Despite the negative connotations which the words COVID-19 evoke, there has been an essence of positivity pertaining to this persistent pandemic with frontline personnel working diligently and valiantly for innumerable hours aspiring to stem the spread of this infectious disease in local communities.
As a nation, the country is truly indebted to the consistent and dedicated work undertaken by the ‘heroes’ of this health crisis which at this time, shows no sign of abating.
One such ‘hero’ is Defence Forces Medic, Private Graham Whittaker, who has been to the frontline fore since mid-March, working long shift patterns with the sole focus of assisting those who necessitate relevant testing as the national health crisis continues.
The Tubberclair resident who is based in Custume Barracks Athlone has been a member of the Defence Forces since 2003, serving in the 6th Infantry Battalion prior to joining the Medical Corps in 2010.
Focussing within the realm of occupational medicine, his present role within the Defence Forces affords much variation for Pte. Whittaker, but since the arrival of COVID-19 to these shores, the Medic is now solely concentrated on assisting those symptomatic patients who are in need of relevant testing.
“As a Medic, I initially received COVID-19 training in mid-March pertaining to the essential use of PPE and the swabbing of patients. Thereafter, I took up a post with the national ambulance service from a base on Davitt Road in Dublin, working with Defence Forces colleagues and HSE representatives,” Pte. Whittaker remarked.
During his period of work with the national ambulance service, Pte. Whittaker attended to five patients on average per day, all of whom would necessitate the utmost of care pre and post-COVID-19 testing and should the need arise, patients would then be transferred to hospitals within the vicinity for further treatment.
“Mentally, it can be a draining experience, in particular when you are testing vulnerable patients. We have been trained to a very high standard and are working in a controlled environment where the safety of frontline personnel and those who we test is forever paramount,” Pte. Whittaker asserted.
The provision of high quality PPE has proved essential in such instance, but after a number of hours wearing the protective medical clothing, it can become a source of much discomfort.
“Our PPE becomes quite uncomfortable for wear after a number of hours attending to patients, but we must remain vigilant and in control of the testing process at all times.
“We are continuously learning on the job as we are working within an ever evolving environment and following each testing, we, as a frontline team, sit down and take time for self reflection with regard to the patient we have assessed to ascertain the use of best medical practice in the process and note how we can enhance the assessments going forward,” Pte. Whittaker continued.
Presently attending to patients within the nursing home environment, Pte. Whittaker is of the opinion that social distancing will remain a necessity within communities until a relevant vaccine is created to control the spread of COVID-19.
“It is a change of lifestyle but one to which we must adhere if we are to remain in control of the virus. Listen to the directives issued by WHO, the Government and the HSE and follow best practice at all times,” Pte. Whittaker affirmed.
Working for a minimum of ten hours during his daily shift patterns, Pte. Whittaker commended the work of his colleagues within the Defence Forces who have reacted positively to the COVID-19 outbreak, affording their services to the frontline cause.
“Defence Forces representatives always play their part in a time of crisis and the current COVID-19 crisis reiterates the military’s commitment to our country. In particular, with regard to the Defence Forces medical corps, the vast expertise and knowledge has come to the fore as we continue our work at numerous testing centres, while military units have ferried food to the vulnerable in society who need to be catered for in such times,” Pte. Whittaker reiterated.
Both mentally and physically affecting, working within pandemic surrounds exacts a toll, with Pte. Whittaker utilising his time away from the frontline with his family.
“For the initial phase of COVID-19 related work, my mind was all consumed, but it is vital that you avail of special time interacting with family members on the days when you are not working on the frontline.
“One positive from this pandemic is the opportunity we now have to spend time with our children and not be ‘on the go’ constantly,” Pte. Whittaker emphasised.
Assertive in his belief that the country will eventually arrive to a brighter time, Pte. Whittaker is a frontline role model in his Medic capacity as the nation strives to save lives and suppress COVID-19 in communities.