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03rd Nov 2021

“We don’t know what the winter will do”: The reality of being a healthcare hero in Crumlin hospital

Kat O'Connor

Advanced Nurse Practioner John Corcoran speaks to HerFamily.

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, the public has praised frontline workers. We’ve hung flags outside our houses and lit candles for them. But as lockdowns and restrictions continued, the morale for supporting our frontline heroes waned. People started to complain about when they could sit inside a pub or go into Aldi without a mask. The menial problems started to look bigger in the public’s eyes. All the while, the healthcare heroes who have experienced the unimaginable were still living through the pandemic in work. It didn’t stop for them because they were fed up with Covid ruling their lives. They were the ones who had to deliver life-changing news to patients’ families over the phone. They were the ones who had to worry about having enough ventilators, enough ICU beds, enough staff. They were the ones who didn’t get to switch off when it all felt like too much. We could turn off the news, change the radio station, avoid the newspapers, but they’re the ones witnessing the impact the pandemic is having on our already damaged healthcare service.

Our children’s hospitals are already experiencing concerning surges as RSV spreads throughout the community. The slightest sniffle has left parents terrified. Nearly two years of living in fear of Covid has completely shattered our healthcare staff. They’re completely exhausted, overworked, and under-appreciated by our Government. But that hasn’t stopped them from delivering the greatest standard of care. They need more than an extra bank holiday or a nationwide clap after all they’ve been through. Their dedication and resilience are second to none. Speaking to Advanced Nurse Practitioner John Corcoran helped remind me that the people working in our hospitals are otherworldly.

Advanced Nurse Practioner from CHI in Crumlin, John Corcoran opened up to me about the reality of working in one of Ireland’s busiest children’s hospitals. “There’s a big challenge ahead of us. There are so many children being admitted to the hospital compared to other years. We’re apprehensive about what’s to come,” John told HerFamily. “We all know no parent wants to have a sick child. We want to give the best service we can,” John explained. The rising cases of RSV and numerous other viruses are putting the hospital under pressure. “We’re really apprehensive that these numbers are putting a huge strain on us and we’re worried we can’t give people the proper service because of the increase.” John reminded parents that the healthcare workers want to help them. They just want to do their jobs and support and treat the children of Ireland, but the current situation means delays are to be expected and it is out of their hands. John urged parents to seek support from their GP or pharmacist before visiting the emergency department for things like colds and sniffles. He stressed that every patient matters to them, but those with severe illnesses and concerning injuries will be seen first. “Mammies and daddies have this intuition when their child is sick. Treat your child with Calpol or Nurofen for minor ailments. Ask your GP or pharmacy. Parents just know when their children are sick and we’re here 24/7. Come in if your child is in need of medical intervention. We’re asking you to stay at home if their issue can be resolved there.” 


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John stressed that the staff in Crumlin’s Children’s Hospital “just want to deliver the best care”. If the public can do one thing then it is to simply be patient with the staff. He said no parent ever wants to end up in the emergency department, especially at this time of year when the numbers are so high and wait times are ever-increasing. John said it is vital that parents remember children are assessed and treated based on the severity of their condition. He said parents can often get angry at the staff if a patient who came in after them is seen before them, but this is simply the way things work so everyone gets the best care possible. “A child with meningitis rash will be seen first before a child with chickenpox,” Nurse John explained. He understands this can be frustrating for parents, but things are always changing in the emergency department and patient priority can alter in seconds. “Management is doing everything they can. There is more space in outpatients, they’re rerouting outpatient appointments and staff are working overtime. Bear with us, delays will happen. We’ll see you and give you the best treatment, but it may take a little longer. We just want the best service for our patients. Be patient with us. If there are other avenues you can take go with them first,” John pleaded.

“We’re not here for thanks or praise. We know our job and love our job”

None of us can truly imagine what John and his co-workers face on a day-to-day basis. He explained that you need to be a special kind of person to work in the emergency department. In a regular year, the staff comes across death, cancer, trauma, bereavement. It’s hard to even comprehend what they’ve experienced during the pandemic. The trauma and heartache and complete and utter despair they’ve encountered are hard to wrap your head around, but it hasn’t stopped them from caring for the children of Ireland. John said the team at Children’s Health Ireland in Crumlin have held each other up during the darkest days of the pandemic. “We are so lucky to have such a brilliant team who all try their best to support each other, but it is hard. The big thing here is we’re only at the start of November. It’s daunting because we don’t know what the winter will do. When you work in ED we are resilient. We come across death, cancer, severe illness in the hospital ED. We’re hit with illnesses ourselves. Our own children are getting sick. We’re coping with staff being out sick and staff shortages. It is far from easy.” Despite it all, they persevere, John shared, “We will get through this together.” John’s hopeful attitude and cheerful disposition are completely infectious. No matter what hardships he’s faced alongside the staff in Crumlin, he has kept his head up. He has not let this haunting chapter defeat him. He explained that working somewhere like the children’s hospital in Crumlin is a complete honour. “It is a privilege to work with children, especially in such a hard time. I’m lucky I get to go to work and care for people. You’re making a huge difference to the parents and kids of Ireland. We’re not here for thanks or praise. We know our job and love our job. We just want the best service for people and the children of Ireland.”

“Be patient with each other. We’re here together as a community. We’re all one.”

When asked what the public can do to support frontline workers, John simply said to be patient with them and kind to one another. The volume is so high in the hospital at the moment and it is a major concern for the staff. John said we need to listen to the experts, “They know what they’re doing. They’ve guided us right so far. We have to trust them.” Covid may be with us for quite some time, but John said we cannot lose hope. “It’s not going to go away for another long while,” he warned. “We’re so apprehensive and afraid that our numbers are so high at the moment. Lean on your granny for advice too. Sometimes the old remedies are a huge help. Come to the hospital ED when you need to come to ED.”

It may seem like normal life and the reality we’ve been dreaming of since March 2020 is a lifetime away, but we need to be more like John Corcoran and have hope. Things are not easy at the moment. We’re afraid and Covid is still a threat to too many people, but we will get through this chapter. We just need to hold on a little longer. “Adhere to the Government policies. Be good to each other. Be patient with each other. We’re here together as a community. We’re all one. We can tackle this together.”