‘We need people to talk about what they have gone through’

February 3rd, 2021 10:05 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Fiona O’Leary and her mum Una last Christmas

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Activist and former local election candidate Fiona O’Leary has spoken out about her mother Una’s battle with Covid because she wants people to hear first-hand what we are dealing with

‘My mum finally came out of hospital after a month of Covid. She is really weak, she can’t walk. But she wanted me to tell her story,’ says Drimoleague-based Fiona O’Leary

Her mum first got sick in December – a week before Christmas. It started with a taste in her mouth and she took a turn on Stephen’s Day and was rushed to hospital.

From there, the nightmare began. For the next few weeks, Fiona’s mother Una was diagnosed with so many illnesses, the list seemed endless.

‘She had a heart problem, pneumonia, blood pressure problems, bladder problems, couldn’t pass water, was vomiting for almost three weeks, had diarrhoea, and she had some kind of turn that affected her heart, and didn’t eat for nearly the whole month,’ says Fiona.

‘She was slim anyway, but she’s like a skeleton now. She is on a blood thinner too. I saw pictures of her arms and the muscle has wasted away.

‘Covid has just ripped through her. I think it is incredible she is alive.’

Fiona spoke to the lab staff who said her mother’s test results showed she was particularly ill.

‘What they told me was fascinating – that her results had shown very high levels of the virus and they couldn’t believe that she hadn’t ended up in ICU. They told me they are seeing a lot of younger people getting very sick and that West Cork seemed to be particularly badly hit, which may be down to the UK strain here.

‘We had such an awful Christmas. I was actually preparing to tell the kids that my mum was going to die. I remember the doctor ringing me and I will never forget our Christmas. It was destroyed, New Year was destroyed.

‘I thought over the New Year that my mother was going to leave us. I spent the whole time on the phone trying to talk to the nurses and doctors. It is a terrible thing for families too, not just the victims.’

Fiona says she gets so annoyed when she sees people not wearing masks. ‘I still cannot go in and see my mum because my son Dillon is getting chemotherapy.

‘But I spoke to mum today briefly on the phone. She is definitely more coherent as well because before she was on a lot of drugs – lots of morphine for pain. She said the pain was terrible in her lungs, and she is on a drug to prevent clots because she’s been lying down for so long. She’s also on antibiotics.’ Fiona says her campaigning has come from her mum – a similarly strong, feisty independent woman. ‘We are very much the same. In hospital she had no access to TV or radio and couldn’t hear the news, she really missed that. She always listens to the news.

‘I do think the flu vaccine helped her and it annoys me to hear people saying not to get the vaccine, not wearing masks, or telling people the pubs should stay open. People like that need to be exposed, because they’re hurting people and people are listening to this BS. Some of these people are very influential in West Cork.’

In hospital Una saw a lot of people around her suffering from depression, through Covid, as the nurses and doctors struggled with depleted resources.

Fiona’s own son Dillon is travelling to hospital in Cork to get chemotherapy. ‘My son is in hospital getting treatment this morning from 6am and I am petrified that something will happen. There’s so many of the staff sick now with Covid. Doctors are mopping floors. There was one of the staff in there that my mum became very close to and they used to talk about poetry a lot together and he really cheered her up.

‘One day he was missing and she asked a nurse where he was. She was told he had got Covid and was on a ventilator, and he was only in his early 20s. Another day it took me 20 calls to get through to a nurse, because they haven’t got the help.

‘It’s not their fault – there was nobody there to man the phone for the first week my mum was there. Another nurse told me she was looking after 18 patients by herself one night. I just want people to know this is a killer virus. My mum always had a bad back but now she can’t even stand up. I don’t think she will ever be the same again.

‘It’s not enough just to have articles in the paper – we need people to talk about what they have gone through. That’s why I wanted to do this, and my mum wanted me to speak out, because I want people to understand how bad this is. I want people to know how hard it is for the families and how scared we were.

‘The children were crying for their grandmother and Dillon, who is so close to his granny, was always asking about her. “Is granny going to get better?” he was asking.’

But she thinks their strong bond helped both of them through this tough time. ‘I think Dillon pulled Mum through, and I think she is doing the same for him now.’

And she wanted to thank doctors Bart, O’Halloran and O’Connor and Nurse Marie and their teams for all their hard work.

‘Dr Bart rang me and said he walked into her ward on Saturday and my mum was sitting up in her bed with her glasses on and typing on her phone. He said it was like a miracle because the day before she was so bad. The next day she got a little bit better again and on Monday I got a call that she was coming home and it was so great for the family.’

Fiona says she is no stranger to tough times, but said the past month has been like no other. ‘This is one of the worst things we’ve experienced as a family. I just hope my mother recovers, because there is no support afterwards. I need a stairlift for my mum now, because she is so weak.

‘We are all traumatised, especially my mother. I brought some groceries to her when she came home and I just want to hold her but I can’t. My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to hug my mum again. She’s all I’ve got and she has been through so much. I love her and she is a very strong woman.’

Fiona says we really need to prioritise our older people. ‘I don’t think they’re getting the treatment they deserve. I understand the crisis, but their lives really matter as much as everyone else’s.

‘There’s my mum now – just so glad to be in her own bed. She was so happy to be able to watch Joe Biden this week because my mum is originally from Mayo, and that was all she wanted, so her wish came true. She’s at home now, with her books and her coffee and her bed, and just so happy to be there.’

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