Courtmacsherry woman Emma O’Sullivan and her sister Pauline tell Emma’s story of surviving Covid-19 against all the odds, but with much thanks to her incredible colleagues in CUH
I STARTED to feel unwell on Saturday March 21st. It started like my usual annual chest infection … chills and a cough. I went to work on the Monday and Tuesday. I work in medical manpower at Cork University Hospital. I took Wednesday off as I was starting to feel worse, so I booked a telephone consultation with my GP for my usual medication for my chest infection.
He asked me to monitor my temperature which I discovered was 40°C.
However, even with this result I was still in denial that this could be Covid. Based on my symptoms, my GP booked me for a community Covid test on Friday March 27th, which I attended in Dunmanway.
I have no recollection of what the next few days and weeks were like until, on April 12th, I heard a female voice saying: ‘You are in cardiac intensive care at Cork University Hospital. You are safe, we have you.’
However, I was still unaware as to why I was there. Over the next few days I started to become more aware of my surroundings and to understand a little bit more about what happened prior to me waking up. As the sedation was wearing off more and more, the nurses were able to hold the phone to my ear, so I could speak to my sister Pauline.
On Saturday March 26th Emma was sounding sicker and finding it exhausting to talk. She was only taking paracetamol for her temperature, but it was not bringing it down very much. Emma was sleeping a lot during the day and only waking to take the paracetamol.
I spoke to Emma early on Sunday morning. She was talking gibberish and making no sense. She took more medication and went back to sleep.
Unfortunately, I was not in a position to visit her as my Dad (who lives with me) and my husband have underlying illnesses and I had a seven-month-old baby. I was convinced she definitely had Covid, as at this stage, she had all the symptoms – especially shortness of breath. She was not able to take a step without gasping.
On Sunday afternoon Emma called me to say she needed South Doc – this raised alarm bells as Emma would need to be dying before she would call a doctor. South Doc prescribed antibiotics and steroids.
Our niece Kayleigh, who works in a pharmacy, collected the tablets and went to Emma’s to help her take the medication. Kayleigh went in fully gowned and protected as Emma was textbook Covid at this stage. Kayleigh rang for an ambulance immediately as Emma looked and sounded so unwell.
She waited with Emma until they arrived. She was relieved that the ambulance crew took Emma to the emergency department at CUH, where Emma worked for the last 17 years.
As we were not able to travel with her, we were pleased that Emma was going up to where she knew. Emma texted me to say she had arrived at CUH. From here the hospital took over her care.
She was transferred to Cardiac Intensive Care, intubated [a tube is inserted to help breathing] in the early hours of Monday morning, and was critical for the next two weeks. I called the hospital and was told she was the sickest person in the hospital and to contact our family.
We were to prepare for the worst … Every day the doctors would ring me and every day the news would be mixed – good and then bad – bad and then good. It was like we were going two steps forward and 10 steps back – she made slight improvements, but didn’t make it out of critical status for two weeks.
On day 14 the doctor called while I was driving over to my brother’s house to tell me that Emma was finally extubated [tube removed] and was opening her eyes.
To say this was the best news would be an understatement. It was the news that I and my family had prayed hard for, for over 14 days.
It was the news that the whole parish of Courtmacsherry was praying for – the news that friends were waiting for, and the news that the whole of CUH was waiting for. Emma was finally starting her recovery journey.
When sedation was being reduced, the nurses would ask if I had any news to tell Emma.
So everyday I would give the nurses an update on my daughter, our dad, and especially the wonderful news about our new niece who was born in Boston while Emma was intubated. As the days went on, Emma was becoming more alert and my phone calls were longer – I never thought I would hear her voice again.
On April 17th Emma was moved to the Covid ward. All medical staff were still in full PPE gear. She found this very unnerving and scary as she was starting to realise just how serious this disease was and still is.
She lay on a bed that moved her from side to side for 24 hrs a day with no TV, no visitors, nurses in full PPE who came in to care for her, she was not able to feed herself or even ring the bell for help. She was like a baby all over again.
Her only highlight of her day, if you can say that, was she waited patiently for this bed to turn her towards the window, so she could see the sunshine.
Unfortunately, this bed would also turn her back towards the wall and she would only have the wall to stare at while counting down the time for the bed to turn back again to the sun. My sister, the independent woman, who would never ask for help, was now helpless, barely able to talk (due to the tube), not able to get out of bed and her speech was poor.
After two negative Covid swabs on Monday April 27th, Emma moved to a single room. Intense physio and occupational therapy started. Emma found this ward to be more ‘normal’.
Medical staff did not wear full PPE, so you were able to see faces passing the room. Familiar faces passed by who would stop out in the hall and chat in to her. Days were much easier to put down.
Here she learnt how to feed herself, walk again, shower etc. She was starting to feel like herself again, but with a lot of adjustments to be made, due to nerve damage to both hands.
She received so many thoughtful gifts, cards and emails over her time in ITU and 1B that it was only there in 3A she felt well enough to read them.
About 19 days later, on May 15th, she was discharged and was wheeled out to rapturous applause from all her colleagues and friends in the hospital.
It was a very emotional day – for Emma, the staff and her family. She was coming home to us alive!
Emma continues to attend the dressing clinic, OT and physio. And she will forever be grateful to the staff of CUH who saved her life.