"We're not equipped for what's ahead of us" - An Irish healthcare worker's fear over restrictions ending 2 weeks ago

"We're not equipped for what's ahead of us" - An Irish healthcare worker's fear over restrictions ending

"Our ICUs are not equipped for what is ahead of us"

More and more restrictions are being lifted as the weeks go by and vaccination figures increase.

It feels like there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel, but has the Government taken a step too far on the road to recovery?

A further 1,180 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Sunday. There are currently 362 people in hospital with the virus and 59 of those patients are in intensive care.

Our figures are reportedly plateauing, but healthcare workers are concerned about the return to normality, and who can blame them?

They're the ones who witnessed the true horrors of this pandemic. The ones who worked overtime, who had to share devastating news with families, who had to witness patients suffering in isolated wards.

What they've gone through is something most of us will never be able to comprehend.

The sacrifices they've made and the trauma they've experienced are simply unbelievable.

An Irish healthcare worker chatted to HerFamily about the risk of returning to normal too quickly, the danger it puts vulnerable children in, and how the public has forgotten about the healthcare heroes they cheered for last year.

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Aoife* works with vulnerable children and their families and has witnessed the worry take over as restrictions ease.

"I am glad that we are seeing some semblance of normality, but I think the ease of restrictions is coming far too quickly and far too soon. I work with extremely vulnerable children and their families, and the stress amongst them has been debilitating over the past while, and is only increasing with the upcoming ease of restrictions."

The case figures in Ireland are still high and the transmission in our community a growing concern, but do people still care?

"It seems that the only people happy to have the restrictions eased are those who are not high-risk, don't have family members or loved ones who are high-risk and don't work in healthcare.

"We've had so many difficulties with people over the past year refusing to wear masks, not abiding by restrictions and therefore putting healthcare staff and our patients at risk, and refusing to comply with our clinic restrictions. I've had countless arguments with people trying to enter the clinic without masks, taking their masks off whilst in the clinic, wearing their mask under their nose, coming into the clinic right after returning from abroad, and just straight up refusing to sanitise, and I know that the amount of these arguments will increase when the restrictions are eased."

Aoife explained that families have no choice but to take matters into their own hands: "I have families with high risk children withdrawing from services in order to protect their children because no matter how careful they are, and how careful their healthcare providers are, if other people who come to our clinic aren't safe then those children are at such high risk, and so they're missing out on crucial healthcare services. It seems the high-risk category and losing what freedoms they do have in order to accomodate for those who aren't high risk."

The pandemic is far from over, Aoife stressed. "I completely understand that people are experiencing pandemic fatigue and are desperate to feel some normality, but I do think that the government is reopening too soon."

During the height of the pandemic when all we did was walk around our neighbourhoods and watch the figures rise and rise on the evening news, our healthcare workers were praised. Flags were hung outside windows, candles were lit, prayers were said and tributes made.

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But what happened to that morale?

"Did we stop caring about them because we were fed up with the restrictions? Did the morale fade and our own selfishness take over?"

"The morale for frontline workers has dropped tremendously recently. We are all exhausted and risking ourselves every single day only for people to refuse to wear masks, abide by social distancing, and even refusing hand sanitiser."

"We've had people telling us that Covid-19 is made up and that we are part of some made-up crazy agenda, when really all we are doing is our jobs and trying to help people.

"Initially, there was so much praise for frontline workers everywhere - there were discounts in restaurants, free taxis to work, and signs reminding us that what we are doing is not going unnoticed. And now, we are risking ourselves by getting to work on 100% capacity buses, struggling to pay rent, working long hours, and sacrificing our well-being - and sometimes it feels like we are just so underappreciated.

"The emphasis on abroad travel, pubs, and music festivals have been a big kick in the teeth - surely the emphasis should be on maximising the efficiency and safety of our healthcare services."

You don't realise the work our healthcare workers do until you or loved one ends up in hospital. They work tirelessly and receive such little pay. The conditions are simply dreadful and the lack of support dwindling by the day.

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They're still saving lives in ICU. They're still smiling and comforting patients who have been isolated from their families. They're still treating and caring for people in their most vulnerable states. They never stopped caring, so why did we?

If the power was in Aoife and other healthcare worker's hands, she said she'd simply listen to the experts.

"We need to trust the experts, keep up with the latest evidence, and act accordingly."

"The easing of restrictions will undoubtedly result in a huge surge of cases, and our ICUs are not equipped for what is ahead of us, and the people that will feel the burden of that is healthcare workers and high-risk people."

"100% capacity on public transport, the huge crowds in Croke Park, and even the talk of nightclubs returning are particular worries for me. The pandemic is far from over and I personally feel that the decision to get rid of NPHET is absolutely ridiculous.

"But my biggest fear at the moment is that life will return to normal for some people, while those that are high-risk will be completely forgotten about and will have to live in fear. The easing of restrictions will undoubtedly result in a huge surge of cases, and our ICUs are not equipped for what is ahead of us, and the people that will feel the burden of that is healthcare workers and high-risk people."

Life may be normal for some of us, but what about those who are high-risk, disabled, elderly or living alone? Do we simply not care about the quality of life our marginalised communities have?

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"The opportunity to work and study from home opened opportunities for disabled people, poor people, people who cannot relocate for various reasons, parents who could not afford the childcare to work or study outside of their home, and undoubtedly a whole other myriad of cohorts that I'm not including. The proposed easing of restrictions includes all workers returning to the office and all students returning to campus. While I'm sure that this is very welcome news for a huge amount of people, this also means the end of accessible work and education for many," Aoife shared.

"Life will return to normal for some people, while those that are high-risk will be completely forgotten about and will have to live in fear."

"Many disabled people will not be able to access work or education if it's not from home, poorer people will not be able to relocate and pay rent to attend in-person work and college that was made affordable by being able to live at home during the pandemic, parents who were able to take care of their children at home whilst working and studying will now need to pay for childcare and many won't be able to afford to do so. We are further marginalising and discriminating against those who are already struggling in a world that they have to fight to access."

Life completely flipped upside down in March 2020 and nothing has been the same since. We're all changed people. Our lives are almost unrecognisable and the chapter of history we're part of is hard to wrap your head around.

We've been isolated, worried, heartbroken, and 101 other emotions. We have felt lost and hopeless. We were lonely and afraid to walk outside our own front doors. We missed out on making so many memories, on meeting so many people, on saying goodbye to people we treasured dearly.

If the pandemic has taught us anything then it's that people matter. Our loved ones, our communities, our healthcare workers.

Our healthcare heroes deserve to be respected and cared for constantly. Just because the local pub has opened its door doesn't mean they aren't suffering. Just because you can sit inside a restaurant doesn't mean someone with Cystic Fibrosis isn't still cocooning alone.

People are still suffering. People are still hurting. People are still fighting.

And it's about time the Irish public take their eyes away from menial things like Varadkar going to a music festival and dancing at weddings and realise that the pandemic hasn't ended for the ones it harmed the most.

Our favourite cafe may open. We will dance at weddings again. The lights will go down at a concert and the arena will erupt with cheers.

There is a lot to look forward to, but we can't let that blind us from being careful. We need to continue social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitising, because we may be able to see that light at the end of the tunnel, but the pandemic certainly isn't over for everyone.

*Name changed to protect healthcare worker's identity.