'It's the hardest thing I've ever done, without a doubt. She's my first child. She didn't really leave my side until she was about 10 months, so for her to be away for so long is really hard."
It has been nine weeks since Riadh Egan has seen her 15-month-old daughter, Meadow.
The 29-year-old frontline worker, originally from Sligo, now based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, where she works in the kitchens of a nursing home, first sent her daughter to her mother's home in Sligo when childcare was cancelled. Restrictions were put in place the following week, and she and her partner, Peter Boyce, made the difficult decision to leave their child where she was.
"I wouldn't have any family up here, and I obviously had to go to work. The week after the lockdown started, I just didn't feel it was safe, knowing that I was around patients that were positive," the mother-of-one says now.
"It's been incredibly difficult, but you just have to get on with it."
Facetime has been something of a lifesaver, she admits; Riadh calls her daughter three times most days. Some days are harder than others.
"Especially the two days a week when I am off. When I'm in the house and she's not here, it's super hard. When I'm at work, I'm still thinking about her but I'm not sitting around the house, my anxiety playing up."
Keeping busy with work has been hugely helpful in terms of keeping the anxiety Riadh generally suffers from in check. "It's good for my mental state. I suffer really badly from anxiety, and I know that if I wasn't working, even if I had Meadow here, I'd be sitting at home and my mind would be completely somewhere else, thinking of the virus."
Riadh was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 19, so she felt understandably concerned at the onset of Covid-19 in this country.
The nursing home where she works had already begun to put in precautions before lockdown began. Visitors had been stopped, the dining room had been shut, with patients eating their meals in their rooms.
"I was very nervous. I don't think I would have been as anxious if I didn't have asthma. But I was scared that if I did get it, how bad would it be?"
The day the first patient in the nursing home where she works tested positive, Riadh left work, having herself begun to develop a cough. "I was unsure whether it was my asthma, or the virus. That was the hardest part for me, not knowing."
When the hospital rang to confirm that her test for Covid-19 was positive, it came as a shock. "I was expecting the test to come back negative," she recalls now.
Riadh was out of work for three weeks. There were several days during that time when she couldn't get out of bed, and she also suffered with a severe headache. "You know when you have a flu, you feel like you can't move; your whole body is sore? That's what it felt like for about four or five days. I couldn't eat anything, and could barely walk to the toilet. I was breathless, had to sleep on my front, as that opens your lungs a bit so it's easier to breathe."
It wasn't until the second week that her breathing really worsened. "The first week it was mostly aches and pains, dizziness and weakness in my body. It was the week after that my chest got super bad. There was a point in the middle of the night where I thought 'oh no! I'm going to have to maybe go to the hospital'." Thankfully, things didn't come to that.
"I had to use my nebuliser a lot," Riadh recalls. "I'm lucky, if I didn't have that I might have ended up in hospital. It was very touch-and-go, some days I felt 'oh my God, I'm not going to be able to breathe'."
Riadh has been back at work for two weeks now, five weeks after first being diagnosed with Covid-19.
"I'm completely back to myself," she says. "I want to let others out there who have asthma know it can be overcome. Not to let the anxiety get the better of you. I was so nervous when I heard this whole thing was coming, because I have asthma. I thought that if I caught it, I might not survive. I'm 100pc back to myself now."
At first, returning to work after her illness was a source of anxiety, she recalls. "The first day back was very nerve-racking. I was worried I would have forgotten how to do my job. I was nervous because I didn't know who was going to be there when I got back.
"There was nearly a complete change of staff; we had so many people off sick with the virus. It was strange. But I was excited at the same time, because obviously you get bored, and I do love my work."
It is a worrying environment to be in, she admits. "I'm going to work every day thinking 'what am I going to be in contact with? Am I going to pick it up again?' Obviously in work everyone's under a lot of pressure.
"You don't really know what you're dealing with. Even though I work in the kitchen, we still have the pressure and the stress on us. You go in and you see when it's a bad day, you see the worry on people's faces. But at the same time it's still good to be working."
For now, her daughter is still with her mother, who is in her forties, and a former childcare worker. "My mum is very good with kids," Riadh explains.
"So she's doing everything, from painting to numbers, to outside in the paddling pool. It's a two-minute walk to the beach. As a parent being away from your child is very difficult, but I know she's in the best place."
Riadh's brother and his partner and children are also living at her mother's house, and her mother has her own health complications, all of which are making Riadh very hesitant about going to see her daughter, given she is still working in an environment with positive cases of Covid-19.
"It's hard really to know what to do," she says. "I feel like I'm missing a lot of her milestones. Every day my mind is changing. I really don't know. It's incredibly difficult. It's just been so long without seeing her. I feel like I'm missing out."
Naturally, little Meadow is showing signs of missing her parents as well.
"It's really sad, there's a picture of me and my partner in my mum's house. She points at it and carries it around the house. Sometimes she'll take it up for her nap. I ring her at night time, and she'll lie down on her bed and put the phone beside her pillow while she's drinking her bottle, so I can be with her nearly when she's going asleep. It's horrible."
For now, Riadh is trying not to think too much about the future, and about when she will see her daughter again.
"I don't really want to think about it, to be honest. It's a scary time for everyone. I'm just hoping it won't be too much longer."
The Asthma Society's new Beating Breathlessness WhatsApp messaging service allows patients to message a respiratory specialist nurse about all aspects of their asthma and COPD management. Message on WhatsApp to 086 059 0132 and one of the Asthma Society's nurses will respond as soon as possible. For more see asthma.ie.
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