Bernadette Kavanagh is urging everyone to get their vaccination
Before Bernadette Kavanagh was rushed to hospital, struggling to breath, last February, she did not realise she had Covid-19.
Instead, she thought she was feeling low because her 40-year-old daughter, who has an underlying health problem, was herself in hospital gravely ill with the virus.
Little did Ms Kavanagh know she would soon end up in the Mater too, on a high dependency ward.
“I just felt so tired,” she said. “I thought I was depressed because my daughter Niamh was in hospital very sick at the time. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to get a taxi and jump off O’Connell Bridge’, and that really wouldn’t be my character at all.
“Then I just began to feel worse and worse. One night I couldn’t breath and I was rushed to hospital. I was there for weeks on the high dependency ward. My daughter was on another ward, but we never got to see one another.”
Ms Kavanagh, originally from Cabra, Dublin, but living in Bettystown, Co Meath, spent a lot of time volunteering to help the elderly in Ballymun before the pandemic. “That all stopped and that really affected me too, because I love to help people,” she said. “There are elderly people in Ballymun too scared to go out because of Covid. It’s heartbreaking.”
The 62-year-old has diabetes, which means she was more susceptible to serious complications. “I was being so careful. I wouldn’t go out the door and would only go to the shops at times when it was quiet. I was keeping away from everyone, but I still got Covid.”
She spent nearly a month in the Mater, a time she will never forget.
“The care was amazing. I cannot praise the doctors and nurses enough,” she said. “A doctor said to me, ‘You’re one of the sickest patients we’ve seen. Can I call you Bernie?’ I said to him, ‘You can call me whatever you like, please just help me get well’. He told me it was like fighting in a snowstorm and to keep fighting.”
Eight months on, Ms Kavanagh is struggling with a range of problems, both emotional and physical. Like hundreds of others, she has ongoing health problems — long Covid. She uses a crutch to help with her balance, and her lungs are damaged, meaning she struggles to breath at times. She has developed arthritis in her feet and recently broke some toes.
“I’ve had a lot of fear and anxiety since,” she said. “The nightmares are unreal. What that doctor said to me about fighting through a snowstorm stayed with me and comes to me in my dreams. I do get flashbacks. But overall, I’m doing a lot better. I love to get out and walk on the beach. The sea air really helps me. Getting out and about is so important. I walk all around Glasnevin cemetery too and the Botanic Gardens.”
The support she has received from a long Covid Facebook group has helped. Not long after she was released from hospital, she was alone at home when she began to feel anxious and unwell. She later realised it was a panic attack. “I put a message on the support group saying, ‘Can someone help me, I’m having an emotional breakdown’. I got the bus to my daughter’s house. By the time I got there I had 155 messages. That really helped me, those messages got me there.”
Ms Kavanagh is awaiting an appointment at the Mater respiratory clinic next month. She said: “Covid is no joke. Five people in my family got it. When it comes to your door, you realise how bad it can be. I would advise everyone to get vaccinated.”
There is a silver lining to Ms Kavanagh’s encounter with Covid. Earlier this year, she clicked on a link on the long Covid page to another Facebook group, which led her to reconnect with Bren, her boyfriend when she was 16. “I never would have met Bren again except for Covid. He is wonderful and we are very happy. We picked up where we left off — it was like we were only apart for a short time. He had gone to join the army and we just lost contact, we were only kids.
“I’m getting better, but I will never be the same again.”