Life has changed significantly for Niamh McLaughlin during the Covid-19 crisis – with the Dublin-based Donegal star admitting that she’s longing for home and deeply worried about her elderly grandmother.
The renowned Santry Sports Clinic in Dublin, where McLaughlin works as a physiotherapist, has come to an agreement with the HSE which will see vital beds being provided for overflow patients not infected with the coronavirus.
The pandemic which has now taken hold in Ireland has had a huge impact right across the board – and McLaughlin’s thoughts are with her family in Donegal.
“It is hard when you don’t know when you are going to see them all again in the flesh,” said McLaughlin, a former Ireland U-19 soccer international.
She’s currently living across the road from the clinic with her housemate, a primary school teacher who is currently working from home like many others.
Meanwhile, Niamh’s sister Blathnaid, along with parents Caroline and Davy, try their best to stay in touch in any way possible.
But McLaughlin’s biggest concern right now is for her granny, Dolly Morris. The 92-year-old is in a nursing home in Derry, where the dreaded virus has just broken out.
“They talk about these clusters and there are six people in her home,” McLaughlin explained.
“They found out the other day, they have the virus.
“We are hoping for her as well. She is old and has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know what is happening but it is still not nice either.
“You are hoping she can dodge a bullet as much as anything. But it’s hard to know. You can only thank the people who are in there and looking after those who are most vulnerable.”
With all of this going on in the background, the 26-year-old Moville native must remain entirely professional and return to the clinic each day ready to do her job. A job that is ever-changing and providing new challenges.
McLaughlin won’t be dealing with patients infected by Covid-19 but her workload will invariably increase. Across the board the health service has never been so stretched, which has obvious knock-on effects.
“It is hard to know. It just depends on how things pan out in terms of flattening that curve,” said McLaughlin.
“There is higher demand in the hospitals than they can facilitate. The more people that come into contact with the virus and need acute care or respiratory care (the higher the strain will be on services).
“There is probably going to be a higher demand for patients that aren’t in that bracket to come to us. Our hospital has about 70 beds so that would be the maximum we can cater to, being a private hospital.
“We aren’t particularly frontline in terms of the virus and working in that part of it. But we are freeing up the space for those people to be taken into Beaumont and the Mater.”
The virus’ ability to spread rapidly too, especially in a hospital setting, ensures that staff must be even more vigilant. Cleanliness is paramount.
“In the hospital there is a lot of guidance and has been in the last month or so now,” said McLaughlin.
“Working in the hospital the main thing is hand hygiene and that kind of stuff. As well as maintaining those standards it is making sure you are surpassing them. You need to make sure that everything is cleaned and wiped down excessively.
“We were doing surgery in Santry right up until this week. We still had to be in with the patients and show them exercises. But you would probably be keeping your distance that wee bit more.
“If you can stand back and keep that distance then the better for yourself and the patient.”
And somewhere in the distance McLaughlin still dreams about a summer of football to look forward to.
She made her inter-county debut for Donegal in 2010, the year they went all the way to win an All-Ireland intermediate crown.
And having returned to Ireland following a stint in the UK, where she played for Sunderland while studying in Northumbria, McLaughlin is desperate for action.
There are more important things in life right now though.
“It is about taking it as it comes,” said McLaughlin. “I know China and Italy are a couple of months ahead of us. Hopefully we have started to manage it in the early stage a bit better than them. You learn from experience and you learn from others.
“I hope there will be a championship. Whether that goes into an extended season or whatever.
“Myself and all the girls are chomping at the bit to get back at it. The main thing is to keep yourself physically fit and mentally well.
“You just have to hope for the best and be positive about it all in some way.”
By Daragh Small