In Viva La Dolce Vita’s first guest post, my own talented mother Marie, has decided to give some insight into what her life is like in Ireland at the moment, and how she is coming to terms with the Covid-19 lockdown at home on the Cooley Peninsula, in County Louth.
Lockdown on the Cooley Peninsula
by Marie Sheelan
My husband and I own a ‘Cleanroom’ company in Co Louth, Ireland. Our work revolves around building clean and sterile containment environments, and we have built laboratories all over the island of Ireland for companies who, among other things, study dangerous pathogens.
We have spent the last 24 years working in this field – manufacturing, training, and preparing operation and maintenance (O & M) manuals for our customers, all in order to work within the sterile cleanroom environment. Because of our work in this field, we have gained an in depth understanding of dangerous viruses and bacteria.
Fast Forward to early 2020
It was around January or February when we first heard about the Chinese outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and we wondered to ourselves if this virus could ever arrive to Ireland.
It seemed so far away in the beginning. Like everyone else, we heard and read all about the conspiracy theories, and wondered how this new outbreak could happen. Still though, it was always far away, and we thought that it may not affect us – how wrong we all were.
Then, a case appeared in Italy. My son’s sister in law Patrizia, and her husband, are both nurses in Milan. Suddenly, the virus wasn’t so far away – I got scared when I realised it was there. We had visited them previously in Milan in December 2018, during a stopover on our way to visit our son and his wife in Sardinia.
In Milan we had met Patrizia, her husband, and their beautiful boys for pizza and wine. Lots of hugs. The boys called us their ‘Irish Grandparents’. We then explored their city of Milan together, and saw the beautiful Duomo Cathedral. What a beautiful engaging city Milan was. We knew we would be back. They visited us once in Ireland, and even got to visit our famous local ‘Lily Finnegans Pub’.
Seeing this familiar city of Milan, being hit hard by the virus was eerie at first. Things changed as I saw more and more disturbing news on social media, making me think that this was really serious, spreading across the Lombardy Region of Italy. I don’t recall the date but it was early February.
I listened to my son Barry telling me how it was suddenly in Sardinia, where he lives. One evening coming home from work on the train, he sent me an audio message of a recording of alerts on his train home – something about keeping distance, avoiding to cough and things like that.
He was anxious; this in turn made me anxious – it was slowly spreading to the Italian islands. Italy were three weeks ahead of us here in Ireland on dealing with the virus. It was spreading very fast and I believed that it would have arrived to Ireland soon, what with all the flights to and from Italy.
He sent me pictures of eerily empty streets of Decimomannu, where he lives. There was no one about, other than the police. We took his lead and started shopping for our frozen and canned food. At this stage the Covid-19 virus was on its way.
I listened to my son Barry and his wife, and worried what precautions they were taking to be safe. They assured me they were even removing their shoes and wiping everything down after going shopping. I felt relieved. Their lovely Island of Sardinia was now on full lockdown with the Italian mainland. I worried and prayed for their safety in Decimomannu. I also worried for my daughter in law’s family in their hometown of Alghero, a city in the north of Sardinia.
I had been seriously ill in hospital in Dublin about 5 years ago and was in an isolation ward for a week before they discovered the bacteria (Campylobacter) I had. This was highly contagious.
I was used to the isolation and the staff gowning up with personal protection equipment (PPE) each day to check me – even the cleaners had to use PPE Equipment. I couldn’t leave my room. I exercised around my bed, when I started to feel well. That time in hospital left me with a compromised immune system, and some underlying conditions.
I realised how serious this Covid-19 virus was, and did not want to experience that again.
First Covid-19 case in Ireland, 1st March 2020
I started taking precautions, disinfecting everywhere in my home – the gate, post-box, etc. It was back to the feelings I had had when I was in the isolation ward. I actually physically froze one day – I could not go outside my gate, such were the overwhelming feelings of fear of what this virus might do to me.
Some family members questioned my OCD, as they thought I had, as I was cleaning and sterilising everything so much. How could I explain to them that this was very serious? I was told I was paranoid – this was not paranoia – this was a dangerous previously unheard-of virus. “It’s a common flu that you might just get in a supermarket, nothing to be concerned about”, said one person. Another person told me not to panic.
I wasn’t panicking, just waking up to the reality of what was coming – the virus was dangerous, and nothing like we had ever seen before.
None of us had immunity. I saw for myself how ‘Cleanrooms’ work, and why it is was so important to have good hygiene routines daily. I was scared for the first time in a long time.
I felt frustrated no one was really listening. I felt anger at the media sometimes for their flippant and dismissive remarks about the virus. Social media was scary – people were making jokes about the virus and saying “it will be grand”.
