Beaumont Hospital

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Grateful to be alive: Garda Paul Cullen tells his story about his COVID-19 journey through Beaumont

Thursday April 16, 2020

He thought it was a chest infection, then maybe the flu, but what Paul Cullen, a 48 year old Garda and father of three from Balbriggan was actually battling was COVID-19. 

Paul had been unwell for about two weeks before presenting to hospital, and had finished a course of antibiotics from his GP. He came in to Beaumont at the beginning of April, with a high temperature and shortness of breath. He had been busy with work and family commitments and having a public facing role as a Garda probably had put him at greater risk of contracting the virus.

As a Garda, Paul is a man who has spent his life helping others.  He is stationed in north inner city Dublin where he was recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant (he only heard that news whilst an in-patient!).  When he originally came down with symptoms, Paul figured he was getting the flu. When his condition worsened, he realized that this time, he was the one who needed help. 

He went to his GP who prescribed antibiotics and 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. I was young, fit and healthy with no risk factors. And working as a Garda probably didn’t help as we deal with the public all the time”

On advice from his GP Paul came to Beaumont where immediately the staff in ED placed a mask on him and isolated him, while they ran tests, and ruled out other possibilities. The Respiratory Team felt from Paul’s clinical presentation that he had all the symptoms of COVID- 19, between his history, his bloods, his xray and his oxygen requirements.  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 CPAP or admission to the ICU within the first 48 hours. 

He remembers the hospital and how awful he felt, but he also remembers the compassion of the staff and the wonderful care he received. 

“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 CPAP for 5 days, and though while he was seen on several occasions by our ICU colleagues, thankfully he didn't need to be intubated. He spent some time on St Patricks Ward, and  HDU before being transferred to St Pauls Ward.  He did not require sedation just a lot of willpower to put up with the high pressures of his CPAP!

After fourteen days in the hospital, nurtured by the care of brave nurses and doctors, Paul donned a clean face mask last Thursday April 9th and staff pushed his wheelchair out of St Pauls Ward . He was overjoyed to see his family again. Because visitors had not been allowed in the hospital, Paul had not seen his family for the duration and says that “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 says. “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”

“I am so happy to be home now.  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 which makes me feel better now that I am out of the supportive environment of the hospital. 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 Pauls 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”.

We wish Paul and all our patients the very best in their recovery.

Paul cullen pic on ward

Paul cullen pic at home