Mum’s Covid ordeal: Six months on I'm still feeling effects

A florist from Macroom in County Cork tested positive for the coronavirus in March — and again in July. She tells ADRIENNE ACTON about the debilitating effects the virus had on her life
Mum’s Covid ordeal: Six months on I'm still feeling effects

Catriona Healy-O’Brien

A MOTHER-of-four from Macroom has spoken of her experience of Covid-19, and says even six months after contracting it, she is still feeling some of the effects.

Catriona Healy-O’Brien, who runs a florist’s in her home town, tested positive for the virus in March, and again in July. Doctors are still not sure whether she caught it twice, or if the virus was in her system the whole time but weakened.

At the start of the year, she was on the crest of a wave in her life and making plans to build the family’s dream home. Covid 19 had other ideas for her.

Catriona goes back to mid-March, when it was first realised that the coronavirus had arrived on Ireland’s shores.

“As a florist, one of the best things about my job is being able to bring such joy to the important occasions in people’s families,” she says. “Whether its Valentine’s, anniversaries or weddings.

“I had just completed a wedding in Killarney, with some of the guests having travelled from abroad, when news came through that the schools and businesses were going to close.

“This was a blow to us as Mother’s Day would be one of our busiest times, but knowing this was a public health matter we, like everyone else, just got on with it.

“I downloaded and printed the PUP ( Pandemic Unemployment Payment) forms for my staff and then, having contacted all of our clients and customers, we closed the shop on March 14.

“I spent the next few days clearing the decks, speaking to brides and rearranging what we could, which, thankfully, kept me at home.

“It was the following Wednesday that I suddenly became very tired, exhausted even, but I put it down to stress and worry about my family and the shop.

“My husband, Greg, who has an underlying health condition, was still working so I was at home with the children.

“The following day I became increasingly concerned as my breathing started to become laboured and I had a headache so I contacted my GP for advice.

“I was told that unless you had been outside the country or had been in close contact with a confirmed case, you were not eligible for a test. Thankfully, this criteria changed and having contacted my GP again to explain my concern for Greg, I was told to go for a test in Dunmanway on March 27.

Catriona Healy-O’Brien with husband Greg and children Kiera, 16, Cristian, 14, Killian, 12 and Kyle, 10. 
Catriona Healy-O’Brien with husband Greg and children Kiera, 16, Cristian, 14, Killian, 12 and Kyle, 10. 

“It was the longest journey of my life. I was sweating profusely, my temperature was spiking and I was beginning to find it difficult to get air into my lungs.

“I had the test done and went home to isolate with my family. From then on we had our food delivered and we never left the house.

“I spent the best part of the next two weeks in bed. I had no energy. I began to have terrifying dreams and I broke out in a strange rash while still having the usual symptoms of temperature changes and difficulty breathing.”

On April 14, the results came though and confirmed what Catriona suspected — “my test was positive”.

She adds: “By this time, my symptoms had eased and I was functioning better, but still tired. Thankfully, neither Greg nor the children had any symptoms.

“From mid-May I started to work from home. This allowed me to make contactless deliveries and make plans with the brides that had rescheduled their weddings.

“On June 8, we were able to reopen the shop and two of the girls were in a position to immediately come back to work. The hotels reopened in early July and we were back doing our floral displays for the lobbies and reception areas. Everything was going in the right direction and I was happy to be back to normal.”

However, Catriona was not out of the woods yet.

“In mid-July, I got a cough and immediately rang my GP. I thought I was being a little paranoid but I was told to get tested again just in case. This time the results were back within 24 hours. Positive.

“I was sent straight to St Finbarr’s and admitted to the Covid ward. I had blood tests and an x-ray and a third Covid test. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, but it was a scary time.

“I went home and self-isolated again. The head of infectious diseases in Cork told me that I wasn’t contagious. That the cough was caused by my lungs expelling the remains of the virus and that I should be fine. The third test came back positive as expected.”

Catriona says all of the symptoms have now subsided “except for the tiredness”, and adds: “I’m working half days and taking a nap in the afternoon, which would have been unheard of before.”

She the worst moment was when she told Greg that, if the ambulance was called for her, that he should take the children away from the house as she wouldn’t want them to see that. She has tears in her eyes as she recalls the memory.

On the other hand, the entire experience has given her a new perspective on life, she is delegating more at work and has charged ahead with the plans for the new house.

Life is good again, but the memory of the virus will linger long into the future.

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