‘I never thought I would be that sick’: Young doctor on getting Covid-19

Dr Owen O’Flynn (23) urges people in good health not to underestimate coronavirus

A trainee doctor, who previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, has warned young people not to take the dangers of coronavirus lightly after he ended up in intensive care from post Covid syndrome.

Dr Owen O'Flynn (23), from Bantry, Co Cork, was the youngest intern this year at Cork University Hospital (CUH). A non-smoker who hardly drinks, his passion is hiking and the outdoors.

He says he did everything necessary and appropriate to protect himself and others from coronavirus, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and being vigilant about hygiene.

Despite this, it is thought he developed Covid-19 in March. He did not display any of the listed symptoms at that time, did not have a temperature or feel unwell. While he remembers his sense of smell and taste being a little off, but that was not a known symptom at the time.


However Dr O’Flynn became ill in May and had to take time off work. While at home sick, his swabs for Covid-19 came back negative. But his condition worsened and he was transferred to CUH where he ended up in intensive care for a week from May 5th with extremely serious cardiac issues.

Fortunately, he did not need to be put on a ventilator, life support or breathing machine. But Dr O’Flynn says his girlfriend and parents were in shock at how suddenly and comprehensively his condition deteriorated.

“I never thought I would be that sick. Two weeks previous I could have run a 5km no bother. It was very hard for me and my family. Nearly every household in Bantry was doing a novena just for me . The support really helped,” he said.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get sicker or if I would have to be intubated. My biggest fear was dying.

“I had seen patients with Covid die. I had seen patients with cancer die. I have become friends with patients who had to go to a hospice. I have been exposed to death for the last five years. It is no stranger to me.

“Luckily I started to improve”.

Dr O’Flynn said fortunately he hasn’t suffered any long lasting damage from his post-Covid episode. Post Covid syndrome is an emerging but poorly understood condition, which is being closely associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Dr O’Flynn remembers walking 30 metres in hospital at one point to get an Echocardiogram. He admits he was “wiped” for two hours from the effort.

He spent five weeks recuperating over the summer in Bantry before returning to work.

“I am still a bit shook knowing that I could get so sick so quickly.”

He is warning young people that they are not invincible. “I got very sick very quickly. I am very lucky to be as well as I am today. Colleges are going back in the next two to three week. I want everyone to cop on. This is a marathon not a sprint,” Dr O’Flynn says.

“We are going to be living with Covid for another year realistically if not five. Until we get a vaccine and it is proven to work long term. We do have to stay the course.

“A person with Covid can go from being all right to acutely unwell in a half an hour and needing four doctors having input on their case.”

In spite of his youth and good health, the virus wreaked havoc on his body. “It really floored me. We will never know how I got it. I could have got it in the community. I could have got it in work. Neither is more likely than the other. I was always in full PPE.”

He has started hiking and is slowly returning to normal.

Dr O'Flynn will speak at the National Covid Research and Scientific Meeting, a virtual conference for medical professionals and the public on the management of critically ill patients with Covid-19 on Saturday, September 5th.