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Tales of darkness and light 'making a bad situation better'

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Frontline staff in the RTE documentary

Frontline staff in the RTE documentary

Frontline staff in the RTE documentary

Nurses have spoken of how they are now taking over the harrowing task of ringing loved ones of patients who are near death from Covid-19 to ask what special possessions they would like to be buried with.

The struggle for survival and sad goodbyes, which are now part of the daily toll of the pandemic, are revealed in RTE Investigates: Inside Ireland's Covid Battle, which captures how the deadly virus is fought by patients and staff at St James's Hospital in Dublin.

Patients who die must be placed in a double body bag and then in a sealed coffin.

One nurse speaks of how they contact relatives before a patient dies to ask if there is some item they would like them to be buried with "in order to make a bad situation better".

The programme highlights the case of one elderly woman 'Mary', who passes away over several days comforted only by the kindness and care of hospital staff because her frail sister was unable to visit her.

Cruel

The hospital, which has seen 79 patients die from the virus, has the largest intensive care centre in the country.

It achieved a survival rate of 80pc for Covid-19 patients who were seriously ill in intensive care, compared to the 50pc recorded in UK hospitals.

During May and June, as cases of the virus were falling during lockdown, the RTE Investigates team spent almost 30 days filming in St James's, where three wards were given over to Covid-19 patients.

The staff describe how cruel the virus is for patients whose relatives cannot visit them.

It is left to frontline nurses and doctors to provide the daily updates to anxious loved ones, as well as break good and bad news over the phone.

There are warm gestures arranging FaceTime greetings for patients fighting for their lives with family photos by their bedside.

Among those featured is Patrick, a 97-year-old who was living an independent life in supported accommodation in Granby Row, Dublin, until he caught the virus.

His devoted support worker Lisa visits him every day in hospital and plays him one of his favourite tunes, Irish Lullaby.

When he passes away he is buried with his cherished pocket watch.

However, there are also insights into how patients who have suffered the worst ordeal in intensive care - hooked up to ventilators and sedated - survive as staff bring them back from the darkest of days.

Dubliners Betty Donlon and John Smith spent weeks in the care of St James's severely ill with the complications of the virus, but survived to be reunited with their families.

Betty's daughter Grainne is left distraught that her mother is in intensive care and is seen to be very upset when doctors have to delay removing her from the ventilator.

John's wife Marie and his family endure the trauma of seeing him rally, only to suffer a setback.

However, both patients triumph and beat the illness, surrounded by caring staff cheered by their growing strength.

Inside Ireland's Covid Battle: RTE1, 9.35pm