‘If it hadn’t been for my dog barking, I would be dead’ — Covid patient Jane O’Connor

Jane O’Connor’s Jack Russell, Daisy, saved her life. The 64-year-old grandmother awoke at home on December 1 feeling unwell. Within a couple of seconds of standing up, she collapsed, startling the dog. Daisy barked incessantly to raise the alarm until Jane’s brother, who lives with her, woke up.

If it hadn’t been for the dog barking, I’d be dead, there is no doubt about it. For the next two weeks I was in a coma and I don’t remember any of it. I haven’t seen Daisy since, except for on the phone. She’s had the run of the house in my absence.”

Ms O’Connor — who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — was rushed to the Mater by ambulance, where she tested positive for Covid-19. Within days of being admitted to ICU, medics told her family to come in and say their final goodbyes.

“They told my daughter that there was no hope and they suggested turning off the machine in a couple of days’ time,” Ms O’Connor said. “My daughter asked them to wait, so that all the family could come in and say their goodbyes. Thank God I’ve a big family and it took them a while to get in. Because the day before they were due to turn off the machine, there was a flicker in me, medically. The doctors couldn’t believe it. After two weeks, I came out of the coma.”

She was double vaccinated and awaiting her booster when Covid struck. Her underlying health problems put her at risk of serious illness if she contracted the virus, so she had been very careful, rarely leaving her house in Cabra West, Dublin. “I didn’t go out the door. The only people I saw was family and they were all carful too. But I still got it,” she said.

Ms O’Connor spent eight weeks recovering in the Mater, much of it in ICU. She was then transferred to Clontarf Hospital, which has been serving as a rehab facility for those recovering from Covid who are not yet medically fit to return home.

When she arrived in Clontarf six weeks ago, the grandmother of seven was in a wheelchair and needed an oxygen tank. Now she no longer needs oxygen and she can walk with the help of a walker, which she needed previously because of mobility issues linked to her COPD. She is due to return home in the next few days.

“I cannot praise the staff in Clontarf enough for the care they’ve given me, and the staff at the Mater were wonderful too,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m still alive. I think it was all the prayers being said for me — even a priest in Rome said a mass for me.

“I actually feel better now than I did before I got Covid. Because of all the help I’ve gotten, I’m going to be able to even go out for short walks, and I wasn’t able to do that before.

“I just can’t wait to get home and see all my grandkids. I missed Christmas and a lot of their birthdays. They’ve come to the window here in Clontarf and waved to me, which is lovely. Seeing them is what I ‘m most looking forward to. And Daisy.”

But she will continue to be vigilant when she returns home; she’s heard plenty of stories about people catching Covid more than once. “So many people have died, I’m just glad to be still here and tell my story. I think everyone should still have to wear masks in the shops and on public transport. It would help protect people like me. There is still a lot of Covid out there. Some people are acting like Covid has gone away, but it hasn’t.”

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Infection control nurse Ann Gaffney and staff nurse Helena O’Curry at Clontarf Hospital. Picture by Steve Humphreys

Infection control nurse Ann Gaffney and staff nurse Helena O’Curry at Clontarf Hospital. Picture by Steve Humphreys

When the pandemic hit two years ago, Clontarf Hospital opened its doors to Covid patients still in need of significant rehab. Its staff could provide the expertise, including physio and occupational therapy, at a time when the acute hospitals needed to discharge as many Covid patients as possible to make room for others being admitted.

About half of Clontarf’s patients are Covid-related, according to Ciara Dowling, director of nursing.

“We have a lot of Covid rehab patients at the moment, as well as other patients who have tested positive and are on our isolation ward, because we are just coming down from the Omicron surge,” Ms Dowling said. “It is a team effort here —- our staff give 110pc. It was great that we were in a position to take patients from acute hospitals when Covid began. Two years later, we are still. That shows that Covid really has not gone away .”

The news agenda has firmly moved on from Covid, but for staff in Clontarf and other hospitals, the virus remains stubbornly present. For Helena O’Curry, a staff nurse in the “red zone” — the ward in Clontarf for patients who contract Covid-19 — work is busier than ever.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that two years on, we are back in PPE,” she said. “As one of my colleagues says, it’s like walking through mud. It can be very tiring, it makes everything take a lot longer to do, and it can be difficult to be upbeat at times. But who could have foreseen the last few weeks? When Covid-19 disappeared from news reports and was replaced with a full-scale war in Ukraine… We are mindful of our other nursing colleagues from many parts of Europe for whom this war is reality much closer to home.”

Ann Gaffney is an infection control nurse at the hospital. Her job is to oversee all Covid testing of new patients, and keep all patients and staff as safe from the virus as possible. She said, “I 100pc think there is as much Covid around as there ever was. Thankfully, most people aren’t getting very sick with it because of vaccines. But our patients are more vulnerable and older, generally.

“Testing is not straightforward. Some patients arrive from another hospital and test negative, then within a couple of days they test positive. There’s also issues with false negatives. We’ve outbreaks here, like anywhere else. The community has opened back up and people think Covid has disappeared. If you come in here, you soon realize that it hasn’t.”