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Dublin: 14°C Tuesday 5 July 2022

'You're thinking - I might not get through this': Dublin garda tells of 14-day coronavirus hospital ordeal

Sgt Paul Cullen has since recovered from Covid-19 and said the staff in Beaumont Hospital were “amazing”.

Sergeant Paul Cullen with staff at Beaumont Hospital.
Sergeant Paul Cullen with staff at Beaumont Hospital.
Image: Paul Cullen via Beaumont Hospital

A 48-YEAR-old garda and father of three has reason for a double celebration after successfully beating Covid-19 following a two week stay in hospital during which
he found out that he had been promoted to Sergeant.

Sgt Paul Cullen, from Balbriggan, Co Dublin, was initially under the impression that he had a chest infection.

He had finished a course of antibiotics from his GP when his symptoms deteriorated to the point where he required hospitalisation at Beaumont  Hospital.

The Sergeant, who works in north inner city Dublin, went to the Emergency Department at the beginning of April with a high temperature and shortness of breath.

He believes that having a public facing role as a garda had probably put him at greater risk of contracting the virus. He said he never anticipated going from experiencing a shortness of breath to being told he required an induced coma.

“Thankfully I didn’t need the induced coma in the end. The doctor had said ‘this is serious. I think you may need to go in to an induced coma. ‘ You are thinking ‘I might not get through this,’” he said. 

“You are afraid that you won’t see your wife and kids and two grandkids again. People are lucky and the induced coma can work very well. But of course you worry that you may not wake up.

“The staff are amazing but of course you cannot see your family in hospital. You start thinking of funerals and of course nobody can be at them now so it is really cold. And you think about all that people are going through.”

Sgt Cullen said when he initially thought he had a chest infection, he quarantined himself at home for a few days. 

“I’m the type of person who always looks at the good side of things,” he said.

I’m rarely ever sick. I was hopeful that it was just the flu and not a big deal – but at the back of my mind I was a bit worried. Like everyone else I was glued to the news and constantly refreshing my phone for updates – you couldn’t avoid it.

“I had heard that Covid-19 was more severe for older people and those with compromised immune systems and other chronic conditions. But I quickly found out the virus does not discriminate.

“And working as a garda probably didn’t help as we deal with the public all the time. People coughing and spluttering.”

When Paul presented at hospital, the respiratory team felt from his clinical presentation that he had all the symptoms of Covid-19.

He was tested and within 24 hours it was confirmed that he had the virus. The team needed to act immediately to give him every chance of making a recovery. 

Paul needed supplementary oxygen from admission, and was told that he had a very high change of needing a ventilator or admission to the ICU within the first 48 hours.

Paul says it is hard to put the symptoms into words. 

“It was like the flu, but not the flu,” he said. “It is hard to explain. I lost a lot of sensations, not just my breathing, but I couldn’t think correctly. I felt like my lungs were getting harder, and the only thing to make me feel better was to cough up something that wasn’t there. 

“The sensation was overwhelmingly hard because of the breathing, congestion and constant coughing,” he said.

Paul was treated with oxygen, and then required very high intensity support continuous positive airway pressure ventilation for five days, but he didn’t need to be intubated.

After 14 days of treatment, Paul was recently released from hospital. Arising out of Covid-19 restrictions Paul had not seen his family for the duration.

“After what I went through I needed them just like I had needed the oxygen to help me breathe.

“I can’t stress enough the amazing work that the staff do and I am so grateful,” Paul said.

As soon as I came in, feeling very scared, I felt that they cared, they were so compassionate and explained every step. To them, I wasn’t a Covid-19 patient [in the statistical sense] but a patient who had unfortunately contracted Covid-19. The staff are taking incredible risks themselves but what was very clear is that the patient came first.

Cullen says the team at Beaumont continue to monitor him at home. 

“I’m not 100% yet but the team are monitoring my oxygen sats, pulse and breathlessness score which I input a few times a day on the MPOWER app on my phone so the team can keep a watchful eye on me and act accordingly.

“At least I know it’s going in the right direction but I also know that if it wasn’t for Beaumont staff and particularly Prof Ross Morgan, Consultant Respiratory Physician and his team and the nursing and support staff in St Paul’s Ward, it could have been a very different outcome. 

“I am very grateful for that and I am looking forward to getting my strength back and returning to work in a few weeks time. I am grateful to be at home with my wife Sharon. I am looking forward to being able to spend time with my dad again as it’s hard to be away from him and the kids and grandkids.

“As for the promotion. That was a surprise as I didn’t think that would happen with all that is going on !”

About the author:

Olivia Kelleher

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