A Cork doctor has opened up about the heartbreaking scenes he witnessed in the intensive care unit during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Patrick Seigne, consultant intensivist at Cork University Hospital ICU, said that mental scars left by Covid-19 run deep for the families of his patients who passed away. He said that, even as an experienced medic, there were times where the situation was emotionally painful.
Dr Seigne is among frontline workers attending a virtual National Covid Research and Scientific Meeting on Saturday to discuss the management of critically ill patients with Covid-19.
He recalled the moving story of one patient he treated.
“He had to go on a breathing tube and there was some banter between us,” said Dr Seigne. “Even in these odd situations, you try to get a little humour into it all. He ended up making it through.”
Dr Seigne said he and his colleagues were heartbroken after the patient then passed away during a follow-up appointment.
“This patient was such a nice man. Staff in the hospital were distraught. As a professional, you can’t get too emotive about these things but they do affect you. You are so intertwined in people’s lives and get to know them so intensely in these critical moments. I’ve learned to deal with this. You can’t carry it home with you as 10 to 15% of people who come into our unit will die.”
He acknowledged the emotional strain for Cork families grieving the loss of a Covid-19 patient.
“It’s hard to get closure if you weren’t there when they passed away. This must be incredibly hard for the families of those who had Covid, some of whom didn’t even get to see the bodies.
“It’s bizarre. You live all your life with someone and then when they are suffering and critically ill you find you can’t be with them. Only the patients who weren’t sedated or on ventilators were able to converse with their families online. It’s a tragedy, often more so for the family.”
Dr Seigne is urging the public to continue social distancing to prevent further casualties.
“We don’t know what we’re heading into and everyone is fearful about going into winter,” he said. “At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be panning out in the same way it did in March or April but we don’t know what’s ahead.”
The frontline worker said that Covid-19 patients and their families should be seen as the real heroes of the pandemic.
“I was seeing banners on my way home from work,” he said of the tributes paid to frontline heroes. “While being acknowledged is appreciated, I don’t think anyone is ever entirely comfortable with so much praise. I am trained with Irish taxpayers’ money to do this and it’s what I am paid to do.
“Yes, this was a slightly different environment but the real heroes are the patients affected and their families.”
The online National Covid Research and Scientific Meeting is free to attend, and those interested in attending can pre-register before 5pm tomorrow.
Dr Seigne is also the chief organiser of the ICU 4 U Charity Cycle. The event is on target to reach €100,000, which will be shared among Alone, Aware, Breakthrough Cancer Research, and ICUsteps. The cycle will start on September 3 from five locations, including Cork, and will end on September 4 in the Phoenix Park.