Irish Medical Times article - How my time in a medical isolation ward prepared me for Covid 19


Releasing Control

During lockdown the nation freewheeled into panic, politicians became our parents and doctors our decision-makers. We had to relinquish control of our being. The government mandated social distancing conventions have saved us. But with surrender came a laxation, a hint of ‘giving up’, impenitent sins became hard to resist - people over indulged. 

When I was in medical isolation I wasn’t polishing off my morphine with a nice side of cheese and wine. However, most of the days I was injected with a cocktail of potent drugs that sent me as high as a kite. I didn’t have to binge on food, instead I had a tube inserted, pumping all that good stuff directly into me. (If you’re going to do it, do it properly).

Within this medical Sodom and Gomorrah, the doctors saved my life, my consultant took control of my existence and told me what to do, eat, go, see (nothing, not much, nowhere, nobody). I was grateful for the guidance in my weakened state, I didn’t want to think and make decisions, and I wasn’t allowed to. It was like being a child, the doctor stopped short of playing lego with me but I’m pretty sure if I didn’t do my homework I was grounded. 

Tough Love

Aside from the team of doctors and nurses who saved my life, another life saver was the cleaner. She would start our morning encounters with a firm instruction to get out of bed. On one particularly bad day I told her it just wasn’t possible as I was terribly ill. She responded, "This is a hospital, everyone is bleedin’ sick. Gerrup and get in that shower!”

“A shower? By myself?” Crept out of my mouth.

“Yes! By your bleedin’ self, what are ya, 20? Gerrup ourra dat!”

Despite having the most pathetic shower of my life, I did feel the better for it. 

In lockdown I engaged in some tough love with myself, to keep some structure, keep exercising, keep communicating. I struggled as an introvert quarantined with extroverts. My suggestion for a ‘silent dinner’ was guffawed off the table. But we found our rhythm, Sunday morning breakfasts are now spent in a silent sea of newspapers and Beano comics (obviously, the Beanos are mine).  

Mental Oasis

When I was told the drugs used to save my life had damaged my heart, it took them a few tries to get me to open my eyes long enough to engage. I felt so unwell I had moved my consciousness to a different plane to keep existing. It was hard to pull myself back to this world where they wanted to tell me bad news. 

Alongside my damaged heart they told me I had a bad case of pneumonia, I gave them 10 more seconds of my droopy eyed attention, what else? had my leg fallen off? Perhaps I was now wearing my intestines as a necklace, my bowels as a handbag and my feet had morphed into cloven heels - who knows what the kids are wearing!  

After the sachupural silence I slipped back to my mental oasis, where thoughts went to die. 

During our familial lockdown it was hard to access my oasis but I was comforted to know it was there. Like everyone, I’ve had my inglorious moments, my inadequacies laid bare for the birds to pick at. We’ve all unravelled and reravelled, nobody is how they were, not even the birds. I tried to teach my daughter how to build her own oasis. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is going to sit down 20 years from now and write about the resilience she built during the infamous Covid contagion.

Self Reliance

Medical isolation taught me self reliance, being alone you become your own biggest supporter. Solitude can be a tough gig, but at times the only thing worse than being alone, is having company. 

During one of my recent stints in hospital, amidst the Covid crisis, a new patient arrived into the ward with yips and yelps. She turned her head (with a frightening similarity to that scene in the Exorcist), found my eyes and exclaimed with a smile "There she is!". 

‘Oh, here we go!’ I thought. I had enough on my pandemic plate without incorporating the rants of the deranged, I've got that covered thanks. 

The first thing she did was move her chair to the end of my bed and light a cigarette! In a hospital ward! Did she think it was 1972?! Of course she didn’t wear a face mask at any point (I assume she probably ate it, or smoked it).  

The man across from me picked up his phone and rang his wife, and in his strong Dublin accent said, "Majorey? One Flew Over the KewKews Nest just arrived!" 

Given the times that are in it, we're all cuckoo and a bit unhinged, she had just let her madness slip out of her handbag. Meantime, I was busy keeping my own hinges in place with super glue and duct tape. If there was ever a time for self repair, surely that time is now, be kind to yourself. 


Products of medical isolation aren’t the only group who took lockdown with a pinch of salt. According to a UK and US study of ‘Lockdown v Prison’, prisoners demonstrated more hope than the average citizen did. Then again, prisoners didn’t have to suffer through endless Zoom calls and endure the debacle that passed for homeschooling. 

Zoom calls are not unlike prison visits, you stare at family and friends through the square screen with a ‘hard out’ after 40 minutes. Homeschooling is up there with chain gang labour, stuck together in this endless rubix cube of education where the 'teacher' and 'pupil' flip roles every 5 minutes. Just when you think you are getting somewhere, you hit dirt, and you realize the past 3 hours have been an utter pointless waste of time. Only to start again the next day and discover lessons were learned, just not the ones you were teaching.    

Alcatraz, a prison famous for detaining the undetainable, had an inmate who spent a lot of his time in solitary confinement, he would pass the days by throwing a penny in the air and spend the rest of the day looking for it. Compared to our time spent "trapped" with our loved ones infused with endless digital entertainment, time to read that book, fix the yoke, get fit, and shed the vestiges… obviously that guy had a better set up. The next time I see Tony talking to Miche├íl, I am stocking up on pennys (not just the Primark variety). 


There is plenty of evidence that lockdown can lead to psychological and physical distress. Are veteran patients (and prisoners) better equipped to deal with a crisis of confinement? It seems so. As someone who has experienced medical isolation and pandemic quarantine, in my opinion, predictability and routine may be our saving grace. 

There is a lot we can’t control but we seem to be able to keep going by circling back to roughly the same 6 conversations we’ve all repeatedly had in lockdown - the unexpected weather, Covid, have you seen Line of Duty [Reeling in the Years], an exercise boast, a food [alcohol] confession, and talk about how busy work is - all tinged with a lingering hope the answer to ‘Any craic?’ will be ‘Yes! I have LOADS of news’. 

We’re getting there, the craic is within reach, and it's reassuring to think that some of the most medically vulnerable, who showed up for the dress rehearsal, are exemplifying the strength we all desperately need. 

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