In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, people's 'ordinary' health needs continue, with many left struggling or in pain due to operations on hold or procedures cancelled.
The Irish Patients Association (IPA) says there's been a huge fall off in hospital admissions and attendance since the pandemic began and the patients' advocacy group is warning that people's conditions will deteriorate unless they get timely access to the care they need.
At her home in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, Brenda Quinn (74) is cocooning with her husband, Joe. Like so many grandparents, she's missing the company of her grandchildren who are staying away, but is keeping busy cleaning and spending time in the back garden.
But pain is becoming a constant companion in this time of coronavirus. Brenda had been struggling for some time with pain in her hip. She was told she needed a hip operation and it had been scheduled for February 19 at the specialist orthopaedic clinic in Dublin's Santry.
But the sudden death of her sister Frances, who lived in Greystones, Co Wicklow, meant Brenda had to put the operation off. It was rescheduled for March 19, but due to concerns of Covid-19 and the fact that she was in the most vulnerable category, her family felt she shouldn't go ahead with it.
Now Brenda doesn't know when her operation might take place and all the while she says she's not getting any better. The pain is exacerbated by sitting. When she walks, she describes it more as waddling now, due to the pain.
"I'm very lucky in that I have a garden to walk around. No one belonging to me is sick and we hope it stays that way. When the hip is very sore, it's hard even to put shoes and socks on. I'm on pain killers but I'm not a great pill taker - my body doesn't tolerate them very well," says Brenda.
"The pain level varies - I'm not in agony. Before we were cocooning, we would go across to the beach, but some days I could hardly make it back. It's different every day. Sometimes I have the feeling that the bottom half of my body is disconnected from my hips," says Brenda.
According to Professor Moira O'Brien, President and founder of the Irish Osteoporosis Society, only time will tell how much impact the pandemic has on older people isolating at home who may be struggling with pre-existing conditions and unable to get to medical appointments.
However, she says it's really important for older people to keep moving as lack of exercise while cocooning will increase the risk of bone loss. She also advises people who suffer from osteoporosis to make sure they are taking their medication to reduce the risk of fracture.
"It's essential that people mind their bone health. If they fracture, they will end up in hospitals, which are inundated at the moment. It's essential to prevent that. They can do that by doing some simple daily exercises like going up and down the stairs or sitting on a chair and then standing up," says Prof O'Brien, who is still keeping contact with her own patients by email at the age of 86.
She advises people to get 30 minutes of movement every day. "The important thing is not to sit for long periods of time. Get up every 20 minutes and move," she says.
Keeping stress levels low by doing an enjoyable activity, keeping Vitamin D levels maintained by taking a supplement and including good portions of protein at every meal will also help older people maintain their bone health, she says.
"People should also ensure they're drinking enough water - a litre and a half a day. A lot of people are drinking coffee and tea, both of which are diuretics.
"Two per cent dehydration results in a 20pc loss in mental and physical effectiveness, particularly as you get older. You should never be thirsty, so it's good to drink a little and often".
Prof O'Brien points out that certain medications will cause bone loss and people need to be aware of this if they are on steroids or have had cancer treatment.
"One in two women will develop osteoporosis, and up to 25pc of men. The most important thing to remember is that it's preventable and treatable. You need to find the cause," she says.
According to the IPA, people were worried about their health and waiting times before Covid-19. Now they are living with cancelled procedures and operations with no clear idea of when their treatment will go ahead.
IPA spokesman Stephen McMahon says their analysis indicates that there has been a huge fall off in both attendance and admissions to hospital over the past four weeks.
He says any public patient will tell you our health care system was under enormous pressure with significant waiting lists for operations, to see a consultant and get off a trolley right up to the day before the Covid-19 crisis hit.
And he says their concern now is that patients' conditions are deteriorating and they are putting off that visit to the emergency department perhaps out of fear of contagion when, in fact, they should be getting checked out.
The IPA analysis shows that in a four-week period from February 11, more than 86,000 patients attended emergency departments and 24,000 patients had emergency admissions to hospitals.
However, over the following four weeks, the numbers plummeted: the number of attendances fell by 26,000 and admissions by almost 6,000.
"While just about everything is being done to flatten the curve for a Covid-19 surge, what plans are in place to flatten the surge from patients with non-Covid problems who are not attending hospitals?" Mr McMahon asks.
Keri Denney, a mother-of-one from Kill, Co Kildare is awaiting treatment for a uterine fibroid. She has been receiving medical treatment over the past couple of years to see what could be done but says her treatment is now in limbo as a result of the pandemic.
Terrible pain is what urged her to seek medical help in the first place and doctors told her they would try some treatments to shrink the fibroid but if that didn't work, she would have to undergo a hysterectomy.
The 48-year-old was awaiting an appointment at Tallaght Hospital this month but the hospital called her and said that under the circumstances they were going to cancel the appointment, adding that she would still be on their list.
Keri says she was hoping that whatever the outcome - whether treatment meant she would need a hysterectomy or not - she would have clarity at this stage.
"I was really hoping to have it all done by now. Is this going to be a whole other year before I get out the other end?" she asks.
And while Keri would prefer to avoid surgery, she says she'd rather be out the other end and have started the healing process than be stuck in the current limbo situation she's in.
Keri says she doesn't want to put any extra pressure on the hospitals who are doing so much for people at this time. For now she is doing what she can to stay positive and well on a daily basis.
"The pain comes and goes. I'm OK now - I had an episode a month ago. Fatigue is a big side effect but this is what life looks like. I'm just letting go of all expectations," she says.
Health & Living