10 Aug 2022

The Derry community nurse who has moved out of her family home so she can help the fight against coronavirus

Michelle Nash: “Living apart from my family is horrendous, just horrendous."

Michelle Nash

Community nurse Michelle Nash whose daughter’s cystic fibrosis means living apart from family.

Back in the pre-coronavirus day, ‘hero’ was a word which was often bandied about, especially on social media, the hyperbole, however, seldom withstood serious scrutiny.

I interviewed one of my heroes, frontline community nurse and my friend, Michelle Nash, about the impact the coronavirus pandemic was having on her family and professional life.

As ‘Washington Post’ president and publisher, Phil Graham, said in April 1963: “So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand.”

In what Michelle described as 'this new normal', I believe it is the duty of the media to record the extraordinary stories of the real heroes for posterity.

Michelle’s interview is but one jigsaw piece in the 'rough first draft' of what my grandchildren might one day study in school.

Hopefully, they will be able to ask me: ‘Granny, do you remember the Coronavirus crisis of 2020?’

And, I’ll send them to chat to Michelle.

Early on in the coronavirus crisis, in common with many health and social care professionals throughout Ireland, Michelle had to make the excruciatingly difficult decision to live apart from her family for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

With evident emotion, she said the situation was a 'nightmare'.

Extremely grateful for her temporary accommodation at Ardmore Log Cabins, Michelle, who is alone once she leaves work, said: “Living apart from my family is horrendous, just horrendous. I wake up every morning thinking, ‘I’m here when I should be at home.’

“But because one of my daughters, Olivia, has cystic fibrosis, I could not be going home every day. I work closely with patients, who might be coughing and sneezing and there was no way I cold risk bringing infection home.”

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease, which primarily affects the lungs and the digestive system.

Michelle added: “If Olivia had not had cystic fibrosis, it would have been different. I would have gone home and showered and kept myself at as much of a distance as I could. But I just couldn’t take the chance with Olivia. I couldn’t take the chance. I couldn’t be sure I would be completely free of virus when I came in from my work.

“I know of nurses who are taking off their uniforms in their gardens, but, if I did that, I still couldn’t guarantee I would not touch on something when I came in. So, I decided to stay separate from my family.

“When the government at-risk list was published and included people with cystic fibrosis, that just completely made up my mind to move out.

“Olivia’s lungs are already at so much risk and I didn’t want to put another burden on her. Olivia and her sisters, Niamh and Eimear are socially isolating at home. I stopped them from going to school before the official closure,” said Michelle.

Michelle felt for Olivia’s mental and physical well-being, it would not have been possible for her to self-isolate within her home.

Michelle's daughters Niamh, Eimear and Olivia.

She said: “It would have been impossible for me to just self-isolate in my bedroom. I would have to come downstairs at some time and that would have meant Olivia having to go into her room.

“I just want her to have a normal life. I want her to experience as little impact as possible, so she can run about the house freely and not have to worry about where I am.

“Her lungs have already probably got some damage with the different infections she has had. I was not sure how she was going to fight off coronavirus. I don’t want to think about it.

“I am facetiming the girls every night and I go down and sit outside the house in the car and they come to the window. They are alright so far,” said Michelle.

Not used to living alone, Michelle said she had 'a bad few days' the first weekend away from her family.

She said: “I was distraught, but I decided as a mother and a nurse this was what I had to do to make sure I could look after my patients to the very best of my ability and also protect Olivia from infection. I was crying. I am glad to be working doing something practical. And, as long as Olivia was protected, I could get on with it, being an adult and be a mammy.

“It was the hardest decision I have ever made. I am also having to keep away from my own mother as well, which is also very hard. I am phoning her three and four times a day. She has not been out at all.”

Speaking about nursing in the community in the 'new normal', Michelle said critical patients are now the focus for her colleagues and herself.

She added: “We are seeing critical patients, patients who have no family to do anything for them. With other patients, we are asking families if they would be willing to help out, to do dressings. We are giving them the relevant instruction documents.

“We are still seeing some patients, but these are people who have no families, absolutely critical patients, patients needing insulin, syringe drivers for palliative care, or PICC lines into a vein for chemotherapy. These patients have to be seen once a week. These are critical patients that we can’t not see.

“We have visors, masks, gloves and we have aprons. However, to me, the masks are not suitable for going into the home of a patient with a confirmed case of coronavirus. We do not have respirator masks with the filter. We are wearing the ordinary surgical masks.

“So far, I have had had no confirmed cases, but coronavirus is in the community."

Michelle reflected that 'things are going on as the new normal'.

She said: “It is very strange. Nurses tend to ‘get on’ with their jobs, but this situation is serious. And, I am not being dramatic. When a nurse is worried, be worried, that’s the way I look at things.

“I do know that six months away from home, if that is how long the coronavirus crisis lasts, will be bad for my mental health and the mental health of my colleagues.

“If we all get through this, I think we should all really, really appreciate life. Go out coffee, a drink, see a band.

“Work is keeping me sane at the minute. Talking to the girls at work, friends phoning. Human beings are social and to not to be able to socialise is distressing. Coronavirus is an isolating disease. It has broken everyone up. Not being able to socialise together is the hardest. The new normal is horrendous. May it end soon,” said Michelle.


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