‘We ran out of body bags’ — Galway nurse describes life in a COVID unit in US hospital

Orla Nic Dhonncha

Orla Nic Dhonncha

Wearing the same PPE for seven weeks, running out of morgue space and body bags and a lack of beds — these were some of the conditions a Galway nurse working in the US, described in an interview this week.

Speaking on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, Orla Nic Dhonncha, a nurse, originally from Leitir Mealláin in Co. Galway, now working in a hospital in Norwood, Massachusetts, described her experience there, the huge pressure on staff, and the shortages of PPE.

In the interview on Adhmhaidin, Orla, who is working in a COVID unit, said that the hospital experienced the worst of the pressure a couple of weeks ago.

“Last week was ok, but the week before that we had to send some patients into Boston, we didn’t have enough beds. We were running out of a good bit of stuff in the ICU – we didn’t have pumps, intubators for patients...”

She said that, like many other health providers, they had an insufficient stock of PPE.

“We’re not well-stocked at all. Last weekend, I had to wear the same apron into each COVID patient over my 12 hour shift... The N95 masks, I got my second one last week. The first one I had, I had used it for seven weeks. I had to go to the person who’s in charge of the hospital and explain why I needed a new one, why it was so important. They don’t want to give them out because they don’t have enough. It’s terrible.”

Orla said that under normal circumstances, those masks would be worn for one shift. She also said in the interview with Caitlín Ní Chualáin, that she had seen a lot of death, and that the hospital had needed to bring in a lorry to store the bodies at one stage.

“Things were so bad a fortnight ago, and so many patients were dying, that we ran out of bags... body bags. As if that’s not bad enough, then there was no room in the morgue, it was full ...so they brought in a truck, parked outside the hospital, for these poor people’s bodies. A big lorry.”

Orla said that all members of the nursing staff were feeling the strain, and experiencing the same trouble sleeping.

“We’re all going through the same thing. When I started, I couldn’t sleep a wink, I’d be having these strange dreams. I’d wake in the middle of the night, thinking of the patients dying and me looking through the door at them dying without anyone with them... I’d wake up. I thought it was just me, but then I started talking to the other nurses, and they all said they were hardly sleeping at all ... that’s the way it is, your heart is just racing, racing, racing all the time.”


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