I wrote a column before Christmas about not stressing about who was going to be at the table for Christmas dinner. I quickly had to swallow my own advice.

David, Julie and Ricky tested positive for COVID-19 a few days before Christmas. Due to the risk of Diarmuid getting it following his kidney transplant, they immediately removed themselves to David’s family in west Cork to isolate.

It was nine days later before they had clear tests and were able to return home.

We had a quiet Christmas dinner with our three sons.

Then ‘Nora’ paid us a visit. She came uninvited bearing unwelcome gifts. By the time her visit was complete, we were cursing her and very glad to see the back of her.

I speak of the norovirus, otherwise known as the winter vomiting bug. There was an outbreak in Cork University Hospital. Diarmuid has to go in for a blood test each week to monitor everything but especially the level of anti-rejection medicine in his system.

Despite many uses of hand sanitiser and the wearing of medical-grade masks, Nora somehow came home with Diarmuid and Tim and quickly found her way to me. It is highly infectious.

Rough few days

So we had a rough few days. Our distress was exacerbated knowing that Diarmuid had a compromised immune system.

Ideally, he should have been admitted to hospital for intravenous fluids and antiemetic drugs. With the crowded A&E situation, we were very slow to go to the hospital.

We have constant backup from the renal team in CUH whenever we need it, so I rang the hospital and asked for the renal consultant on call. It was Dr Sarah Moran and she was on the line in 30 seconds.

She gave me sound advice about changes to Diarmuid’s medication and the task of making sure he got at least 2.5 litres of water into him over the 24-hour period. She advised the use of ice lollies. She also told me that half apple juice and water was a really good re-hydration therapy for home use. This did prove invaluable as Diarmuid found it easier to take than water.

On New Year’s Eve, Diarmuid and I sat on his bed toasting each other with water and counting down to the new year. We managed to get in a valuable 700 mls.

On New Year’s Day, I had to report again to the renal consultant on call. It was Professor Joe Eustace and again, he was on the line immediately with concern and helpful advice.

We are now fully recovered but I have to admit that Christmas and the new year were a bit of a blur for us, as they were for many families due to the various viruses circulating in the community.

Hospital overcrowding

It is fair to say that we are all stressed with the reports of the hospital overcrowding situation.

There is genuine fear about needing to go to hospital and possibly having to remain on a trolley for a number of days.

Much has been written about the A&E crisis and the enormous stress that nurses, doctors and hospital staff are under at this time.

The situation is chronic and is the result of years of untargeted action. We have enough experience in recent times of A&E to know that the system is just clogged.

There are not enough beds available on wards to accommodate patients so there is only a trickle of movement away from A&E.

The usual solutions are trotted out – more GP care required, the need for primary care centres in the community, the appointment of more consultants and extra nurses.

Is any of this new? We’ve been hearing it for years. The cynic in me wonders is this problem never solved because it just affects the healthcare system for a few weeks? Have politicians and managers thrown in the towel several years ago? It sure feels like that.

Yet, we saw the COVID-19 pandemic managed extremely well. A similar, specific taskforce is required.

On a positive note, Waterford University Hospital prepared for the surge and took its own measures to tackle the situation. One of the measures was to roster consultants for seven days for the difficult period.

It proves that individual hospital managers and specific health leaders can actually make the system work by using targeted initiatives.

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