ICU nurse John Gilmore on working during the pandemic and Dublin Pride

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While the pandemic may have scuppered Pride celebrations this weekend, activists are still determined to highlight the issues facing the LGBT+ community – as well as celebrate their achievements.

The theme of Dublin Pride this year is ‘In This Together’ and this weekend’s digital-only festival honours LGBT+ people working on the Covid-19 frontlines.

It pays tribute to the likes of Dublin ICU nurse John Gilmore-Kavanagh (pictured), one of thousands of healthcare workers who signed up to the ‘Be On Call for Ireland’ recruitment drive.

An Assistant Professor of Nursing at UCD, the healthcare professional had come home from the UK just two weeks prior when the pandemic hit.

With a decade’s experience as an ICU nurse, he immediately volunteered to help during the crisis and was quickly placed at Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

“I enjoy working clinically, because I’ve always done it,” the 32-year-old explains. “Not all academics would [do that], but for me it’s been very important.

“ICU nurses are few and far between, and obviously in Ireland our capacity around ICU has come into major focus, because it is quite low. There isn’t necessarily that backstop of critical care nurses around.

“But to be honest, ICU was managed very well in Ireland… The team at St Vincent’s were absolutely fantastic, and we had some really, really good outcomes.

“They definitely weren’t affected as much as many of my colleagues in the UK, where mortality rates were much higher.”

A temporary Covid-19 testing centre at Sir John Rogersons Quay in Dublin on March 23, 2020 (Image: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty)

While many might consider him a hero for his work over the past few months, the 32-year-old nurse is quick to dismiss the idea.

“I think one thing people forget is that health workers – and critical care nurses, in particular – deal with very, very ill people all of the time. That’s our job,” he says.

“Our job is to deal with people who are very sick, who might not survive… while it’s a very difficult job, dealing with death and dying is something ICU nurses [have to] do.”

However he does agree that social distancing complicates a tough role further. Particularly the need to wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) at all times during the pandemic.

“I had a name tag with my full face, which I wore just so patients could see who was behind the mask and visor,” he explains.

“We were holding people’s hands, but it was through gloves. But we were providing all of that emotional support.”

The academic says one of the hardest parts of the experience was not being able to speak with people’s families in person.

“Obviously, when people are very ill, their families are a big part of your work as a nurse. Engaging with them, keeping them up to date, and just being with them, explaining things.

Pedestrians walk past graffiti urging people to ‘wash their hands’ in the Grafton Street area of Dublin (Image: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images)

“So while they were calling in for Zooms and Facetimes, it wasn’t the same as having them around.

“We had an iPad in the unit. So that was at least some kind of an ability to engage with families face to face.

“I think nurses were doing a great job of providing emotional support. Especially given families weren’t there to do that.”

At the peak of the crisis, did he ever have concerns about the numbers of ICU beds at St Vincents and elsewhere?

“I know in the unit I was working in, we didn’t meet our surge capacity and we could’ve technically expanded more.

“With that, obviously, comes issues with trying to staff it etc. But we certainly weren’t pushed to the nth degree.

“We were able to do what we were doing, and it was monitored every day. Lots of people came round to help, and lots of my own UCD colleagues were involved in contact tracing and testing… I think everyone came together, which was really positive.”

There will be no Pride parade this weekend for the first time in three decades (Image: Getty)

Now that Ireland’s Covid-19 cases are in ever decreasing numbers overall, John is taking a break from the ICU and focusing on his academic role. But he is still committed to being part of Ireland’s efforts, should the situation disimprove.

How will he be marking Pride himself this weekend?

“For me, Pride is mostly about visibility and messages we need to get out there,” he says. “So using social media platforms to discuss some of the issues affecting LGBT+ people.

“I think some of the online parties would just depress me more than anything else. And the fact that I can’t go out dancing! But there will come a time.”

For him, he says, it’s really important to stay angry about the issues that matter.

“Transgender access to healthcare, youth mental health provision, racism and Direct Provision, drug use and sexual health – these are all issues affecting the LGBT+ community, he says. “There’s so much more to be done.”

Source: Dublin News