Glad to be alive – and back to the nursing I love

May 07, 2021 8:52 AM

A cancer nurse who almost died from COVID-19 a year ago has revealed her joy at returning to the job she loves.

Pauline McIlroy, an advanced breast clinical nurse specialist at the Beatson, who has been a nurse for 34 years, said her determination to get back to work was what drove her while recovering.

Pauline said: “I love my job; it means so much to me and is a big part of my identity. When I was at my sickest point in hospital and was being put on a ventilator I felt I had to reach out to my team to say how much they meant to me.

“The thought of being intubated did scare me a bit but I had faith in the team at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital who were looking after me. Panicking a little, I wanted to speak to my husband and daughter, as I knew realistically there was a chance it could be the last time. I also phoned my twin for her to tell my other siblings.  It was in the early days of the pandemic and the stories coming out of Italy were terrible.”

As well as speaking to her family, Pauline sent a heartfelt text to her team.

She said: “It went along the lines of ‘if I don’t survive this, I want you all to know how proud I’ve been to work with you.’ I’ve been a nurse since I was 22 and worked at the Beatson since then. I have never wanted to work anywhere else and I felt I had to tell them that.”

It was just days before ‘lockdown’ last March that Pauline took unwell very suddenly at work.

She said: “It was in the very early days and we knew very little about the virus at that time. I was at work and only felt tired. We had been working really hard to re-arrange clinics because of the situation, so I just put it down to that. I had no other symptoms.

“I became very ill, very quickly. Suddenly I had tightness in my chest; I thought I was having a heart attack.”

Colleagues stepped in with oxygen before Pauline was rushed by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital just a few miles away. She was admitted and a series of tests began.

 She said: “Soon it was clear it was COVID. My chest x-ray was awful – it was pneumonia caused by COVID. I continued to deteriorate over the next few days and was taken to ICU, where I was put on the ventilator.”

Pauline spent the next 16 days there, literally fighting for her life. Doctors attempted to take her off it, but their first attempt failed.

Pauline added: “When they were able to extubate me I was transferred to a respiratory ward, where I spent another week. I was still very weak and couldn’t talk.

“The Queen Elizabeth staff were amazing throughout. While scared, I trusted them completely and they were also so good at keeping my family updated on how I was doing. A consultant phoned my husband every day at a set time, which was very reassuring for him. It was a month before I saw my family again.”

Pauline’s recovery has been slow, and only recently has she been able to return to the job she loves at the Beatson.

“I’ve been back about six weeks and on a phased return. It’s taken me so long to get fit again, mentally and physically. My colleagues have been second to none. Many of my patients, current and past, have sent messages which have been lovely and very humbling.

“Throughout this whole thing they have been patient with me and given me the time I needed to get strong. Maureen Grant is my manager and she’s been amazing. Not having to worry about work or having any pressure to return quickly has really helped me. It’s a great team at the Beatson and they’ve been so fantastic with me.

“I couldn’t wait to get back. I know people were pessimistic about my chance of returning and at times I was too but equally I was determined to try, but here I am to tell the tale! I am so happy to be back, caring for my patients. I owe it to so many people.”

Myra Campbell, Interim General Manager at the Beatson, said “We are delighted to have Pauline back at work. Pauline is a valued member of our team who cares deeply about our patients. Pauline’s dedication in returning to work is no surprise to us.”

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