‘This is war’: Irish health workers on their Covid-19 crises

Coronavirus front line: healthcare workers at the Covid-19 testing area on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
The Irish Times invited healthcare workers in Ireland to share their experiences of working to combat the Covid-19 crisis. This is a selection of their responses, submitted over the past two weeks

My car has been christened the corona wagon, and is off limits to all except me. All of my overnight gear and name badge, radiation badge and ID stay in the car when I get home from work. No hugs until after a shower. My scrubs are gingerly handled and put straight into the washing machine to be washed at 60 degrees. After being initially told to change our scrubs every time we encountered a suspect patient, we are now being advised that the scrubs will run out and to start bringing a set home to wash them ourselves.

The simplest things bring me to the brink of tears. I saw the medical students graduate early yesterday, and how they were hugging and cheering on the steps. I was so happy for them, and so apprehensive of what lies ahead.

I go from being self-obsessed, to knowing I will be fine and that this will pass. The offers coming into the hospital of free snacks, free Supermacs, and free car wiper and light bulb replacements also make me want to shed a tear. I feel like to do so would offer a bit of relief from the weird nervous energy building up inside.

The first time I X-rayed a suspected patient, I donned and doffed my personal protective equipment as I was trained. At the very last step I froze on the spot, unsure whether to remove my mask inside or outside the room. Yes, a stupid thing to be unsure of, but there we are . . . I looked at the patient, he was staring at me. I said: “I am still figuring this out, we will get used to it.”

The older radiographers are amazing – their humour and pragmatism keep us grounded. This is war, and I am sure that everyone in the hospital is 100 per cent together to beat it. I look forward to the summer when I imagine sun and enjoying a Corona beer in Roundstone. I imagine relief and a shared feeling of gratitude that it’s over and we pulled through it together.

Some superheroes wear lead aprons!

I am a doctor by profession and work as a medical registrar in a public hospital. My wife is also a doctor and works in a HSE hospital. We have a 10-month-old son who was attending a creche in Drogheda until the Government took the decision to close it down.

In this crisis, healthcare staff are affected the most. We have been rostered for an extraordinary number of hours, nearly 84 to 91 hours a week. It is very hard to stay away from your family and kid for such long hours, but patients come first, and it is our responsibility to safeguard public health.

We have no family in Ireland who can look after our child. To make things worse, the Immigration department have recently rejected the visa application of my parents. It would have been a blessing to have them around in this situation but we can only wish. We are squeezed in to a very tight corner, but hope things will improve soon.

We request the Government take steps to look after the healthcare staff in these hard times so that we can focus on our jobs. We are ready to lead from the front and be the frontline soldiers, but just need your support.

I work in a busy community pharmacy in Dublin and am lucky enough to have an employer who was among the first to build us a barrier restricting patient access to the store. However, I am shocked every day at the people (in this well-off area with educated people who all have access to the media) who are leaving their houses that should be staying home: one man waiting on test results whose GP said he is almost certainly infected; one woman whose daughter, a nurse, is ill and quarantining at home, but needed some purple hair dye; a whole family, including a grandparent, with a man on the way home from hospital who had been told to go home and not see anyone; a girl with a positive test who didn’t want to call us for a delivery because she “felt well able” to come to the pharmacy herself; and countless people displaying symptoms, some of whom cough at me to show me what their cough is like.

I don’t know how to make it clearer . . . STAY HOME.

(This account was submitted prior to the restrictions announced on March 27th.)

Healthcare workers: Share your experiences of tackling coronavirus

I am a student radiographer in my final year. I am going back on clinical placement next week, where I will be exposed to many Covid-19 positive patients as they require X-rays and scans to aid their treatment and recovery. We don’t get paid at all for this placement, and never have been, yet we have to pay fees, accommodation, uniforms, equipment, travel etc.

I have also had to give up my part-time job (also in healthcare) as I cannot risk infecting the patients I come into contact with there. This means I am left with no income. I and my class are now asking the Government to pay us during this crisis as they are doing with student nurses. Radiographers are often forgotten, yet we are a vital part of the health service.

After five years at university, my classmates and I are finishing our degree at a speed we could never have imagined. Our final exams, originally scheduled to begin on April 1st and continue for six weeks, were completed in four days last weekend, with only five days’ notice beforehand. Formats were changed, assessments rearranged and stress levels raised to new-found heights.

