‘We are facing toughest weeks of our careers’

Castlerea nurse urges people to stay home

Niamh Kelly is a 29-year-old nurse and mother-of-one from Castlerea. Her father Paul is a big supporter of Tulsk GAA. Her mother Eilish (neé Conama) is originally from Ballymoe.

Niamh lives with her partner, Brian Finan, and one-year-old daughter Harlow and works in University Hospital Galway.

She trained at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and worked in neurosurgery there before travelling to Australia were she worked in Sydney for a year.

Niamh returned to Ireland in 2018 and started work in UHG. She was on maternity leave when the Covid-19 pandemic struck but returned to work in late March at the height of the first wave.

She says the current situation in Galway is extremely worrying and the hospital is over-stretched.

“Before Covid, I worked in an Oncology ward but in March our staff moved to a new ward.  We opened as a ‘Query Covid’ ward…patients with Covid symptoms are swabbed and then come to us as we have a ward of single rooms. They are cared for in the single room until their swab comes back and they go to the main hospital if negative, or to the infectious diseases ward if positive.

“At this very moment, the situation in Galway is at its absolute worst in terms of Covid-19. The west of Ireland did extremely well for so long, but unfortunately we now have numbers of positives double, if not triple, to those of the peak of last spring. The hospital is completely over-stretched in terms of staffing, beds, equipment and ICU capacity,” Niamh said.

Staff at University Hospital Galway are rostered for 13-hour shifts but can end up working 14 and 15 hours, depending on the acuity of patients. Winter is always a difficult period but the rising number of Covid-19 patients has exacerbated the situation.

“People who tried to stay away from hospital for as long as they could are now presenting to the Emergency Department much sicker and requiring higher levels of care. There are only a certain amount of ICU beds, so patients are being cared for at ward level with high-flow oxygen,” Niamh says.

Since moving to the Query Covid ward, Niamh has seen patients with all types of different ailments, but one thing is clear when it comes to Covid-19 – the virus doesn’t discriminate.

“This virus affects the young, old, sick, healthy…it doesn’t exclude anyone or keep anyone safe.

“Each patient is treated as a positive case until the swab proves otherwise, and it’s been that way since March,” she added.

Every day Niamh and her colleagues at UHG don their battle attire, which includes full personal protective equipment – masks, visors, HAZMAT suits, and goggles.

Not only does ‘donning and doffing’ of PPE gear take up precious time, it’s also draining for staff.

“It really is exhausting to spend a day or a night shift constantly in and out of PPE between patients. I can only speak for myself and my colleagues of course, but we are coming up to a year of this pandemic now and we are so tired, just so run down and fatigued.

“It is just so disheartening to see that despite all of our best efforts over the last nine months, we are actually now facing into possibly the toughest weeks of our careers. The numbers have sky-rocketed in recent weeks and the number of hospital admissions are double what they were in spring,” Niamh added.

The Castlerea woman concluded with a heartfelt plea to members of the public.

“As much as everyone is fed up hearing about Covid-19 and people are struggling with loneliness and isolation, this is just a snapshot in time. Now, more than ever, we need to stick to the guidelines and simply stay at home and reduce our contacts as much as possible. Community transmission is rampant and it can only be stopped by people staying apart.

“There is an end in sight. I’m proud to say that I have received the vaccine and please God the continued roll-out of the vaccine will bring an end to this in the coming months. But for now, we have to follow the public health guidelines and listen to advice from the World Health Organisation or else we will not be able to go back to our ‘normal’ lives”.