Louth nurse issues stark warning from the Covid-19 frontline

Michelle O'Keeffe

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Michelle O'Keeffe

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news@dundalkdemocrat.ie

Louth nurse issues stark warning from the Covid-19 frontline

Colette Vize Photo: Arthur Kinahan

A nurse has told how all the patients on her ward at Louth County Hospital have Covid-19 as she pleads with people to obey safety restrictions and stay at home.

Colette Vize, clinical nurse manager of the stroke rehabilitation unit at the Dundalk hospital, told the Democrat that all 18 patients on her ward are “very unwell” with the virus and are on oxygen therapy while most of the staff on the ward have also tested positive for Covid-19.

She said the nurses on the frontline are working up to 14-hour shifts in full PPE caring for their patients as the pandemic hits the local hospital.

Colette’s message to the local community as the figures of positive cases in Louth hit alarming levels is: “People need to follow the rules, we are the only ones that can stop the spread of this virus”.

Colette, who has been a nurse for 31 years and is chairperson of the Dundalk branch of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (IMNO) said: “On my ward, there are 18 patients, and they are all Covid-19 positive.

“There is a huge number of staff affected too, of the 25 permanent nurses on this ward only five have tested negative for Covid-19, the rest are positive cases.

“On the bigger picture we were lucky as we evaded an outbreak since last March but since Christmas week, we have been hit really hard with the pandemic.

“It is a crazy situation and horrendous for the patients, who are very unwell, their relatives as they can’t visit them and for the staff that are doing extremely long hours in heavy PPE equipment.”

Colette said the pandemic hit the ward quickly with patients going downhill rapidly after contracting Covid-19.

“The patients on our stroke rehabilitation unit had been well before Christmas and were fit enough to be picked for the rehabilitation programme and then bang they started to get Covid-19, it is absolutely horrendous”, she said.

“Most, if not all of them are on oxygen therapy.

“It is difficult to watch patients in distress and they are getting ill very quickly.

“One hour they are alright and the next they are not.

“Patients on our ward are dependent on us for every activity from brushing their teeth to being put to sit in a chair.

“All our patients on the ward are so ill and it happened so quickly, it is frightening.

“We had no positive Covid-19 cases one day and it all happened within 72 hours.”

Colette said that nurses on the frontline are working around the clock to care for their patients and are frightened going home in case they spread the virus to their families.

“It is so stressful and exhausting.

“We have to put on full PPE, boiler suit, mask and goggles, every time we go into a patient.

“The delay in getting into them can be distressing for the patients and for the staff.

“There are far more medial demands while the number of regular staff on the ward has decreased dramatically due to them self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

“We are now doing the work of two, if not three people.

“On one given day my shift can be from 7am to 8.30pm and you can’t just leave when the time is up as patients need you and may be distressed.

“And then I will be back up again at 6am to start another shift, like all my colleagues.

“We are all doing 12 to 14 hour shifts.

“It is particularly busy and hard for people doing night shifts with the limited staff numbers.

“All the staff are exhausted; we are just running on nervous energy.

“And we can’t see an end to it in the near future, as there are new positive Covid-19 cases all the time.

“Staff are swabbed every 72 hours and there is constantly someone getting a positive result despite being in full PPE.

“It is extremely difficult; our staff numbers are constantly being depleted.

“And often we may not know if we are positive as we are asymptomatic.

“There is also the real worry that we are affecting our families with Covid-19 when we get home.

“We are petrified going home to our families.

“I have been a nurse for a long time, and we are used to the long hours and anti-social hours but what is happening at the moment is a whole other level.

“We are suffering from exhaustion and even when we get home it is difficult to switch off and then we are back up again at 6am.

“There are no real breaks - we can’t go down to the canteen, we eat on the ward, shower on the ward, change our clothes on the ward.”

Colette said that is also a frightening situation for families of loved-ones as they are “extremely worried” about them.

“Previously there had been restricted visiting but certain exceptions were able to be made, such as seeing their loved ones outside the door with protective gear”, she said.

“Relatives can’t see loved ones now and sometimes it is difficult to answer the phone to them as we are so busy.

“We try to have one staff member contact relatives every day but unfortunately sometimes that is just not possible.

“It is terrifying for families who have loved ones in the hospital, it is just so hard on everyone.”

Colette urged people to obey the lockdown restrictions saying: “Please knuckle down and do what you are meant to be doing.

“I am asking people to please just stay at home and keep people safe.

“We can’t take much more here on the frontline, we are only human, and our bodies are dropping, we are not immune to it.
“We all have families we are worried about and are frightened going home.

“It is our job, and we are doing it to the best of our abilities.

“People need to follow the rules, we are the only ones that can stop the spread of this virus.

“We will keep going and doing our job and the public need to do their bit and make it easier for us, their loved ones and themselves.”

This article was originally published in the Dundalk Democrat, Jan 12