It was at the front line of the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic that Carlow footballer and nurse Róisín Byrne celebrated a vital win this week.
After a month and a half of staff tending to patients in the main Covid-19 ward at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, the first discharge of a coronavirus-positive patient lifted hearts and spirits soared.
Recent weeks have been speckled with panic, worried families, illness and death, but Tuesday was a sweet day for Byrne and her colleagues – a significant victory.
“It was so, so nice to see him discharged,” she says. “Every day there is that little bit of negativity and you are waiting for the numbers to be announced in the evenings, to hear what the news tells us about the confirmed cases, the new death toll.”
Unfortunately, the lows have outnumbered the highs massively since Byrne (23) switched duties from general surgical nursing to caring for Covid-19 patients. As well as tending to her patients, there is also a delicate personal touch needed with their worried families.
“It is really hard because the patients’ families are not allowed near them. You are trying to communicate with them as much as you can. They are obviously so worried because they cannot come in and see them.”
Along the way, some harrowing choices have had to be made. Patients have had to be assessed to see who is in most need of a place in the ICU, which of them will benefit from a step up in care and which of them cannot be helped any more.
“It is quite daunting. It’s frightening for the patients, they are relying heavily on you,” Byrne explains. “They can deteriorate quite quickly and you are trying to prioritise patients who are a candidate for ICU.
“You have to make those decisions with the doctors, as you try to decide which patients are a candidate for ICU and which patients are unfortunately going to progress to the end of life.
“Morale is really, really good amongst the staff though. If anything, it has improved in the last month and a half. We are all on the same page. Communication has to be a big thing.”