It was scary, it was outside of our job descriptions and the virus was so new

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A TALLAGHT woman has described what it was like to be at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic as a theatre ICU nurse in Tallaght University Hospital (TUH), where she treated patients who were critically ill with the virus in April.

Suzanne Hayden (45), who is originally from Kilnamanagh and now lives in Aylesbury with her husband, Stephen, and their three children, has worked in TUH as a theatre recovery nurse since 2002, but when the level of coronavirus cases began to rise in March, she was then trained as an ICU theatre nurse.

suzanne hayden FRONT compressor

:Suzanne Hayden receives masks donated by the community from Councillor Deirdre O’Donovan

“Tallaght Hospital gave us fantastic support,” Suzanne told The Echo. “We had plenty of training going on in the background [before the coronavirus cases began to rise]. We were trained in how to use ventilators and in critical care.

“When the ICU became full of Covid positive patients, the theatres then turned into wards for Covid patients.

“It was scary, because it was outside of our own job descriptions, and because the virus was so new, but we were very well supported by the hospital.”

Suzanne, who is a past pupil of St Paul’s Secondary School in Greenhills, then got into a meticulous routine of applying personal protective equipment (PPE) before every shift, carefully removing it afterwards and having to take additional precautions at home, in case she contracted the virus.

“My husband is a nurse too, he works in mental health in care for the elderly,” she explained, “so we’d both been exposed to the virus and were worried that we might catch it and pass it on to our family.

“It was extremely stressful. [The nurses] had to put on PPE at the start of every 12-hour shift, and the masks and goggles we wore had to be very tight, so we’d have headaches by the end of our shift.

“We also had a protocol we had to follow when we went home at the end of our shifts.

“Our clothes had to be washed every day, we basically had to strip at the door every time we went into the house after work, and we had to have showers and wash our hair after every shift before seeing or talking to our families, in case we had some droplets on us.

“I was just exhausted. I didn’t see my children much during April, which was quite tough.”

Even with the struggle that the necessary precautions caused, Suzanne is glad that she was able to help people who were seriously ill with the virus, and she enjoyed helping families communicate with their loved ones in the absence of physical visits, which weren’t allowed during lockdown.

“The patients we were looking after in the theatre ICU were intensely ill and ventilated, and we’d help their loved ones to speak to them.

“We used an iPad so that the patients’ families could see them and talk to them, and it felt like you were doing something really positive for the patients and their families.”

All of the critically ill patients that were treated in the theatre ICU where Suzanne was working thankfully recovered, and she added that this made all of the hardship that she and her colleagues went through during the height of the pandemic worthwhile.

Now, as the number of cases has dropped, Suzanne is back working as a theatre nurse, but she is cautious about the future.

“It happened so fast, and there’s no telling that it won’t happen again,” she said. “We’ve slowly reopened the theatres, but we can’t open them up fully until the cases drop below a certain level.”

The nurses in TUH have also received support from the community, including last week, when Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre O’Donovan donated medical-grade PPE to Suzanne and her colleagues, after raising over €1,700 from her family and friends to purchase the equipment.

“I was honoured to accept the donation from Deirdre,” said Suzanne. “The masks we use in the hospital are so specific, and she got the right ones – they passed the hospital’s test for PPE.

“It’s a great show of support from her for her local hospital.”

Reflecting on what life is like for her now, after spending several weeks treating people who were afflicted with the virus, Suzanne said: “My children are delighted, because my hours have changed so I’m home a lot more now.

“From a nursing point of view, it was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot of new skills.

“I think all of us, as a country, did ourselves proud.”

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