01 Oct 2022

'Patients dancing in the door to get their vaccination. It’s wonderful to hear the laughter' - Kilkenny doctor Ann Beckett on life in pandemic

Day In The Life Kilkenny

Patients are happy to receive the vaccination in Kilkenny, seeing it as a way out of the pandemic PICTURE: VGC-Group/Pixabay

It’s great to be back and to bring to you ‘The Day in the Life’ column again.

I hope you have all been keeping well and can see the sun coming out from behind the dark clouds in these Covid times. The end is in sight and the community of Kilkenny have become tighter and stronger for it.

As the vaccination roll out is happening in the wider community, I thought Dr Ann Beckett would be the perfect first interview back. A young mother of two and a front line worker, she has been on my hit list for a while.

Dr Ann Beckett

She is an inspiring, intelligent woman who returned to Freshford in 2015 to join the family practice. She is a third generation family doctor based in Freshford’s Health Centre, a practice that is also run by her father Dr Jerry Beckett and mother, Practice Nurse and Manager Bridget Beckett.

What struck me about Ann’s story was how she, like many others, put her life on hold to help her community during this pandemic. Ann finished up her maternity leave early to come back to the family practice. As her husband, who works in the army, was overseas her parents (nearing retirement) cocooned and cared for her two children – a three year old and a five month old baby.

“There were no crèches open and we were worried about Mum and Dad catching Covid, so they stayed at home with the children while I went back to work, it was the only option,” she said. “My house is built next to theirs and we share a driveway - we just closed the gates and reared the children free range!”

Our jobs were redefined overnight. In our practice we were a fully ‘walk in’ service, one of the few surgeries left doing it. Then all of a sudden we had to lock the doors and put up a big STOP sign.

Ann kept her parents in the loop every day about running the family practice, especially regarding the constant changes and guidance from the Irish College of General Practices (ICGP).

“As any family business, we had meetings everyday about the running of the practice, as well as me reminding Dad to give enough tummy time to my new baby!”

It’s been some year for this young GP and mother, but she is starting to see hope, especially as the vaccinations are being rolled out into the wider community.

Here is a glimpse into Ann’s world since March last year…

Another Freshford doctor - Martin Tobin, did us proud as an expert pulmonologist in the George Floyd murder trial. Do you know him personally?

Martin Tobin is a cousin of one of my dad’s close friends. He was so professional and calm on the stand giving evidence. It was amazing to find out he was representing our small village on the world stage as a global expert in his field.

You are currently knee-deep in the vaccination process. Are patients generally overwhelmed that this day has come?

They are dancing in the door to have it done. They are literally floating, it’s really wonderful to see and hear the laughter and the banter of patients in the clinic now. Plus there’s no hiding anyone’s age anymore as they are all in the same age group on vaccination days!

On a more serious note, I suppose I had a poorer level of appreciation of how well people had cocooned. There is a level of nervousness from some people coming in, especially from those who had not been outside their house - suddenly they are in a doctors surgery getting the vaccine. It was such a big occasion for them.

The relief is sensed everywhere, it’s great to hear the laughing and the messing in the waiting room afterwards as they wait their 15 minutes post-vaccine. There’s a great feeling that this is our way out and we are on our way.

How has Covid changed work practices in healthcare, especially in your line of work?

Our jobs were redefined overnight. In our practice we were a fully ‘walk in’ service, one of the few surgeries left doing it. Then all of a sudden we had to lock the doors and put up a big STOP sign.

We chose to keep my parents at home to keep our options open at work. If the team on site got Covid, we had a doctor and nurse on standby to step in, so that the doors would remain open.

All the guidance and changes directed from the Irish College of General Practices (ICGP) had to be enacted immediately. Patients had to be examined by phone and it was very strange to keep our waiting room empty.

Even once the testing started, the guidance was changing every three days. We couldn’t even have a team meeting about it as I was trying to keep the staff separated.

Everything that could go online went online. So prescriptions are all emailed to chemists now, which was so strange not to be handing them to the patient directly - we email A+E letters to the hospital also. We’re all in scrubs which is a big change, and really brought me back to my intern days!

GPs were going hammer and tongs pre-Covid anyway. We just had to absorb all the Covid stuff on top of everything else and get on with it.

Are you now seeing delayed presentation and diagnosis of other illnesses because people were too fearful to come in for assessment?

People are feeling that we are too busy, so unfortunately they won’t come near us. Those that do come in are apologising. But they are unwell in some way and I am doctor, so they are supposed to see me.

It’s upsetting in one sense that someone would feel that they are bothering you for doing your job. They are so conscious that we are all so time-poor at the moment because of Covid and now the vaccine roll out.

What is the emotional impact on healthcare staff after a year of working with Covid?

Everyone is tired, physically and emotionally. Healthcare staff have seen a lot that we never imagined possible in the last year. Our Health Service has always been extremely busy so this has put strain on all healthcare workers’ energy and emotions. A lot are exhausted.

Initially there was the fear of bringing this disease home, and then the sadness of seeing patients very unwell in hospital without their family for comfort. To see the impact of these solitary admissions on my own patients has been very upsetting, personally.

The beauty of our job is that we can lean on our colleagues when we are feeling like this. Just knowing you’re not alone in these emotions helps, but you have to pull it together then and get back to work.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories from anti-vaxxers. What is your opinion on vaccine fear and the risks of vaccination versus the risk of Covid?

I think the risk of Covid is going to outweigh the risks of the vaccine. The vaccines wouldn’t have been passed by the medicine agencies if there was a chance they were going to be riskier than the actual disease.

I can understand why some people might be reticent, but I don’t think there are as many anti-vaccine people out there as there are vaccine-hesitant people. These people are examining their options, which is a healthy suspicion for anything new. The main thing is to inform yourself from reputable sources.

What impact do you think Covid will leave on society?

I do think this is a defining period in our history for how we will choose to live our lives. We are more used to wearing masks now, it will be interesting to see if this completely stops in time.

I can see more people working from home, or remotely if it suits them which could be really positive. It does offer us all an opportunity to redefine what we want from our working lives in particular.

Dr Ann Beckett is based at the Freshford Health Centre, Freshford.

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