Nurse who nearly died from Covid back doing job she loves

Pauline McIlroy, a breast cancer specialist at the Beatson, spent a month battling the disease in hospital last year.

Nurse who nearly died from Covid back doing job she loves NHSGGC
Pauline McIlroy collapsed at work on March 19, 2020, just days before the first lockdown.

A cancer nurse who almost died from Covid-19 has finally been able to return to the job she loves.

Pauline McIlroy, a breast cancer specialist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, spent a month battling coronavirus in hospital last year.

The 56-year-old collapsed at work on March 19 last year, just days before the first lockdown.

The mother-of-one, from Old Kilpatrick, was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital where she was put on a ventilator in intensive care.

She said: “Panicking a little, I wanted to speak to my husband and daughter, as I knew realistically there was a chance it could be the last time.

Pauline and her husband.STV News
Pauline and her husband.

“I also phoned my twin for her to tell my other siblings.  It was in the early days of the pandemic and the stories coming out of Italy were terrible.”

Mrs McIlroy said she thought she was having a heart attack because she did not have the symptoms associated with Covid-19 – a fever or a cough.

On the day she collapsed, she felt fatigued and had a tightness in her chest. Colleagues stepped in with oxygen before the ambulance arrived to take her to hospital.

‘If I don’t survive this, I want you all to know how proud I’ve been to work with you.’

Pauline McIlroy, nurse at the Beatson

As well as speaking to her family, Mrs McIlroy sent a heartfelt text to her team.

She said: “It went along the lines of ‘if I don’t survive this, I want you all to know how proud I’ve been to work with you.’

“I’ve been a nurse since I was 22 and worked at the Beatson since then. I have never wanted to work anywhere else and I felt I had to tell them that.”

When she saw her chest x-ray she thought she had caught community-acquired pneumonia, not coronavirus.

She said: “Soon it was clear it was Covid. My chest x-ray was awful – it was pneumonia caused by Covid.

“I continued to deteriorate over the next few days and was taken to ICU, where I was put on the ventilator.”

Mrs McIlroy spent the next 16 days there, literally fighting for her life. Doctors attempted to take her off it, but their first attempt failed.

Mrs McIlroy said: “When they were able to extubate me I was transferred to a respiratory ward, where I spent another week. I was still very weak and couldn’t talk.

“The Queen Elizabeth staff were amazing throughout. While scared, I trusted them completely and they were also so good at keeping my family updated on how I was doing.

“It was a month before I saw my family again.”

Mrs McIlroy, who has been a nurse for 34 years, has had a slow recovery and only recently has she been able to return to the job she loves at the Beatson.

She said: “It’s taken me so long to get fit again, mentally and physically.

“My colleagues have been second to none. Many of my patients, current and past, have sent messages which have been lovely and very humbling.

“I couldn’t wait to get back. I know people were pessimistic about my chance of returning and, at times, I was too but equally I was determined to try, but here I am to tell the tale.”

Having been back for six weeks as part of a phased return, Mrs McIlroy said her work has been patient and supportive meaning she has not had to worry about when or how she would return.

She said: “Maureen Grant is my manager and she’s been amazing. Not having to worry about work or having any pressure to return quickly has really helped me.

“It’s a great team at the Beatson and they’ve been so fantastic with me.

“I am so happy to be back, caring for my patients. I owe it to so many people.”

Myra Campbell, interim general manager at the Beatson, said: “We are delighted to have Pauline back at work.

“She is a valued member of our team who cares deeply about our patients.

“Pauline’s dedication in returning to work is no surprise to us.”