Michael Walsh faithfully visits his cousin Tom Niland most days.
Michael isn’t sure if Tom recognises him, but he does show a flicker of recognition.
The men grew up almost like brothers, and today, Michael, as Tom’s closest living relative, is who doctors confer with about what future lies ahead for Tom.
Michael tells Independent.ie he now accepts life will never be the same for Tom, a once fit and healthy active farmer.
Last January, Tom Niland suffered life-changing injuries during a violent attack at his home in Skreen, Co Sligo.
Three men are currently before the courts charged with assault causing serious harm and the false imprisonment of the 74-year-old farmer as well as aggravated burglary with a knife at his home in Doonflynn, Skreen, west Sligo on 18 January.
“I’ve been to a few funerals and weddings lately, and people always ask me how he is. People are very caring and have shown that throughout this,” said Michael.
“Tom’s medical team had intended to send him to Galway for a particular treatment, but I don’t think that’s happening now.
“He is still critical, and he is on life support.
“He has no feeling from the neck down, which affects him internally.
“When I visit him, they always have to clear his lungs with a suction pump. This could happen four times in an hour.
“This leads him open to infections like pneumonia, and if that developed, it could take him.
“It’s an ever-present danger.
“The other thing then, I got a call a few weeks ago, and they wanted to put a scope into his lungs, and a doctor said to me he didn’t think bringing him to Galway would do him any good.
“He said Tom will never be right, and he will need long-term care, and we are starting to see that too.
“The only thing that he can move is his eye.
“He does try to form words and speak. But we still don’t know if he knows us or not.
“He does seem to know my name is Michael when I go in because the nurses usually say to him, ‘Michael is here to see you and ‘Do you know who this is, Tom?’ And he seems to nod.
“But we don’t know if he realises I am his cousin and the history we have because we can’t have a conversation,” says Michael.
Michael worries about to what extent Tom realises his situation.
While his becoming more conscious is a good thing on the face of it, Michael is left worrying about what emotional turmoil Tom is experiencing.
“We don’t know what he is thinking, but sometimes his face is so grim looking.
“He obviously has an awareness he is lying in bed every day and can’t move.
“I feel he realises now this is his life, and everybody else seems to be walking around, and he is lying in bed with tubes coming out of him.
“So it’s very depressing for him.”
Michael and the rest of Tom’s family and friends had always hoped Tom could achieve some kind of meaningful recovery, but as the days, weeks and months go by, it’s harder to hold on to hope.
“Nothing has changed. There has been no real progress.
“I’m sure they are eager to help him to move on from the ICU, but he can’t really because he is totally dependent. He is on life support and connected to so many tubes.
“I really feel bad for Tom. He wasn’t your usual 73-year-old; he was out and about building walls and helping people with cattle.
“If you needed a big strong man to help you, Tom was the man to do it.”
Michael laughs at the memory, saying, “He could grab hold of sheep and shear them on the spot. He was incredible for his age.”
Sighing heavily, Michael says, “But now he is lying in bed, and he can’t even move his finger.
“A part of me hopes he can’t remember that was his previous life. He has lost all that.”