The days of visitors in hospital wards are probably gone for good

Paddy Murray: The old image of six beds in a room each with two visitors is probably gone

It was all going so well.

I had managed to stay out of hospital for more than 600 days - the longest run since my Bone Marrow Transplant 13 years ago.

I have been immunocompromised since that transplant and so prone to infections. Sixteen or seventeen of those infections resulted in being admitted to hospital.

But as I left St James’s in October, 2019, my last stay until a couple of weeks ago, I was warned to be careful, to avoid crowds and to stay away from other people for a while until I was completely in the clear. Back then, before we heard of Covid it wasn’t called “self-isolation.’


But that, effectively, is what it was.

And so our annual Christmas drinks were cancelled. The Christmas morning visit to a friend’s house was off the agenda and, indeed, visits to family were called off too.

And then, as we hit the New Year and I was ready to hit the outside world - and my sports club for a pint – again, covid arrived.

So I have, effectively, been isolating for a year and a half and I have remained infection and covid free.

But a few weeks ago, an infection finally hit. Two doses of strong oral antibiotics didn’t do the job. And so I was admitted for intra venous treatment.

(The infection, by the way, may have been caused by aspiration – common liquids leaking into my windpipe and lungs.)

There was no option but to head for St James’s once again for intravenous treatment.

It was a different hospital to the one I was used to, to the one in which I have spent in total, more than a year of my life.

For starters, my wife wasn’t allowed near the ward when we arrived at the hospital. We said our goodbyes in the lobby and me and my suitcase were brought up by a porter.

Nurses I have known for years were greeting me but I was unable to recognise them because of their masks

Nor were there any visits during my stay. Arranging a visit was, I guess, a bit like arranging a visit in Mountjoy.

You had to apply giving all sorts of details. And indeed, I saw some visitors sitting in the lobby with Perspex screens between them and those they were visiting. It looked more like a prison visiting area than a hospital.

So I told my wife not to bother – my daughter is 15 and so wouldn’t have been allowed under any circumstances.

The ward too was different. Nurses I have known for years were greeting me but I was unable to recognise them because of their masks.

After a couple of days I fancied wandering down to the coffee shop – just to get off the ward for a little while. But it’s take-away only these days,

And it’s effective in fairness. Covid outbreaks are not a problem in St James’s. In fact, so successful is the new strategy, that many of those on the staff to whom I spoke predicted that things are unlikely to fully return to the way they were. It is likely that, in the future, there will, for example, be stricter regulations around visits. The old image of six beds in a room each with two visitors sitting chatting to the patient, is likely as not gone forever.

And so after five days I was released on good behaviour. I received IV antibiotics at home for a further five days and now it’s only the other chronic conditions I have that I must worry about.

I know where I am exactly and I’m not making plans too far ahead. I have to be realistic.

But even though I missed visits and found it difficult seeing only masks and not faces when a nurse or doctor or cleaner or catering assistant came into me, I did feel safe.

Thank God for WhatsApp and Zoom and the like which allowed me to stay in visual contact with my family.

The infection is more or less gone now.

My other battles continue.

And despite worry and distraction of Covid, the treatment and care in St James’s is still top class.

There’s only one thing ...

…the damned seagulls.

Morning, noon and night they squawk. Dozens and dozens of them. At four in the morning, they wake you. At four in the afternoon, they distract you.

I am the kind who doesn’t even harm spiders, I lift them and move them rather than squash them. I would never use a mouse trap.

But I am rapidly reaching the point where I may very well make an exception for seagulls.

Well, there are limits.

And sleepless nights in a hospital would test anyone’s patience.