Nurse regaining strength after four-week coronavirus battle

Pauline McIIroy is determined to return to the patients she loves at the Beatson cancer care centre in Glasgow.

A nurse who became critically ill after contracting coronavirus is determined to return to the job and the patients she loves.

Pauline McIIroy, a breast cancer specialist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre,  is slowly regaining her strength after spending a month in hospital with Covid-19.

The 56-year-old, from Old Kilpatrick, collapsed at the clinic she was running on March 19, just days before lockdown restrictions came into effect across the country.

The mum-of-one was taken by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

She was then transferred to intensive care and placed on a ventilator after testing positive for the virus.

“I had sent messages to all my colleagues before they ventilated me in case I didn’t come back. In case I didn’t survive it really and that’s something that I do still get quite emotional about,” said Mrs McIlroy, who had just returned to work after a holiday in Spain with her husband.

‘I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t have a fever, I didn’t have a cough.’

Pauline McIIroy

“I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t have a fever, I didn’t have a cough,” she added.

Mrs McIlroy has arthritis but said the only symptoms she had on the day she collapsed were fatigue and a tightness in her chest.

“When I saw my chest X-ray I thought I’ve got community-acquired pneumonia but again I didn’t equate it to Covid,” she said.

Doctors decided Mrs McIlroy needed to be placed on a ventilator as soon as the swabs tested positive – she was one of the first Covid-19 patients admitted to Scotland’s largest hospital in need of critical care.

At that point, Mrs McIlroy said: “I did panic a bit.” She was then placed on a ventilator, where she remained for 16 days.

“When I first came off the ventilator I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t swallow properly because I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t even lift myself off the bed. The staff just couldn’t do enough for me. I’m so grateful,” she said.

“I survived when so many others didn’t. I knew the statistics as I started to recover and it’s a sobering thought.  I think we are becoming a bit blasé about social distancing and hand washing. I would never want to see the situation going backward where there is a big spike in cases again,” she added.

Doctors have told Mrs McIlroy it could take another six months to a year for her to fully recover.

Four weeks ago, just making it to the top of the stairs without help was something Mrs McIlroy found difficult as she was very unsteady on her feet.

She is steadier on her feet now due to exercise and advice from physiotherapists. One of her main goals is returning to her own patients.

“At first I thought I’m never going to get back to my work after this but I’m determined to get back to work. I’m absolutely determined,” she said.

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