Ian Morey ends his 12-hour day by stripping off his clothes at the side door of his home. He puts them in the bag his girlfriend will have left out for him. He dashes inside to the shower for a thorough soaping, dons clean clothes and gloves, retrieves the bag from outside and shoves its contents into the washing machine on a hot cycle.
I am very cautious. I shaved my hair the other day. I have young kids at home and my girlfriend is pregnant," he says. This is life on the front line for the often-unsung heroes in the war on the coronavirus.
In his sweeping lockdown speech to the nation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lauded superheroes in scrubs and gowns. Add to that the heroes who wield mops. Hospital cleaning staff are the first line of defence against the virus, the ground troops who move in to destroy it, clearing a safe path for the medical teams and patients following behind.
In the emergency department of Cork University Hospital, where the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients are admitted, Ian and his work partner patrol the corridors with loaded trolleys.
The hospital recorded one of the country's first coronavirus cases and many staff had to self-isolate, an early shock to the system. "I was nervous at the time about it, I was scared of my life," says Ian. "But I think it actually benefited. It gave everyone a wake-up call."
Their job is deep cleaning corridors and rooms that Covid patients vacate. They must wait 15 minutes before entering to allow air droplets of virus to fall to the ground, he says. Every surface is cleaned - walls, floors, beds, tables - with solutions of Actichlor Plus.
The physical act of cleaning is tough but gowning up and gowning down is one of the most arduous tasks - they don new gear for every room. "They put on a gown, then gloves. They make sure the gloves meet the cuff. Then they sanitise the gloves and they put another pair of gloves over that," says Linda Heaney, another cleaner. "There is a hairnet, shoe covering, a mask and visor and before you enter each room, they sanitise their gloves again. This is done for every single room they enter into." Linda doesn't work on the Covid-19 wards because an underlying health issue puts her at risk. But she says, if she's needed, she will.
Everyone is nervous, says Haylen Gaffney, who works on a ward with suspected or query cases of Covid-19. He lives with his parents who are also at high risk if they get the coronavirus. He comes home via the back garden and launders his clothes in a washing machine in the shed. "I obviously had to have the discussion with them about the possibility of bringing it home. They were comfortable with the idea, saying 'look you are doing a job up there, you can't just leave them high and dry because this [coronavirus] came along and it doesn't suit'," he says. "They are very proud that I stuck it out and kept going."
Geraldine Barry, who takes over from Haylen for the night shift, says the turnover of patients, and therefore deep cleaning duties, on the ward can be high. "I had 33 fumigations one night and I nearly had to go and have a little cry," she says. "I actually went to bed that morning and I woke thinking have I still my mask on. You are gowning up in your sleep. You have to make sure your hair is tucked in, that you have no clothes under the gown," she says.
She says people don't realise the work that goes into preparing the room for the next patient. "As I always say, you don't know who is coming into the room after that. It could be someone belonging to you."
Margaret Gallahue works nights too on a Covid-19 ward of sick patients, collecting waste from their rooms and deep cleaning them if, for whatever reason, they become free.
She says she has had several "bad" nights in a row but last Wednesday night was one of her best. "Like the calm before the storm. But you're wondering what is tomorrow going to bring," she says. A bad night is when patients deteriorate or when there are deaths. She roots for each of them when she passes by at night, and is driven "nuts" by those she feels still are not taking the pandemic seriously. "You think if they could only come into the hospital, and see what these people are going through," she says.
She has six children and 12 grandchildren and a 13th on the way whom she can no longer see. She says she used to refer to herself as "only a housekeeper" to egg on her children. "Education is the most important thing you can have in life and I think, I pushed my kids to do better than I did myself. I must say my kids have done well in school, and they have got better jobs than what their mother did," she says. But it is they who are proud of their mother in this pandemic. "They are," she says. "If they didn't hear from me after I get home, they would ring to ask 'are you all right?' Not everyone would have the courage I suppose as well to be going into these rooms."
Of all the superheroes in the health sector running the gauntlet of the coronavirus every day, housekeeping staff are among the lowest paid. Salaries for domestic assistant in the HSE range from €27,394 to €33,038. This time last year they were picketing with Siptu for better terms.
A surge looms and some have not seen their families for weeks. Yet in this time of crisis, their team spirit soars.
They give shout-outs for their colleagues, to Sandra Hurley in the linen department who keeps CUH in fresh scrubs, the "leading consultant" who personally thanked Haylen for his work and the nurses who help Margaret with the rubbish bags on her nightly rounds.
"We're ready for this. This is what we do every day," says Linda Heaney. "When we enter those rooms, they are cleaned from top to tail…
"We're trained to do this, and we'll keep on doing it. We've got this."