Matt Cullen: My experience of helping surgical students

Matt Cullen, Ireland EPAP Patient Advisory Group

On 8, 11 and 12 March I agreed to help the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) as a patient with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) for student doctors doing their final examinations. Their exam dates were brought forward due to the corona virus. The examinations were held in Beaumont Hospital (Smurfit Building) in Dublin, I was a little apprehensive at first about helping out due to the corona virus, however, I was glad to be of assistance at a time when doctors along with other healthcare workers are in great demand.
One key reason for helping out was to enable student doctors to perform their practical test on a patient as it is a very real situation as opposed to a simulated event. In retrospect, it was great to be of help because of the wonderful work such healthcare workers are performing in the present COVID-19 pandemic. I was treated extremely well by the RSCI and their kindness and gratitude towards me was clearly in evidence, as a result I am keen to help out again in the future.

It is amazing to think that a few weeks’ later, healthcare staff helped my son to fully recover from COVID-19 after being critically ill. He was brought by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin on the 1st of April as he was finding it difficult to breathe and had other related symptoms. Although he was in a critical condition, it helped that he is in his 40’s, never smoked and has no underlying health conditions. Within two days of him being hospitalized, it was confirmed he tested positive for the corona virus. He was in intensive care and placed on oxygen, as his oxygen level was low. Fortunately, the level of healthcare provided was excellent, that coupled with his resilience has meant he has now returned home and is on the road to making a full recovery. He will be returning to his work as a policeman soon, so he will be playing a part on the front line in helping to implement the lockdown (and other duties) so as to reduce the spread of the virus.

Needless to say, it was wonderful for all the family that such a positive outcome was achieved for my son from the corona virus. It is also wonderful that my help with the student doctors’ final exams more than likely contributed to more qualified doctors being available, all of which helps in the fight to deal with COVID-19. Reflecting on such an experience, it was traumatic and scary, made all the more difficult because of a lack of face to face contact, no opportunity to embrace each other, to show empathy and support, and most of all for him to be all alone (except for the wonderful support and help from the medical team). Somehow, it all seems surreal, obviously it is very real and it is an experience etched into my memory that will never be forgotten.

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