A man in the west of the country who has tested positive for the coronavirus has described how people "emptied from the hallways" as he arrived at a hospital for treatment.
The man, who spoke to the Irish Independent anonymously, is aged in his 50s and has no underlying medical issues. He contracted the virus through contact with a couple who had been to Italy.
He was told on Monday he had tested positive for coronavirus and is being treated in a hospital isolation unit.
"It's all been very surreal," he said. "It's like something out of a movie. I never thought I would be caught up in it all."
Describing his experience of the virus as "like having a cold", the man said he had been visiting a European country, not Italy, when he met up with friends who had unknowingly already become infected.
"I wasn't actually in Italy, but I was in contact with a couple who had been," he said.
"They had not been to the affected region in Italy though. By the time we met up one of them wasn't feeling well. In fairness he hadn't been in one of the hotspot areas.
"I was in company with him for a few days and during that time he was feeling under the weather.
"I had shared a car with him so we were in close proximity. He wasn't coughing or spluttering or anything like that, he was just feeling a bit achy."
The man said he returned to Ireland on Sunday, March 1. Three days later he got a call to say the person he had been in contact with abroad had coronavirus.
He said: "He had gone to his GP and eventually tested positive. As soon as he found out he contacted me."
His initial reaction, he said, was one of "total shock".
He added: "Even though we were all talk about the coronavirus while we were in each other's company, we never for a second thought that he actually had it.
"The first thing I did was call my GP for advice. They got advice from public health doctors in the HSE and I was told to immediately self-isolate, even though I had no symptoms. For the next couple of days the HSE public health doctor stayed in touch, texting and calling. It was a case of 'how are you feeling? Have you any symptoms?' For the first couple of days I was fine, I had no symptoms whatsoever."
By Friday evening and early Saturday morning, he had started to feel the symptoms of the virus.
"At any other time I wouldn't think I was ill," he said.
"The symptoms were very mild for me and that's not to downplay the seriousness of this. It's been nothing worse than a minor cold so far. I don't have a cough. I was just a little bit achy and I had a bit of a fever. I was on heightened alert but otherwise I don't know if it would have bothered me at all."
He was tested for the virus on Saturday night, after the HSE became aware of his symptoms. "A paramedic arrived to the house in a full hazmat type suit," he said.
"He was on his own. The ambulance service had rang to say he was on his way and they told me what to prepare for, in terms of what he would be wearing, so I wouldn't be shocked. Obviously some people would get a bit of a shock. He came to the door in the hazard suit, mask, goggles and all of that.
"It was a simple test, a throat swab and a nasal swab. He left and the swabs were sent up to Dublin for testing so I had to wait for a phone call."
On Monday, he was told he had tested positive.
The man said: "To be honest I knew, because of the contact I had with the other party who had tested positive.
"I had been reading up on coronavirus and there would have been an element of worry. Thankfully I knew I was in relatively good health and wasn't in that group of potentially vulnerable people.
"Again, that is in no way an attempt to minimise things. I know how lucky I am."
He described the protocol that kicked in from that point and how he was transferred to hospital for treatment.
"A call was made for an ambulance," he said.
"You have an hour or two to pack up all your things. The ambulance arrives and again it's someone in full hazard suit. The driver doesn't get out of the front to avoid contact. People who live around me saw the ambulance and the commotion so there was no hiding it. They would have known what was going on.
"The public health doctor and the ambulance crew had been talking to the hospital so they obviously knew I was coming."
When he arrived at the hospital, he said the situation became "surreal". "When I entered into the isolation ward from the ambulance all that was a bit surreal," he said.
"The hallways empty of people as you are being brought through. I was wearing my mask and the paramedic from the ambulance was wearing his suit. You get to the doors and they are all double locked.
"No one is using their hands, people are using their elbows to open doors. You are ushered into your room and then it's lockdown."
He added: "As we were coming through there were obviously some people who didn't get the message that I was coming and the place had to be cleared in advance. There were a few doctors and nurses running to get out of the way in case they got it."
After entering isolation on Monday, the man has been in a private room with no direct contact with anyone.
"I'm completely alone," he said. "I was monitored fairly closely for the first 24 hours. Today's [Tuesday] consultation was done by a doctor over the phone. There are doctors outside the door but I suppose this is a way of saving them from having to suit up every time I need to be checked.
"I'm aware that they are also learning a lot about this virus from people like me."
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