By Paddy McIlwaine
Like most of you, I suspect, the last month since the start of this Coronavirus epidemic has been difficult for me and my family but by and large we are coping well. I’m blessed to have the company of my wife (Don’t tell her that) and my grandson who lives with us.
A good friend once told me ‘develop an attitude of gratitude’ and you’ll be ok. Make a list of the things you have to be grateful for rather than concentrating on the things that you have to do without.
While isolating and observing social distancing, the garden has been an oasis of tranquillity and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in it while the daily walk has been invaluable. Not surprisingly in times of trouble God suddenly becomes a much higher priority and the daily rosary has become a very important part of our daily routine.
We have all been inspired by the dedication of our NHS and frontline workers who have put their own lives on the line in order to care for others and when all this is over it is very important that their contribution is rewarded by more than the weekly hand clap.
I found a couple of stories on National media this week involving two of my fellow Gaels both compelling and inspirational. Niall Murphy, chairman of Club Aontroma and vice chairman of St. Enda’s was diagnosed with Covid 19 and spent 16 days in an induced coma in the ICU at the Mater Hospital, but is thankfully on his way back to recovery.
In an interview on Radio Ulster this week he expressed his sincere gratitude to the doctors and nurses of the NHS who nursed him through his life threatening illness but gave a damning assessment of the treatment of those doctors and nurses.
“When you are in ICU you’re totally incapacitated.
The ventilator that was breathing for me for 16-days when I was in a coma, was managed by dedicated and expert staff who I know worked around the clock to save my life.
The dignity that they restore in the patient, every patient, is both humbling and inspiring.
My mother has a very strong faith and prayed that my bed would be guarded by angels.
And It was, by the doctors, nurses, physios and staff of the NHS.
These people are the equivalent of the firemen who rushed into New York’s Twin Towers on 9/11, yet we have asked them to confront this crisis with insufficient Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
That’s a disgrace.
As a society we should be ashamed of how we treat and resource the NHS. We should be ashamed at the fact that our local nurses had to strike in the darkness of winter to secure safe staffing levels and pay parity.
Just think about that. Striking to ensure safe staffing levels. Weeks before a pandemic struck”
“If I was a nurse and Matt Hancock came near me with a badge he’d be picking a window.
In France, medical staff were given a €1,500 tax-free bonus as a reflection of the life-saving work in the crisis. That should happen immediately for NHS staff – and would only represent a start.
Not a badge.
We should also recall that the current Tory government voted against pay rises for nurses and no amount of honeyed words about the great treatment he received (from nurses who would have residency problems ironically post Brexit) from Boris Johnston should distract from that.
An immediate rise and sustainable pay structure should be immediately considered by the British parliament. Student loans for all front line health care workers should be cancelled if they are working in the NHS.”
Heart surgery for daughter of Antrim footballer
A few days earlier I read the story of Camille Murray, daughter of Antrim footballer, Conor Murray who received live saving heart surgery at Our Lady’s Children’s hospital in Crumlin, Dublin.
The article described Camille as a warrior and as someone who has watched and reported on games involving her father for over a decade that description certainly didn’t sound out of place.
Conor has worn the jersey of Lamh Dhearg and Antrim with distinction and is one of the most exciting dedicated and courageous players it has been my pleasure to watch so it doesn’t surprise me that Camille has inherited her father’s courage.
In a powerful image taken at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, four-month-old Camille Murray is held by her father Conor dressed in surgical scrubs, with the caption: “She is my unbelievable baby girl.”
Camille, who was born with a congenital cardiac condition that required surgeons to rebuild the chambers of her heart, also has Down’s syndrome.
Conor revealed the devastating impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on their family, forcing him and his wife, Laura, and three other young children to live apart, while undergoing tests for the virus to ensure they wouldn’t infect their baby – and enduring an agonizing “waiting game”.
Anxiety around the infant’s condition grew last month when she stopped gaining weight and was admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Belfast, with medics warning she urgently needed an operation before she was six-months old.
Arrangements were made between consultants in Belfast and Dublin – since 2015 the north has had no surgical service for babies and children with serious heart defects – and an operation date was given for April 9 in Crumlin, but was cancelled due to limited ICU beds.
A second date for Easter Tuesday became available but was also put back.
Mr Murray, a special needs school teacher, described the trauma of “handing over” their little girl to the surgical team last Friday – with him and his wife then having to stay apart due to strict infection control measures.
“The day of the operation was difficult because we had to bring her down to the anaesthetist and having to hand her over like that; that was the hardest bit because you can’t really do anything. You feel useless,” he said.
“The operation took about six or seven hours and I just got in the car and drove around Dublin for five hours. I couldn’t stay in the hospital, I had to get out. A liaison nurse rang every two hours with updates.
“When I finally got to see Camille it was scary as there were so many tubes and she was connected up to lots of machines. But the surgeon has now told us the operation went as well as it could have, it’s a big relief. She is still in ICU but doing great.”
Only one parent has been allowed to stay in the hospital and Mrs Murray, who is a cardiac nurse herself, remained in specialist accommodation while her husband drove up and down each day – and was regularly stopped by Gardaí at different checkpoints in Co Louth.
“Lockdown hit so all the schools closed and we had to move our kids to my wife’s parents. Apart from Facetime, I haven’t seen them in a fortnight. I stayed in a hotel in Dublin for the surgery thanks to the Children’s Heartbeat charity but went up and down home to self-isolate,” he added.
“Me and Laura can’t be together, because if one of us was to get the virus we would have to quarantine for 14 days, so we both wouldn’t be able to see Camille.
“Since the surgery, we have to be there from 8am to 8pm so we swap over. Because she is in ICU you’re not allowed to stay overnight. Now it’s a matter of making sure she’s alright and getting her home.”
The Lamh Dhearg clubman said he has been inundated with messages of support from GAA players across Ireland, with some describing his baby girl as a “warrior”.
“In the middle of a pandemic Camille was admitted to hospital, transported down to Dublin and underwent major heart surgery – you don’t appreciate the magnitude of these things until its happens to you,” Mr Murray said.
“She has been a brilliant baby since she’s been born, very content and extremely happy. Camille’s just a legend and has had a massive impact on me even though she’s only four months old.
“I just want her back with the whole family thriving and healthy.”
I have never been sick before or been to hospital, apart from sports injuries and for the birth of our three children, so I’ve had very little real experience or appreciation of being a patient, with your life in the hands of the NHS.
I do now.
The inspiration I have taken from the above two stories this week was somewhat tempered today when I read of the death of Tierna McMullan, daughter of former MLA, Oliver McMullan.
Tierna was diagnosed with Leukaemia only six weeks ago and died peacefully at the Royal Victoria Hospital surrounded by her family.
Tierna, who had Down’s Syndrome was the winner of two Special Olympic medals in 2010 and was a keen Antrim supporter. The Antrim hurlers donated a signed jersey which she wore in hospital while the Tara camogie club in London raised £5,000 for the ICU in the Royal, describing her as their number one supporter.
To Oliver and his family we express our sincere sympathy.
Like all of you I pray for the day this terrible epidemic will pass and that we will come out the other side more grounded people with a deeper understanding of what really matters in life.
In the meantime stay safe and hopefully we will meet at a game in the not too distant future.