Now, we’re not only waiting to hear whether we’ve managed to pass our exams under these unprecedented conditions, but also when we will be drafted in as additional interns, which is likely to be up to 3½ months earlier than our original start date.

We’re saying goodbye over Facetime to friends who are scrambling to get flights home after studying as international students here for the past five years. The one silver lining is that all those who had applied for a job here will be guaranteed one, a worry that weighed heavily on many of their minds.

But I can’t hug some of my best friends farewell as they leave Ireland for what could be the last time for a very long time. I can’t go for a last night out with them. They may not be able to return for our graduation ceremony, whenever that will be.

Then, I sit and watch the news and hear about how 10 people died today and how this is only going to increase. I get nervous. Any other year, starting as an intern is a scary thing, feeling that you now actually have people’s lives and wellbeing in your hands. Our intern group will mostly likely begin work during the peak of this pandemic. The only way to feel is nervous. Not only do we have no idea what lies ahead of us, but neither does any of our superiors.

They have done their very best to comfort us. In examining us, consultants and other senior doctors were considerate of how these assessments were sprung on us. We received daily emails and online notifications from multiple consultants reminding us to take care of ourselves, to talk to each other and to contact them if we were becoming overwhelmed. They wrote about how proud they are of us and how they truly believe that we can rise to the momentous challenge that we now face.

It’s a strange feeling to be one of the few to not be kept away from the virus, but placed at the frontline of the outbreak. It’s a strange privilege to have the knowledge and skills to help in such a direct way.

Overall, it’s a strange thing to be part of the class now being dubbed the Class of Covid-19.

I am an occupational therapist working in a community setting with children for the HSE. Myself and my colleagues (speech and language therapists, physios, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, dental, etc) have been told that we must work in the test swabbing clinics. Most of us have already started this. While this represents a vast change in our job description and scope of our roles, we are willing to support the health service during this unprecedented crisis.

However, the lack of communication from management has been stressful. We have been told to report to work as normal since the outbreak occurred. Routine appointments are cancelled. Information on the swabbing roster, as well as what we should do in the office, has been lacking.

We are game for helping the country, but the test swabbing training was very poor. This led us to feel out of our depth and concerned that we will do it wrong, possibly leading to inaccurate results. We are concerned that we will bring the virus home to our families or contract it ourselves, when seeing healthcare workers all over the world becoming infected.

While I commend the work of the public health team, as well as that of GPs, hospital doctors and nurses, and I must stress again that I am happy to do my bit, it appears once again that for the vast majority of employees, staff wellbeing is at the bottom of the priority list for the HSE.

I’m a prison officer for the past 20 years. Since February we have been trained what to do if the virus breaks out in our jail. We all sit there in silence as they discuss what’s going to happen, not what might happen.

Everyone is worried. The prisoners are worried. They understand they have a reduced immune system and the virus may affect them harder than others. Officers come into work every day regardless. Nothing has happened yet, and this gives hope that the prison might escape the worst of the virus.

Social distancing with hundreds of prisoners is not possible. When this is all over, I want to be able to say I came to work every day and played my small part for Ireland.

We are group of pregnant nurses in a hospital in Dublin. We would like to help humankind by taking care of Covid-19 patients, but we also have to take care of the babies inside us that may be at risk. It is written in the HSE guidelines that they are not sure if we, pregnant woman, are at higher risk than others, but they will let us work, just with PPE on. If the scientists are not sure, why won’t hospitals just let us stay away from this pandemic in order to prevent any complications?

They haven’t conducted any tests for pregnant women who have had Covid-19 in their first and second trimester to see the results when they give birth, because it is a new disease. And they have limited tests for third trimester pregnancies. One woman who delivered in the UK has a baby who tested positive. How will they intubate pregnant women if they get respiratory distress? Will they give sedation to the mom that will affect the baby?

In some hospitals, they have already isolated their pregnant staff. Even with PPE, some healthcare workers still acquire this infection, especially if they have low immune systems, as evidenced by increasing numbers of infected healthcare workers here – we have a higher rate than other countries.

There is no guarantee that pregnant staff will be given non-Covid patients, because some patients don’t show symptoms and are carriers. And a lot of patients are not honest in the screening process. I have experienced two incidents of this.

Maybe the HSE or the hospitals don’t want to lose more staff if pregnant nurses take leave. We feel underestimated and abandoned. If you are pregnant or if your wife is pregnant, will you still let them work in the frontline?

Compiled by Ciara Kenny