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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

'I'm looking forward to hugging my mum again': 3 people share their experiences of cocooning

Vulnerable members of our society are remaining at home to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Aoife Rafter at home in Kildare.
Aoife Rafter at home in Kildare.
Image: Instagram/aoife.p.r

OVER THE LAST five weeks, people around Ireland have been asked to change how they live, to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Instead of going to offices, schools, colleges, bars, restaurants and pubs, we’re staying at home and restricting our trips outside to only essential journeys.

As well as this, people at the highest risk of contracting the virus, due to age or underlying health conditions, are being asked to ‘cocoon’ at home. That means they should stay at home at all times, avoid face-to-face contact with others, and arrange for food and medicine to be delivered.

It’s a big ask, and a lonely time for many, but the guidelines are necessary to protect the most vulnerable in our society. We spoke to three people around the country who are currently cocooning, to find out how their experience has been so far…

Margaret Martin, 81, lives in Cobh, Co Cork. She’s been restricting her movements since mid March, and cocooning since March 27. Margaret has stage 4 ovarian cancer, and has a live-in carer with her at home.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 12.43.36 Margaret Martin at home in Cobh. Source: Caroline Fegan

If someone told me a few months ago that I’d have to go more than five weeks without leaving the house, I’d have said, ‘Are you mad?’ But now that it’s actually happening, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s a kind of mindset. Once you resign yourself to the situation, you can get through it. 

From the start I said, ‘I have to do this in a structured way’, so I made out lists and lists of things that needed doing around the house. There’s always a cupboard that needs tidying, believe me. So I get up around 9.30am, do some tidying or maybe polish some brass, have a cup of coffee and head out to the garden.

I’ve been getting shopping delivered from the local supermarket in Cobh for many years now, so I’m lucky in that sense because it’s nothing new for me. They’re marvellous, I have my favourite lady in there, I ring at 8am on a Friday morning and they deliver in the early afternoon. The same goes for my local pharmacy who deliver my medication. 

The biggest change for me is that I’m not able to spend time with family and friends. I have six grandchildren, and I miss them and all the things they chat about. Most of my friends are in the same boat as me, so we can’t meet for lunch, but we’re having daily phone or FaceTime conversations. 

I think I would be a bit worried to go out anyway at the moment, or being in crowded places. We’re all missing each other, but we’re doing this for a good reason.

Aoife Rafter, 28, lives with her family in Naas, Co Kildare. Aoife has cystic fibrosis, and in June 2019 was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She’s now cancer-free after five months of treatment. She has been cocooning since mid March.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 12.55.28 Aoife Rafter wearing a 65 Roses fundraising pin for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland. Source: Instagram/aoife.p.r

I’m on my fifth week of cocooning and it’s getting harder. People with cystic fibrosis are used to being cautious about contracting infections, and having just finished radiotherapy at the end of January, I was already being extra careful. But the current situation is a step up.

I’m living in my family home with my mum, her husband and my younger sister. I would always have felt safe inside my own home, but it’s different now because the risk is so high. We don’t spend time together at all. We try not to linger around one another, so I’ll just pass them in the house, or we’ll have a chat in the garden where we can keep our distance.

If they leave the house and come back, I’m on edge then because they’ve been outside. We’re lucky that there’s a separate bathroom I can use, so I’ve confined myself to that bathroom, my bedroom and the back garden. I disinfect my living space every day. If I have to go downstairs at all, I’ll wear latex gloves, and I come back upstairs to eat. 

It’s the small things that get you. It’s not like I’d have been hugging my mum every single day before, but now I really miss being able to do that. I’m looking forward to getting that freedom back.

I’m doing as much as I can to stay well and not get run down, but it is definitely more difficult when your movements are limited. For people with CF, exercise is a big part of their physiotherapy, but I can’t even get out for a walk, so I’m trying to do a couple of workouts on Zoom during the week.

I’ll FaceTime my friend for a coffee most days, I’ve done some Zoom catch-ups with all the girls too, and my boyfriend and I have been trying to improvise: we’ll watch a movie together over a video call. 

Having been through so much health-wise, I’m getting used to the feeling of not knowing what’s ahead of me. There’s a lot of uncertainty for everyone right now, and it’s hard to plan for the next four or five months because I have no idea if I’ll even be working, with the way things are. But as long as we’re all well and healthy I don’t care.

Billy O’Toole, 33, lives with his girlfriend in Co Mayo. Billy was born with cystic fibrosis and had a double lung transplant in October 2010. He has been cocooning since early March.

Screenshot_20200415_143558_com.whatsapp Billy O'Toole in his garden in Mayo. Source: Billy O'Toole

Three months after my transplant in 2010, I got swine flu and was in a coma for a week. It took over my body. I lost some lung capacity as a result, and still have some other underlying issues due to the cystic fibrosis too.

I’m well aside from that, but right now I need to be way more cautious than usual. Cocooning is the only way for me to protect myself.

I started staying at home from the beginning of March, as a precaution. I work full-time for a food company and would generally have to do a lot of store visits, so I rang work and said, ‘Look, this is what the situation is,’ and they understood. I took two weeks’ leave. After a couple of weeks it started to become more dangerous for me to go outside, so I had to continue. 

I live with my girlfriend, and I have three lovely older sisters looking after me too, they drop food to the gate. But my dad is 76, and he’s cocooning, so we can’t see one another at all. I’m very close to my family so it’s really hard not seeing them.

As well as not having those natural interactions with people, I miss my outpatient hospital appointments too. When you have an underlying condition, getting a regular check-in, and a confirmation that everything is ticking along okay, is really reassuring.  

It’s difficult not having the regular routine of work. Right now I’m trying to get as much fresh air in as possible in the garden, and trying to keep in touch with people too. I’m on a soccer team with people who’ve had transplants, and while we can’t train, there’s lots of chat on WhatsApp, which is great. We’re all motivating one another to get up every day and get moving.

Every effort counts in slowing the spread of coronavirus. This is a challenging time for everyone out there, so thank you for playing your part. For tips on keeping well and active at home, visit gov.ie/together and for updated factual information and advice about coronavirus, go to hse.ie.

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