Life nursing in a Covid-19 ward

What is it like nursing in a Covid-19 ward during the pandemic?  Eva McGilloway is a nurse at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry.  She spoke to me recently about what it is like taking care of people who have had to receive intensive care as a result of the virus.


24-year-old Eva, who happens to be the writer’s niece, works in ward 31, the intensive care unit (ICU) of Altnagelvin.  This is the dedicated Covid-19 ward of the National Health Service (NHS) Western Trust in Northern Ireland.  She has been a nurse for almost three years.  Eva graduated from the Magee campus of Ulster University


As Eva already worked in the ICU, she knew that she would soon be dealing with critically ill Covid-19 patients at the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020.  She said: “Our sisters and line managers prepared us for this.  Nevertheless, I was scared of what was to come.  I was anxious about my family and worried about them catching the virus from me working in the ICU.” 

Temporary accommodation 

Shortly after this, Eva and some of her colleagues were forced to move out of their homes to protect their families.  They were housed in temporary accommodation in the local student village of Ulster University.  

Typical shift  

Eva described a typical 12-hour shift working in the Covid ward.  “A normal shift in ICU during the Covid-19 pandemic consisted of gearing up in PPE.  We got a  handover from the previous shift nurse at bedside.  I looked after the patient one to one. We were lucky enough at times to have spare nurses to help us but this wasn’t always the case.”

Very sick patients

Eva went on to say: “The patients were very sick, with multiple organ failure.  They were on a lot of support from ventilators, dialysis machines, inotropic support, to nitric oxide machines, just to mention a few. It was hard as the family couldn’t get up to see their relatives so we used FaceTime quite a lot.  This was a different experience of what we were used to.  It took some time to adapt.”

No deaths

Although the patients who were brought into the intensive care unit of Altnagelvin were very ill, they all recovered.  “Luckily enough, none of our Covid-19 patients died”, said Eva.  She said she felt scared and tired at the end of every shift.

Public response

Eva said that the public response to the NHS staff was amazing during the pandemic.  “We got numerous packages and gifts from local businesses.  Pizzas, cakes and hand creams, just to name a few”, she said.

Back home

Now that the cases of Covid-19 have fallen, and lockdown measures are being relaxed, Eva is glad to be back living at home again.  “We are still constantly getting query Covid-19 patients, however, and have to wear the PPE most of the time.  It seems like this will be the new norm”, she said.  


I asked Eva how she felt nursing in a Covid-19 ward.  Eva said it was a privilege to look after such sick people.  “I had a great sense of achievement when the patients got better”, she said. 

Corona Virus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a viral disease that can cause respiratory symptoms ranging from very mild to very severe. Symptoms can include cough, fever and difficulty breathing.  To date in Northern Ireland, there have been 1882 confirmed cases, with unfortunately 118 people losing their lives. 

Niall Ó Brolcháin
Niall Ó Brolcháin

is a journalist based in Derry in the North of Ireland. He is an Irish speaker with a BA (Hons) degree in Irish Language and Literature and a Master's degree in International Journalism: Hostile Environment Reporting. Passionate about local, national and international human, cultural, language and equality rights, he has extensive experience telling rich stories in words, photo and video both in Ireland and Palestine.

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