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Clinging to hope after a dark 12 months

The one year anniversary of the first lockdown brings conflicting emotions, but also the promise of spring

Last March, I was booked to go skiing for the first time in years. We were a family group, assembling from Galway, London, Edinburgh, New York, and Tipperary. It didn’t happen. The only person who travelled was my cousin from New York, and he’s still here, sitting out the pandemic in Connemara. Since then, I can remember every little social occasion from the last 12 months, because there were so few.

A glass of wine on a patio, dinner in a friend’s garden, a stream of summer visitors, which had to stop again abruptly. After that, I got through the autumn lockdown with Zoom yoga classes and even piano lessons. It’s funny how your fingers find the notes again, after so many years.

This time, I can’t concentrate. I’ve stopped buying newspapers – anyway, there’s no news. I was never into TV or films. Even the radio annoys me now. I listen briefly in the morning, check my phone in the evening to get
the figures. I forget that Twitter exists. January is always a hard, dark month. It was very long this year, with numbers in hospital and in ICU rising scarily every day. Just survive, hibernate. My husband Tom’s anniversary falls innearly February.

Why should a number matter? But it does: 10 years hurt more than nine. Then we learned that this lockdown has no end-date and I reckon we all suffered a national depression. Up to that point, I had been careful not to look ahead, just living one week at a time. Now it’s March again. The numbers in hospital and in ICU have eased. It’s the vaccination numbers that are slowly rising instead. The sun is shining.

I’ve seen happy little kids in school uniforms. It feels like a victory to pick
up dinner from the Whisky Still pub and buy a take-away coffee from the Lake Café. Irrepressible optimism returns. I’m still not looking too far ahead, there’s no point. Meanwhile, here are some of the things I mull over as I read my Medical Independent and listened to snippets of radio.

It’s funny hearing people call for co-operation with Northern Ireland on Covid, just like there was for Foot and Mouth. I think the DUP would rather battle with Covid on a ventilator than be seen to co-operate with the Republic. Maybe they’ll change their minds if Boris Johnson gets them all vaccinated ahead of us. And I really don’t see how we can enforce “the border” to control Covid. We’ve spent the last five years insisting there can’t be a border on this island for Brexit.

Video consultations have been crucial in the Covid response, but now I’m hearing about the limitations, because video does not suit all situations. I’d like to see a similar debate about single rooms. A friend of mine spent the month of January in hospital for non-Covid illness. On a previous occasion, he found it frightening to be ill in a single room. This time he felt very safe because there was a glass wall. Every member of staff walking past could glance in and see if he needed help, or just wave at him cheerfully.

Covid care belongs in the public system for a good reason – it’s too complex for the private hospitals

When the dreaded trolleys re-appeared in emergency departments (EDs), I was relieved that they were seen as a sign of strain, patients overflowing into ED because there aren’t enough wards. It’s always puzzled me that “trolleys in ED” were dismissed as “inefficiency”. Similarly, in Covid times it’s easier to see that public and private hospitals treat different cases. Covid care belongs in the public system for a good reason – it’s too complex for the private hospitals. The private system has more in common with the
new elective care hospitals that are under discussion for
the public system.

It’s been good to hear so many doctors – GPs, hospital consultants, public health doctors, academics – all talking about health issues. Even those I don’t agree with have done a great service in explaining how complex medical care is. It’s as if the natural order has been restored somewhat. Doctors provide insight through information and experience, then the health and political systems decide which choices to make. We are not just “vested interests”.

Similarly, the HSE is an ally in patient care, not the enemy. Okay that’s the fairy-tale version. But maybe the endless briefings between HSE and the Department of Health and doctors, have led to better relations and more understanding of each other’s position. I wonder how many more twists this pandemic story will throw at us? Maybe it’s better not to know. Instead,
let’s see if the violets I brought home from my lockdown walks last year have survived. Spring is here again!

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