WATCH: 'We never thought it would hit St John's' - Powerful documentary shows Limerick's Covid-19 fight

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

THE CEO of a Limerick hospital said that unless the public follows Covid-19 guidelines, there is a “grave risk” of a restricted Christmas and a return to the worst days of the pandemic. 

That is according to Emer Martin, CEO of St John’s Hospital in Limerick city, which was left almost overwhelmed by the first wave of the pandemic in April. 

As Limerick and the rest of Ireland goes into Level 5 lockdown this Wednesday, a short documentary detailing the pressure of the pandemic at the hospital was published this week. 

Eighty of its 300 frontline staff were put into quarantine in April when the worst of the pandemic hit. And Ms Martin has said that everything must be done now in order to avoid that past trauma. 

“The release of the story documenting the trauma that visited our hospital, patients and their families at the worst of the pandemic is very timely right now as we face lockdown again. If anything, we hope that the telling of this story now might help prevent the worst of the pandemic that we were gripped by here in St. John’s from happening all over again.

“Right now, we are on something of a tight-rope across the country and it could go either way.  If we don’t adhere to the measures, we could be turning back the clock to last April and May in terms of the impact on life. We know what that looks like and it’s dreadful. We would never want to see our staff here go through that again or patients and their families,” Ms Martin explained.

Clinical nurse manager Emer McLaughlin spoke about one week when the demand was at its most intense. 

“This was completely different. I could feel this tightness in my chest. And it was the week of Easter. It just I felt that we were like a sinking ship. And I had never felt that before.

“If one patient tested positive here, then all the close contacts of all staff, of all disciplines that had looked after that patient, then they all had to go and self-isolate, which meant we had phenomenal levels of staff in self-isolation for 14 days.

“I think we probably would have sunk at one or two stages only for the support that we got from other areas in the hospital. So, while we looked after the patients, the hospital in general looked after us. That epitomises the St. John's and the way the hospital operates,” she said. 

CEO Ms Martin pays tribute in the video to the staff for their heroism during the worst of the pandemic. 

“Our staff didn't see themselves as heroes, but they were in my eyes. Decisions were being made faster, people volunteering, being asked to do different things, and no one thought twice.  We were in the middle of a storm trying to hold on, but you could see the determination.

Recently retired Director of Nursing at St. John’s Margaret Finn, who postponed her retirement to help the fight against COVID in the spring, also summed up the emotional roller coaster that the period was. 

“It's been the worst of times. And then again, it's been the best of times because we have seen such bravery in that staff had stayed on, worked long hours, supported patients, didn't walk away, even though at times it was very frightening.

“The saddest of scenes were witnessed here. The families saying their goodbyes, these goodbyes will never be undone. It was a dreadful time.  As a society, we can't afford to go back there. It's in our own hands. but knowing St. John's, if we have to go back there again, we will.”