On the 7th March we went out for a meal to a local hotel. I got extremely nervous, as did my husband, when I saw a lack of awareness on hygiene within the hotel. There were no hand sanitisers’ etc. and everyone was sitting close together.
Life seemed to be carrying on oblivious, as if nothing was wrong. My husband and I decided at the time that this would be the last day we would leave our home until everything was ok. We decided to stop going shopping, going to restaurants, or socialising with family who don’t live at home.
There were days of utter despair when I saw pictures of masses of people visiting Carlingford, my local village, and my local beach with not a care in the world. They all seemed to have the mindset “this would never happen to me.”
Similarities to a previous lockdown
On the Cooley Peninsula we lived through an outbreak of the Foot & Mouth disease, an infectious disease infecting livestock, in March 2001. It was a horrendous time for us all here. We were essentially locked down and quarantined for 6 weeks, so that the disease would not spread to the national livestock herd.
We used disinfectant constantly on our roads, and used alcohol hand sanitisers for months in our businesses. The restrictions were much more severe then, and this was for animals. We had numerous checkpoints in and out of Cooley, and the army were helping.
During this Covid-19 emergency, I wanted my husband to offer his help to the HSE (with all the experience he had in the Cleanroom Industry), to get the message out, that this was a serious and dangerous pathogen.
He declined, but I saw his frustration watching people not caring, or at least not trying to social distance, and understood why the restrictions must get more severe.
No one could see they could be asymptomatic or super spreaders. I didn’t want to see my kids as the town of Dundalk had some cases, and I needed them to keep safe in their homes along with ourselves.
Worry was getting the better of me, as were tears. I was unable to keep everyone in my family safe, ridiculous to even try… It was beyond my scope as a mother, sister, friend and grandmother. My solace at night was listening to music and staying off social media as much as I could – I couldn’t read negativity.
In the past I trained as a counsellor, working mainly as a bereavement counsellor, which I have retired from many years ago. It was tough.
I started looking at my feelings and thoughts again and studying some old books I had on counselling. It helped to realise that what we all as a nation were suffering from, was grief. The feelings were no different to losing someone close.
My go to person was Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and her 5 stages of Grief
I am now at the acceptance stage; I can’t change what is happening in my country. I can change how I feel about this pandemic. I read a lot, I listen to music nightly, I look at the beauty in my garden, and I appreciate its giving of new flowers and plants to me everyday.
I am safe in my own space, I am saddened by the deaths so far in the world, but I can’t change or allow this to consume my everyday life. I need normality. I need balance. When you find balance you will reach the end of the grief which is acceptance.
Last week, on Easter Sunday, we dressed up and made it like a normal Easter Day. I was awake from 6am and there wasn’t a sound on the road, all I heard were the birds singing and making nests at the eves of my house. I am lucky to live in the country.
In the afternoon, we had a video call on WhatsApp with my children and grandchildren.
It made us feel close in spirit. Grandkids are our joy, and they send us beautiful pictures. I even roleplay ‘restaurant’ and ‘office’ with one of my grandchildren online. We send each other pretend emails. Her question one day was if Granddad could give her a mask and gloves (as he wore them for work), could she go out to the shops with her Mum.
Easter Sunday was also my brother’s birthday. We organised all the siblings on a video call to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Most of them are supposed to be cocooning. One I might need handcuffs for him. 🙂
I now hear from my children more than I ever did. I have started to wonder which of the four children are our parents, going by their concerned calls, and their checking up on us.
I miss them, I miss my family in Italy, and other family in various parts of the world. I miss the laughter in my garden of the children playing. Big gardens are for playing. The toys remain in the garden for them to come to our house, when that will be no one knows. There have been days when I feel numb and robotic, but I always feel safe within these walls.
It doesn’t bother me too much that I don’t see them for now, as long as they are all taking proper care when they go out. I am happy to wait to see them once again.
My husband continues to work as we are part of the essential services area, we manufacture specialised equipment to keep the supply chain going within the controlled environment industry. This may end soon as more and more procedures are cancelled in hospitals because of this COVID-19 virus.
We do the best we can for now. We have survived two recessions before in business, a lockdown from the Foot and Mouth disease, and now this pandemic. We will adapt once again. We are healthy, we are alive, our family are safe and hopefully it will remain this way. No point in taking too much on board, just a day at a time and breathe the fresh air in the Cooley Peninsula.
I am sick of cooking and my hands are sore from washing constantly. I have five things I want to do when this emergency ends. First one is to hug my family, and see my son and his wife in Italy, and have one big party. The second one is to bring my Milan Family and her lovely boys to Ireland again.
The three others are changing by the day, however a cup of coffee in the ‘Park Café’ in Dundalk sounds nice 🙂