Cathedral Road in due course. Blaise couldn’t be happier as he eyes new adventures.
“I was the new kid on the block 30 years ago, soon it will be David’s turn and I’m very happy for him. He will bring his own thoughts and style with him, and that’s great.
“Being a doctor in Ballina and working with the other fine doctors throughout the area is very special. I’ve enjoyed every second of it and won’t be stepping away just yet.”