‘We won our battle’; Cork health worker describes personal battle with coronavirus

‘We won our battle’; Cork health worker describes personal battle with coronavirus
Pic; Larry Cummins

‘We won our battle, we contained it’

A Cork healthcare assistant has spoken of her joy at seeing patients recover from Covid-19 — as she has bounced back from the illness herself.

Deirdre Mehigan, who works as a health care assistant in St. Finbarr's Hospital, said there have been challenging moments in the last few months.

The vast majority of people who Ms Mehigan cares for are older and so are considered to be more vulnerable to Covid-19. Many were scared of the risks.

“When they hear the word, they think ventilators,” she said.

The way healthcare workers have to carry out their role has changed, but Ms Mehigan says the relationships stay the same.

“We tell them we are fighting a war with an enemy we can’t see and the weapons are handwashing and social distancing,” she said.

Pic; Larry Cummins
Pic; Larry Cummins

A number of cases of Covid-19 were identified at St Finbarr’s, but these patients have now recovered.

When initially dealing with the outbreak, Ms Mehigan said staff had to wear full PPE including goggles and gowns.

“The goggles would fog up, but then we got the visors, and at least then you could see people’s eyes — the window to your heart,” she said. “Even when they didn’t recognise us, they’d recognise the voices.”

Now that patients have recovered, staff can reduce the level of PPE they need to wear, but they must still use masks, aprons, and gloves.

“When we saw the yellow bins [used for hazardous waste] being removed, this was a major thing for us,” she said.

Ms Mehigan has an even more personal reason to celebrate, having recovered from the illness herself.

She was tested after a case of the virus was confirmed at the hospital in March.

“Our managers contacted us to explain and to be swabbed,” Ms Mehigan explained. However, she didn’t expect the result to come back as a positive.

“I didn’t feel unwell, I didn’t have a temperature and I thought I didn’t have any symptoms,” she recalls. “I was a bit tired, but I had finished nights, so I had put it down to that.

“Anything can happen when you work in care, but we are strong out. I wouldn’t usually be one to pick anything up,” she said.

She said that she felt cared for from the moment of her diagnosis.

“I got a text every day to see how I was feeling. I was contacted by occupational health, by public health, by our director of nursing Maura Twohig. My workmates were just brilliant, I never came off the phone, to be honest,” she said.

Ms Mehigan — who suffers from asthma and is also a cancer survivor — said initially she didn’t know what to expect.

“The word cancer is more frightening to me than Covid, but worries are different for everyone because we are made of different things,” she added.

For the next number of days, Ms Mehigan isolated herself at home, and said she didn’t feel unwell.

Now Ms Mehigan says everyone is working together to keep everyone else safe.

“You are cautious of every single thing you do,” she said, adding that staff are regularly trained and educated in practices to reduce the risk of the spread of infection.

“Staff are constantly looking out for each other,” she added. “Hopefully we can keep doing the community proud.

“We won our battle, we contained it, and hopefully we can keep it out.”

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