So the week draws to a close with the island of Ireland receiving a visit from the infamous coronavirus. In the circumstances, I guess Storm Jorge provides an appropriate backdrop to unfolding events. Since the Italian outbreak, there’s been a certain creeping inevitability regarding COVID-19 happening upon our shores. In the end, it was a mere matter of days from the Italian news. Interestingly in recent hours we have received notice of a second confirmed case, this time in the Republic of Ireland, a man infected from exposure in Northern Italy. The woman I interviewed this morning also had a link to a man that was recently in Italy but at this stage I am quite certain the two are not one and the same.
It’s safe to say tension in Ireland has increased several notches over the week on a number of fronts. Not least on Twitter and Facebook where virus related content pertinent to Ireland has exponentially exploded, and indeed it was last night that a woman in Dublin reached out to me on social media. After some discussion she kindly agreed to be interviewed. She had only two requests. The first was to remain anonymous and the second not to name the hospital. I can say it is one of our bigger and busier ones. She was tested for the coronavirus last Monday night in this Dublin hospital. Curiously the medics wouldn’t say if they had any other patients under observation at that time. For the purposes of this piece I will simply refer to the woman as Jane. And this is her story.
GON: OK Jane, Thanks for doing this – Why don’t you kick off by giving me a little background.
Jane: Well early on Sunday I started to get a real high temperature about 38.9 and I was having significant difficulty breathing. Now just so you know I have some underlying heart and chest conditions going back to 2012, So I wasn’t really concerned that I had coronavirus or anything initially. But by Monday my condition had worsened.
GON: So what did you do?
Jane: I went to the emergency room of XXXX Hospital in Dublin because it was close to me and it was at night. I was really worried about the chest pains and the temperature. I signed in and was in the waiting area until a nurse came over to me and I explained my symptoms.
GON: How did she respond to your symptoms?
Jane: She went through my symptoms but didn’t ask me if I travelled anywhere or mention anything about the coronavirus. She scheduled an ECG which I got after this.
GON: OK so if the nurse didn’t mention coronavirus on listening to your symptoms what happened?
Jane: While I was in the waiting room I was thinking about Italy. The outbreak was on the news that weekend. One of my friends was just back from Italy maybe 10 days before and we spent a good bit of time together 7 days before. I didn’t know if it was important information or not but I brought it up when we went inside to see the doctor.
GON: What part of Italy was he in?
Jane: He was in area about 1.5 -2.0 hours drive from where the main outbreak happened. I forget the name of the town again. As I said the news about Italy had just broke and I wasn’t sure if I needed to tell the people in the hospital. While I was in the waiting room I checked the HSE website and I didn’t see anything much about Italy. But I told them anyway when I got called.
GON: So when you mentioned this did their attitude change?
Jane: Yes – Immediately she went off to get a mask and 5 minutes later two nurses returned fully gowned up to take me off to an isolation room. One nurse stayed inside the isolation room with me and one nurse stayed outside of the isolation room.
GON: What about the Italian connection anyone try and reach out to him?
Jane: Yes I called him during this time. To tell him what was going on and to ask him if he or any of his family or friends had symptoms. None was showing signs of any fever, coughing etc. And for the moment the hospital advised he stay put.
GON: While they tested you and waited for the results…..OK so what happened next?
Jane: They gave me antibiotics first. Then they took some blood work and also took swabs from my nose and my mouth. They told me that it would take about 24 hours to get the results and I would be isolated until then.
GON: Not bad…I think the tests are done out in UCD somewhere so 24 hours isn’t too bad…. So we are now into Tuesday by time the results came back?
Jane: Yes. So the next evening I was told the results came back negative but all day I still have the same symptoms severe chest pain and temperature still a little bit. Maybe not as bad. When the results came back they also did a Chest CT.
GON: I think that is best practice advise at the moment to do the CT or maybe it was for your underlying condition…OK….so it was a relief the results were negative. Did they start treating for your condition once that was out of the way?
Jane: No not really, that is why I’m so angry and got in touch with you. Once they said I tested negative on the coronavirus I felt like they just wanted me out of the hospital as quickly as possible. I got discharged at nearly 10 at night
GON: They just let you out? – Let’s go back. Tell me a little more about your underlying heart/Chest problem?
Jane: Well in 2012 I was found to have a very fast resting heart rate that was starting to cause me issues. They did a procedure on me at that time that involved going in through my groin. Anyway to cut a long story short I developed blood clots in my leg and 6 or 7 clots on my lung.
GON: Shit. You could have died. So this was the same hospital as where you had the coronavirus swab and bloods taken. So it’s obvious that you would be even more concerned about coronavirus as it affects people with underlying conditions in greater numbers ?
Jane: Yeah it was same hospital. The coronavirus didn’t really hit me till I got to the hospital and remembered something on the news about Italy. To be honest I was very unhappy to be discharged and went back again to my GP on the Wednesday. All they gave me was painkillers for 24 hours. He wrote a long letter to them and also prescribed a course of steroids.
GON: That’s actually a point I haven’t thought of until now. When people with underlying conditions get ill, they are most likely to think of the underlying condition as the issue rather than this new virus……So you presented back to the same hospital again with the same symptoms on Wednesday?
Jane: Yes that’s right. They weren’t happy to see me at all. One doctor was particularly aggressive to me.
GON: If you presented back to the same hospital with the same symptoms and the same story did they did they go through the same coronavirus protocols ?
Jane: No. They didn’t. I think they are supposed to but anyway they didn’t and they pretty much told me to go home. I just want to get to the bottom of my actual problem.
GON: Of course anyone would. In terms of the CV I’m not sure what they are supposed to do when a patient comes back like that to be honest. Maybe the previous day’s protocol still covered you?
Jane: Maybe I’m not 100% sure.
GON: As far as you are aware were you only tested once?
Jane: Yes why?
GON: Hmmmm….well the test isn’t exactly 100% accurate as far as I am aware. Some areas of the world are doing the test multiple times to account for this. Although your GP sounds very competent and wouldn’t have sent you back to the ER if there was any doubt in his mind. Have your friends continued to remain healthy?
Jane: Yes and I have checked with him a few times since too let me tell you!!!
GON: They were never brought in for testing after were they?
GON: Sounds to me like you have a hospital that is already mental trying to now also deal with a coronavirus protocol that is onerous and labour intensive. By any chance did you notice did the hospital have many isolation areas or rooms?
Jane: Not many as far as I could see maybe 10 or 12 rooms. But I am guessing.
GON: Doesn’t bode well if there is a large spread of the disease does it. Did they happen to mention if they had any other suspected cases in care at the time?
Jane: No they wouldn’t say. I didn’t push them too much on it to be honest as I was in a panic about my own condition.
I spent a good hour on the phone with Jane and we discussed many of the specifics of her underlying condition and some details on the hospital she attended. She is just a woman trying to get answers who got caught up in this coronavirus outbreak but who hopefully isn’t affected. Personally I would have preferred to have gotten a second test for the virus if it had been me. Unfortunately all of this upheaval has had the effect of complicating her access to treatment for what actually is wrong with her. Or so she feels. And God knows our health system is complicated enough as it is.
Fortunately, she is a strong, direct woman. The reason this is important is that in the day or so after her experience, Jane obviously set about attempting to get a consultant appointment to try and get to the bottom of her current serious health problems. The initial response was a consultant date in late April 2020. However, persistence and not taking no for an answer led to her wrangling an appointment for the second week of March.
In the meantime she waits and I guess hopes not to die. It’s enough to get the blood boiling and set the heart racing – if only such things weren’t already a danger to her life.
Written by: Gerry O’Neill