BALANCING family life with a pandemic wasn’t how Cork University Hospital nurse Richard Butler pictured life as a father of four.
After helping save the lives of Covid-19 patients in a dedicated intensive care unit, the Midleton man can be proud of his achievements.
So can his four children, Rayanne, 23, Lauren, 11, Milly, 5, and Penny, 1, who are looking forward to honouring their dad this Father’s Day.
It will be a time of celebration for Richard, who had been redeployed to a Covid-19 intensive care unit and is now back working in vascular intravention.
The last few months haven’t been without their struggles for Richard, who was recently reunited with his daughter Rayanne (from a previous relationship), after the lifting of restrictions.
Coming home to his children after caring for Covid-19 patients was worrying.
“One of the most poignant moments came on my first day home from work in the Covid-19 intensive care unit, when my daughter Milly asked, ‘Can I hug you, daddy’?” Richard said.
He toyed with the idea of temporarily moving out, to avoid the risk of bringing the virus home, but knew this would be too traumatic for his younger children.
“Even though you are taking all the precautions, you wonder if staying at home is the right thing to do. I wondered if I should just leave home and stay in a hotel for three months,” Richard said.
Though living elsewhere, Rayanne was never far from his mind.
“I wasn’t able to see Rayanne at that time, because she was around her grandparents and I couldn’t risk exposing her to it. I have been able to see her since, but that initial stage was tough,” Richard said.
Nonetheless, Richard knew he had a job to do.
“Despite reservations from friends and family, I knew I had to step up to the mark,” he said. “When you are in the hospital, you forget about the overwhelming nature of the situation, because there are people who need looking after.
“If it was someone who belonged to you, you want them looked after. Despite the overriding fear of Covid, there was a really positive atmosphere,” Richard said.
“Being in masks and PPE makes it a lot harder to work. You’re trying to work while your goggles are steaming up, while, at the same time, being on high alert for your own safety.
“When you’re making sure your PPE is on correctly is when you’re most at risk of infection. Contamination is something you always have to be mindful of. When the PPE was low, there were anxious moments,” he said.
Despite the constant pressures, Richard was determined to make life as happy as possible for his children.
“When you leave work each day after such a pressured and intense job, you are leaving behind a lot of sorrow. However, you have to leave that at work and remember that your wife and three beautiful kids need you too,” Richard said.
He began to appreciate what he had.
“There are people who still can’t have visitors. They go through a lot. Some people only got to see their families when in palliative-care situations,” Richard said.
“When you still see people who have been left isolated in traumatic situations, you start to think about your own family. It makes you count your blessings and feel lucky that you are going to see them at the end of the day.”
Covid-19 had been a source of curiosity for Richard’s children. “At first, they were asking me a lot of questions, like if they could catch it or whether I had to wear a special suit at work. They were fearful, given what was on the news, but kids are very resilient,” Richard said.
“There was so much in the media that it was hard to know which parts to believe. Kids pick up on your anxiety, so you have to keep your mind off things and make sure you get in as much family time as possible on your days off.
“Now, I find that I’m jumping out of bed to give Penny her bottle. The others have adapted to being off school. Milly hasn’t started school yet, but is still asking for homework, so she can be like her older sister.”
Richard was lucky to avoid contracting the virus. “I was tested for it twice. One of those times, I was symptomatic and had a temperature. Those three or four days spent waiting for a result were very difficult,” he said.
“Having to self-isolate in a house with three small children was extremely challenging. It’s hard when your eight-month-old wants you to hold her in your arms.”
Richard said he will make the most of Father’s Day: “It’s not a day I would have routinely looked forward to, but now that it’s crept up on me, I’m going to use it as an excuse to do something with the family.
"Of course, I would love to be going out to a restaurant, but the times we are living in make you more appreciative of the people you have around you.
"As long as you are with the people you love, it doesn’t matter where you are.”
DENIS COLLINS, CARE ASSISTANT
Despite missing out on celebrations with his family, care assistant Denis Collins considers himself lucky to be spending this Father’s Day on the frontline.
The Drimoleague dad of three children, Rory (9), Johnny (7), Éabha (11), will instead be a comfort to other fathers unable to be with their kids today.
“I have to remember that many of the people we work with are dads too, who raised children through tougher times than we’re experiencing now,” said Denis who works at Dunmanway Community Hospital.
“I can’t complain as the fathers I work with won’t get the chance to see their sons and daughters at all because of visiting restrictions.
"The plan is that everyone will get dressed up in their best clothes and talk about the highlights of their previous Father’s Days and what they enjoyed doing with their kids. We might have some nice activities too to make the day that bit different.”
Balancing family life has been challenging for Denis and his wife Tara, who is also a frontline worker, since the start of the pandemic.
“One of the hardest parts has been homeschooling as the last thing anyone wants is for their child to fall behind at school.”
The pandemic means that work is never far from Denis’s mind.
“As a healthcare worker you value life. You are scared, given that the people you work with are so high risk and vulnerable. Right now my life revolves around my work.”
SHAHID IQBAL, REGISTRAR
REGISTRAR in Oncology, Shahid Iqbal is not just on the frontline at work, but also at home as the dad of three small children he dotes on.
The family man lives in Grange with his wife Hirra and children Inaaya (5), Horiya (2) and one-year-old Zavian. He described why the best gift for frontline dads this Father’s Day comes from the public.
“It’s thanks to the public that we are safe,” he said.
