by Paul O’Malley
A Mayo-born nurse has described her experience of working inside the Covid-19 ward of a London hospital.
Ciara Brennan, a native of Ballyglass, Claremorris, says the past few weeks have been extremely challenging since the cardiac ward she worked on was transformed into a Covid-19 ward. The UK currently has the highest fatality rate from the virus in Europe with over 30,000 confirmed deaths. Ciara and her colleagues have had to deal with situations they would never have encountered before.
“It was challenging at first getting used to all the PPE. It was really strange and made it harder to communicate with your patients. So much of how you communicate is through your expressions. If you empathise with someone, a lot of what you don’t say, you express with body language. You couldn’t give someone a reassuring smile, you just had to bear with it.”
Ciara and her colleagues faced new challenges when performing standard procedures such as aerosol generating procedures, which is a specific infection control measure for coronavirus patients.
“The PPE made it very hot and uncomfortable. We were wearing long heavy PPE gowns with double gloves, tight-fitting face masks and respirator hoods. It was hard to hear your colleagues or the patients speak and it was difficult to communicate back to them. The hottest it got to during one of those procedures was 27 or 28 degrees which is uncomfortable when you wear all that gear.”
Ciara said she was encouraged by the number of patients who recovered and were able to go home.
“The majority of patients that we looked after on our ward did very well and were able to go home which was quite positive because every day on social media, you see the death rate go up and it can be quite depressing. So to see our own patients make it home was really positive for us.
“But we’ve also seen patients struggling for breath with the slightest bit of exertion. Someone might start gasping for breath when all they might have done is sit up from their beds or be moved to their chair.”
Prior to the pandemic, which has forced the temporary shutdown of Knock Airport and the cancellation of multiple flights, Ciara flew home regularly to visit her family in Ballyglass. The hardest thing for the young nurse was being unable to travel home for the funeral of her grandmother Nora, who passed away earlier this month.
“My granny passed away peacefully in her home so she had some of her family with her, but for the funeral I found it so bizarre not being able to be there. It was really difficult for me and my family. I never thought I would ever be watching a funeral from a webcam in my life.
“Luckily, we have things like Facetime and the technology makes home seem not so far away but in difficult times like that, it is so hard being away from home. It makes you realise how much you took things like booking a flight home for the weekend for granted and not being able to do that has been quite difficult.
“I, like so many of my colleagues from Ireland and around the world, have no idea when we can go home and see our families again.”