Wonderful nurses of Mercy a ray of light in our darkest hour

Ahead of a fundraising event this weekend in aid of the Mercy ICU, Elaine Duggan recalls her family's first hand experience of the unit
Wonderful nurses of Mercy a ray of light in our darkest hour
Elaine Duggan and mum Bernadette

SOMETIMES, complete strangers come into our lives and leave the most profound effect on us.

And so it was with the staff of the intensive care unit at the Mercy University Hospital, as my mum battled for her life.

For ten long days we sat at her beside willing her to fight, to pull through, to stay with us.

Her diagnosis of sepsis came like a bolt out of the blue… I still remember the very moment when doctors broke the news on the corridors of the A&E that they feared for her life. To say our lives crumbled into a million pieces was an understatement.

They whisked her away to ICU and placed her on life support, where she remained for those ten days.

Days of hope, days of complete desolation, days that seemed to go on forever, and nights that seemed like they would never end.

Some days it all didn’t seem quite real and then other days the horror of this event were all too real.

There were days of highs and days of lows. There were days where there was good news, days when there was bad news… and almost worst of all, days when there was no news at all.

There, through it all, were our family and friends — but most importantly these total strangers, men and women, doctors and nurses, who not only kept her alive… but were our lifeline too.

I can still see each and every one of their faces. And I think of them often. I will never forget what they did for us… what they did for mum.

There’s a different type of a health professional who works in the ICU. Not only are they highly competent medical professionals, who excel at what they do — it’s more than that, there’s a compassion, a dedication, a complete devotion to the job, that I have never witnessed before.

The health service gets a battering often — and for the right reasons: the lengthy waiting times, the over crowded A&Es, the bungled screening programmes... But it’s not the fault of the frontline staff.

You don’t know what it is they give to their job, until you witness it first hand. We as a family witnessed it first hand, in one of the darkest moments of our lives.

I had seen it, albeit briefly, when my little girl was hospitalised at a few months old. But when life hangs in the balance, in such an unpredictable manner, it’s a different story. ICU is a different story.

I don’t have a single bad word to say about all of those who cared for my mother in ICU at the Mercy University Hospital — but today I focus on those men and women who were by her bedside the most, the ICU nurses. The people who were with us the most.

I still see their faces as they arrived on their shift — and then as they left, drawn and tired, having worked 12 long hours — having worked every second, of every minute of every hour of those hours, with a short break to try and recharge. Only to go home and start it all over the next day.

One of us was by mum’s bedside at all times. One of them remained at her bedside at all times too. We didn’t always have the same nurse — I wondered if this was so we didn’t get too attached to them. Or so they didn’t get too involved with a patient or their family, in what can be a very difficult time, professionally and also emotionally.

I remember the nurse who stayed with her that very first night, when her life really teetered on the line. She said mum ‘kept her busy that night’, ‘kept her on her toes’. Such was the unpredictability of this horrendous diagnosis.

Being in ICU, the machines, the tubes, the sounds, the intensity of it all, was hard to absorb, but as well as focusing 100% on their patient, they guided us, the family too.

They gave us tea to keep us going through the night. They pulled up softer chairs for us to try and keep comfortable, if and when they were available. They grabbed an extra blanket for us to wrap ourselves in, when the early morning chill became sharp and we struggled to keep our eyes open. We were exhausted, physically and emotionally during those 10 days… but too afraid to sleep.

I remember the nurse who combed mum’s hair for two hours, untangling the knots. I spotted her recently in a takeaway restaurant, she was in her uniform and looked like she had just finished a shift. The sight of her stopped me in my tracks and brought me right back there, to the ward, and I held back the tears.

I remember the nurse who dabbed mum’s weeping lips, so sore from the intubation tubes being in so long — so gently, so apologetically.

And the nurse who distracted me on one of the darkest nights, while they wheeled out a poor man, who had passed away. They had fought hard to keep him in this world, and you could sense their sadness in the ICU that night, that they had lost someone. She stayed with me as I sat by mum’s bedside and distracted me, chatted to me — it was only when she left the room and they pulled back the curtains, that I could see, the man was gone… It was a tough night, thinking, tomorrow, that could be mum.

But while the nurse couldn’t prevent me from seeing everything, she shielded me from some of that emotional turmoil.

I remember the nurses’ patience. They had listened to me, to my father, to my brother — our never- ending questions and queries. Sometimes there were no answers. Some times we asked the same question over and over. They always answered to the best of their ability, honestly and patiently. They never made us feel stupid or annoying for asking.

I remember the nurse who giggled along with us, as we laughed at the ridiculous ramblings (which is the norm with such patients) when mom finally came out of her induced coma — and she did come out of that coma and is still with us today.

I never got to thank these nurses, the doctors, the consultants properly. Any of them.

When the door closed on the ICU, and mum was moved to another ward to continue her recovery, none of us ever wanted to go back there.

Even now, I am not sure I could walk those corridors again, like I had done so many days and nights, with such despair in my head and heart.

I don’t think there is a way of thanking these people appropriately.

There’s a level of appreciation that goes beyond words, beyond actions, beyond thoughts….

This Saturday, July 28, a fund- raiser will take place in Crosshaven AFC, Camden, in aid of the Mercy Hospital ICU. There will be an inter-pub 7-a-side. My brother will be on the playing pitch, having a long association with the club, while my dad will be on the sidelines selling raffle tickets. I don’t claim to have any part or role in organising this event —‘just to say how grateful I am to those who have and for picking the Mercy ICU as the charity of choice this year. Money raised will go to creating a family room at the hospital, for people who were in the situation we were in. The fundraiser runs from noon to 4pm at the Camden Road clubhouse and pitches, all are welcome to attend. A kids under 12s to 15s 5-a-side takes place on August 13, also in aid of the Mercy.

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