“You only have to look at what happened in other countries such as the UK and Italy to know how lucky we are.
"There were so many deaths in the healthcare profession. Thankfully, we are all doing well here and we have the people of Ireland to thank for that. In order to protect everyone we need to keep adhering to restrictions.”
Shahid knows better than anyone that the fight against Covid-19 starts at home.
He described how his children helped him through the ordeal.
“My eldest in particular couldn’t wait for me to come home and always had news and stories. I got the children swings and a trampoline and it was the best gift I could have given them as we have a huge garden and all the parks were closed.”
Shahid paid tribute to his wife Hirra, who is also a doctor, for helping him through the crisis.
“She is an amazing woman who is doing a great job of minding the children and me as well!”MUHAMMAD HAROON, CUH TECHICIAN
WORKING on the frontline during these unprecedented times has left CUH endoscopy technician and dad-of-three, Muhammad Haroon with a newfound sense of pride.
The Pakistan native, who has lived in Cork for 17 years, is glad to share this sense of pride with his children Mehak (7 months), Maryam (8) and Muhammad (4).
This will be a proud Father’s Day for Muhammad and his children, one of whom wants to be a doctor.
“My son saw frontline workers on CNN and BBC,” Muhammad explained.
“He asked if I was a frontline worker and I told him I was. He then asked me if I was a doctor. I told him that I wasn’t, but he says that’s what he now wants to be.
"It was really nice to hear. Before that, he had wanted to be an engineer.”
Muhammad spoke of how appreciated he feels since the pandemic set in.
“We’ve been getting every sort of food in and all kinds of presents,” he said of he and his colleagues at CUH.
“Recently I was stopped by Gardaí and didn’t have my license. When I told them that I work in CUH and showed them my badge they waved me on right away. They showed me a lot of respect and that made me very proud.”
While lockdown has been difficult, it has also been very rewarding and he recalled how the family painted the house together.
“Everyone ended up soaked in paint, but it didn’t matter because everybody enjoyed it so much.”JOHNNY CARLTON, CUH PORTER
AS a porter in a busy hospital and the husband of a nurse, Covid-19 turned life on its head for Johnny Carlton in every way imaginable.
Nonetheless, the Cork University Hospital porter, who lives in Ardmore with his wife Louise, a nurse in St Finbarr’s Hospital, and three chilren, have dealt with the pandemic in the most brave way possible.
After being forced to cancel Johnny’s 50th birthday bash, the couple knew they were heading into a battle.
On Father’s Day, Johnny talked about how his family pulled together to get through the pandemic.
We have three children-Dave (15), Tommy (12) and Jessie (10).
“They have stepped up to the plate and matured so much since the beginning of this pandemic.
"Our childminder had to cocoon which was one of the hardest things I’ve known her since I was a child and she was like a part of the family.
"Now, when we get home it’s like we have to start everything from scratch.”
Johnny emphasised how proud he is of his wife Louise who works as a nurse in Cork specialising in the management of infectious diseases.
“I appreciate what my wife does for a living much more now.
"Before, I wouldn’t have taken much of an interest when she told me about infectious diseases. Now I’m seeing just how much I took for granted the importance of the job she does.”
TADHG O'LEARY, PHARMACY OWNER
FRONTLINE dad Tadhg O’Leary never imagined he would be welcoming his son into the world at the beginning of a pandemic.
However, while the Covid-19 crisis might have felt like the end of the world, for the owner of O’Shea’s pharmacy in Blackpool, it was just the beginning.
Tadhg revealed he was lucky enough to be by his wife Jill’s side when little Finn was born in March, days before restrictions were put in place.
“It was a bizarre set of circumstances,” he said.
“I would put my two-year-old daughter Eve to bed at 7pm and come back to work from 10pm to 11pm getting everything ready for the team.
"There was a lot of nervousness around the situation and by that time I didn’t want to risk meeting any of the staff. Everyone had to be split into two teams.
"Neither team could cross paths which meant we were working every second day and I got to spend a lot more time with Eve and Finn”
The father-of-two said there is one present that would make him a very happy man this Father’s Day.
“Finn’s grandparents haven’t met him yet. The first thing I’m going to be doing on June 29 is take my children to Killarney to see them.”
He praised his wife Jill adding:
“I was often delivering to customers in the evenings so the day was very long for Jill which isn’t easy, especially when you have a baby who isn’t the best sleeper.”TOM GLEESON, DOCTOR
TOM Gleeson went from playing rugby for Munster to tackling a hospital emergency department in the height of a pandemic.
However, the Maryborough man’s greatest achievement is his family: wife Wailam and 16-month-old daughter, Ellura.
Shortly after his Leaving Cert, Tom lost his dad, Ronan, and realises the importance of a positive role model.
His hope is to follow in Ronan’s footsteps, not only professionally, but as a dad.
“My dad was a GP and that’s what I hope to eventually do,” the Mercy University Hospital doctor said.
“Mum was a trained nurse and they both inspired me to get into medicine.
"However, losing my dad taught me the importance of family and empathy. Difficult times teach you to take the positives out of a dire situation.
“I’m very much a family man and that’s part of the reason I got into medicine.
"Everyone has a unique story and you never truly know what’s going on in a person’s life. You have to keep an open mind and remember that everyone has a unique story,” Tom said.
Tom loves a cuddle with his adorable daughter.
“Even though Wailam is the only person she usually wants, my favourite thing about being a dad is definitely the cuddles.”