Cancer nurse, 57, who fought Covid in ICU returns to work a year later

Cancer nurse, 57, who caught Covid just days before first lockdown finally returns to work one year after battling virus in intensive care

  • Cancer nurse Pauline McIlroy, 57,  returns to work a year after catching Covid  
  • The nurse fought for her life in ICU despite not immediately suffering symptoms
  • After feeling her chest tighten an x-ray showed pneumonia caused by Covid

A cancer nurse who caught covid has only just returned to work – a year after fighting for her life in ICU.

Pauline McIlroy, 57, began feeling tired days before lockdown but did not have any other symptoms – until she felt her chest tighten so much she feared she was having a heart attack at work.

Mother-of-one Ms McIlroy, who works as an advanced breast clinical nurse specialist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, in Glasgow, was rushed to another hospital by ambulance after colleagues gave her oxygen.

A chest x-ray carried out at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital showed she had pneumonia caused by coronavirus, and she was treated in ICU.

Ms McIlroy returned to work six weeks ago and is taking it in steps.

Pauline McIlroy, 57, felt her chest tighten so much she feared she was having a heart attack at work – it was discovered she had pneumonia caused by coronavirus, she was treated in ICU

She said thinking of her colleagues got her through the illness – and texted them as she was treated in hospital in case she didn’t get to see them again.

Ms McIlroy said: ‘It was in the very early days and we knew very little about the virus at that time. I was at work and only felt tired.

‘We had been working really hard to rearrange clinics because of the situation, so I just put it down to that. I had no other symptoms.

‘I became very ill very quickly.

‘Suddenly I had tightness in my chest, I thought I was having a heart attack.

‘My chest x-ray was awful – it was pneumonia caused by covid.

A chest x-ray carried out at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, (pictured) showed Ms McIlroy  had pneumonia caused by coronavirus, and she was treated in ICU

‘I continued to deteriorate over the next few days and was taken to ICU, where I was put on the ventilator.’

She was in ICU for 16 days fighting for her life.

Ms McIlroy, from Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, said: ‘It was in the early days of the pandemic and the stories coming out of Italy were terrible.

‘The thought of being intubated did scare me a bit but I had faith in the team who were looking after me.

‘I wanted to speak to my husband and daughter, as I knew realistically there was a chance it could be the last time.’

She has worked at the same hospital since she was 22, and sent colleagues a message saying ‘If I don’t survive this, I want you all to know how proud I’ve been to work with you.’

The Beatson, the West of Scotland Cancer centre in the west end of Glasgow. Where Ms McIlroy works

And she was desperate to get back to work after a long recovery, including a month when she didn’t see her family.

Ms McIlroy said: ‘I’ve been back about six weeks and on a phased return.

‘It’s taken me so long to get fit again, mentally and physically. My colleagues have been second to none.

‘Many of my patients, current and past, have sent messages which have been lovely and very humbling.

‘Throughout this whole thing they have been patient with me and given me the time I needed to get strong.

‘Not having to worry about work or having any pressure to return quickly has really helped me. I couldn’t wait to get back.

‘I know people were pessimistic about my chance of returning and at times I was too but equally I was determined to try.

‘I am so happy to be back, caring for my patients. I owe it to so many people.’

Myra Campbell, Interim General Manager at the Beatson, said ‘We are delighted to have Pauline back at work.

‘Pauline is a valued member of our team who cares deeply about our patients.

‘Pauline’s dedication in returning to work is no surprise to us.’

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