Seamus 'Sharkey' Kelly back home from Portlaoise hospital with wife Bridget.
A retired army sergeant who says his mission now is to recover fully from Covid-19, has described all the staff of Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise as “superhuman angels”.
Seamus ‘Sharkey’ Kelly also has a heartfelt request to everyone to follow the public health restrictions.
The retired soldier is from the Curragh in Kildare and now lives in Mountmellick with wife Bridget.
They both went for Covid-19 tests on December 18, the day that restrictions were eased to Level 3 in Ireland for Christmas because they felt unwell.
“I was feeling weak and my breathing was affected so we asked for tests because we had been in a house of someone who had then tested positive,” he said.
Both of their tests came back positive the next day, and the couple went into isolation at home in Kirwan Park. Sharkey’s breathing deteriorated badly.
“From December 16 until the day I went to hospital I was mostly in bed. I didn’t have the energy to do anything,” he said.
On St Stephen’s Day his breathing had become so bad that he couldn’t talk without gasping for air. Bridget called MIDOC who immediately ordered an ambulance.
Sharkey ended up in the hospital for 15 days, hooked up to oxygen, fluids and a bloods line. “I couldn’t sleep more than four hours a day. To me I became like a baby again, dependent on someone to mind me. I struggled to even sit up, just staring at the ceiling. Every day was a long day,” he said.
The recommendation for people with Covid breathing difficulties is to lie on their stomachs or on their sides but Sharkey has a medical condition that made this uncomfortable. Instead he had to lie forward across pillows on the food trolley over his bed.
At his lowest point an induced coma and a ventilator were on the cards. “On my third day in the Intensive Care Unit, the doctor said that my oxygen levels were not coming up even though I was on full oxygen. He said if they didn’t in the next few days, I may have to be intubated and put in an induced coma.
“I had seen someone in the ward like that, and I said to myself 'no way'. It was my 64th birthday on Sunday January 3 and ironically that’s the day I turned a corner. My breathing, everything started to come back up and my strength started to come back,” Sharkey said.
With no visitors allowed including his wife, the staff made a little fuss of him for his birthday. “A nurse called Kay brought me in a card she made that a few nurses had signed, I had it on my bed and every time someone came I got them signing it, it was good banter.
“At teatime I got a little bun, the only one to get a bun. The thoughtfulness of it, the gesture, made my day. I will frame that card and keep it forever as a reminder,” he said.
One week later to the day, Sharkey walked out of hospital, albeit with the help of a zimmerframe. “It was January 10 and the Angelus bell was striking 6pm. I am very spiritual, I prayed every day and it helped me absolutely, to have something to focus on. To hope that this pandemic will become a memory,” he said.
He wants everyone to be aware of the dedication and care that all the staff give in Portlaoise hospital.
“When I was there there were 26 people in ICU country wide. Now there are over 200. At that stage you could tell they were working flat out, going home at 9pm, to eat, shower maybe see their families or young children, sleep then back in again. No life, just existing.
“They were 100% professional, from the doctors, the nurses down to the catering staff. It was the best of food, I could ask at 3 in the morning if there was any chance of a tub of icecream and it was there.
“People seem to forget when you hear of racist attacks, that there are nurses and doctors in there from Ballyfin and Portlaoise, but also from India, the Phillipines, all highly professional, looking after us, wanting to get us home. That’s their sole aim.
“They come in to put themselves at risk every time they walk in the door to do another shift. And the PPE, the heat from it is roasting, even though the Covid wards are cooler because that cuts down infection spread. They were like superhuman angels,” he said.
Sharkey said his army training of 29 years helped him to cope, not just with the hospital stay but with the lockdown all last year. “As a soldier you do what you are asked. You enjoy banter too, you see the funny side of bad situations, to keep in focus. They called me a model patient, but I felt like part of a unit again, I did what I was told,” he said.
Sharkey was quite healthy before catching the virus, with just high blood pressure and some arthritis.
A non drinker, he gave up smoking back in 2003. Over his illness his weight fell from 12 stone 7 to 11 stone 3, despite having “the best of food” on demand from the hospital staff.
He is glad that he only lost his appetite for two days and never lost his sense of smell and taste at all, a common Covid-19 side affect.
Now Sharkey is working on his recovery. “What stood to me is I walk the dog daily, and I was a dancer, with Bridget we would be on the country music dance scene. The weightloss was a shock, I wouldn’t recommend it as a diet,” he jokes.
His strength is improving daily. “My walk was up College Avenue through the town, by the MDA and the river to the church. That’s my mission now to get to that stage again. So far I am only going up and down the estate with the dog, building up and getting closer to it,” he said.
Sharkey also sincerely thanks everyone who sent on good wishes, and who looked after Bridget at home coping on her own.
“I was there getting the best of care by professionals, Bridget was at home on her own, dealing with her own symptoms.
“Our neighbours were absolutely brilliant, leaving anything she needed at her door. My own family in Kildare were also a big support. Just to know that support is there if need, and the kindness. I’m not used to it, I like to look after myself and not have anyone fussing over me, but it’s great that it is there when you need it.
“I want to thank everyone who prayed for me, and lit candles and sent messages of support.
“I am very aware that some people didn’t get to come home, and I am very grateful,” he said.
Last year Sharkey retired from being a scout leader in Mountmellick for health reasons. He has also been a member of the local Post 27 IUNVA association for United Nations serving veterans.
He was also part of a singing trio, called Age Factor. With Malcolm Smyth and Bill O’Brien, both sadly now deceased, he would visit Shaen, Mountmellick and Abbeyleix nursing homes to sing and banter with patients.
“I cannot wait to be in there again, tormenting all the patients and staff, singing my ballads and rock and roll. I will have the help of new musical friends Joan and Mairead which I am very grateful for,” he said.
Indeed listening to his tunes on headphones was his only respite in hospital, being too tired to read or focus on television.
He is asking everyone to follow the Covid-19 restrictions.
“You hear of people getting fined €100 for travelling up the Slieve Blooms, to me they should be fined €1000, because not alone are they keeping this virus alive, the strain they are putting on hospitals because of their selfishness.
“You can see a lot within 5km. Just do as you are asked and have hope. This is a short term thing, it’s not going to last. We will come out on the plus side of it,” Sharkey Kelly said.
Below: his birthday card messages from the staff of Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise.