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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland nurse Denise Kelly vows 'no one will die alone' amid pandemic

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Denise Kelly with one of the senior doctors on the night shift

Denise Kelly with one of the senior doctors on the night shift

Denise Kelly and her mum Anne

Denise Kelly and her mum Anne

Denise in personal protective clothing she wears on hospital shift

Denise in personal protective clothing she wears on hospital shift

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Denise Kelly with one of the senior doctors on the night shift

A senior nurse helping the fight against coronavirus on the front line has told of the heartache of telling relatives they cannot be with their loved ones in their final moments - but has vowed no one will die alone.

Denise Kelly (45), a nurse for more than 20 years, has said what she is experiencing now is worse than anything she has ever encountered - and she worked through some of the atrocities of the Troubles, including the Omagh bomb.

The mother of two from Larne said: "I was in the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast in the Nineties.

"I worked through the Omagh bomb and to me this is worse, this is a bigger challenge.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

"It's a war we are fighting, but we can't see the enemy and that's the scary bit. You can't predict how it's going to end. The sense of fear and panic and just the unknown."

And there is a ripple effect of fear which has affected her children, as they are terrified every time their mum leaves for work.

"My 12-year-old daughter said to me when I was going out to work the other night, 'Mum, you are going out to be with people whose families can't be with them, but how do I know I'm ever going to see you again?'

"It's that ripple effect and impact on not just us, but our families as well."

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Denise Kelly and her mum Anne

Denise Kelly and her mum Anne

Denise Kelly and her mum Anne

Tragically, Mrs Kelly has witnessed three deaths from coronavirus. "I had to ring their families and say to them, 'Your loved one is dying, there is nothing else we can do, I'm sorry you can't come up to be with your relative but if I can get you any kind of comfort, I will make sure there is a nurse with them.'

"But you can imagine the impact on us as nurses, too. It's a privilege being able to be with somebody when they take their last breath, but at the same time they are not surrounded by their loved ones, and they can't say their last goodbyes."

In order to help communication with families, staff have been trying to facilitate video calls and also appealed for baby monitors to assist patients and relatives seeing each other.

"Anything at all that would help that communication. It is heartbreaking."

We are not robots - we are human beings with real feelings and families that are absolutely petrified for us, too, and also that we are going to bring [the virus] home and give it to them as well

Mrs Kelly said the challenge is compounded because of their instinct and training as nurses, that when they see someone deteriorating they instantly "alert loved ones to be with them because they are precious moments".

She continued: "They are being denied that but it's beyond our control."

Mrs Kelly moved to dispel any discussion or notion that if you lose a relative they will die alone.

"That's not true, because there will be a nurse with them always," she said. "That needs reiterated. As a nurse we certainly won't let that happen."

Mrs Kelly said the staff are finding this very challenging and urged the public to remember they are people, too.

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Denise in personal protective clothing she wears on hospital shift

Denise in personal protective clothing she wears on hospital shift

Denise in personal protective clothing she wears on hospital shift

"We are not robots - we are human beings with real feelings and families that are absolutely petrified for us, too, and also that we are going to bring [the virus] home and give it to them as well."

She continued: "Physically and psychologically, wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE), when we have some, it's very labour-intensive, hot and warm. It's very hard getting adequate breaks.

"The psychological side is very difficult, because we are seeing increased rates of death, you are seeing people torn away from loved ones, and we are used to being able to go in and helping people and knowing that you can't do anything and that you've tried your best. It's a lot to take on."

The amount of public offering to give us stuff and make things for us, it's overwhelming and humbling

Given what Mrs Kelly and her colleagues are experiencing on a daily basis, it exacerbates her anger when she sees people not adhering to social distancing rules and not staying at home.

"I feel like showing them a picture of a graveyard and saying, 'Do you want this to be your new home? Because if you don't stay in your current home this is what will be your new home.'

"They need that hard message, there is no point in sugar-coating it."

She added: "The more people out and about interacting, the bigger the surge we'll get into the health service - and it's coming like tsunamis at the minute. For every one person diagnosed positive, you have to multiply that figure by 10 and that's the real figures. It is crazy amounts and people can't grasp that."

Mrs Kelly said she is speaking from the heart when she pleads with people to "stay home, save lives and wash your hands".

But even amid such difficult circumstances, she thanked the public for how "extremely kind and generous" they have been in terms of the huge efforts to help with the creation of personal protection equipment.

"The amount of public offering to give us stuff and make things for us, it's overwhelming and humbling."

People need to fulfil their role, it's a big jigsaw and we all have a part to play

She said that despite the huge challenge, it has helped people "reconnect with what is important in life".

"In a world that's so far apart, we've never been closer."

Mrs Kelly said that coronavirus is a battle we can win if everyone plays their part.

"You will make a difference and you will save lives.

"All you have to do is sit on your couch.

"People need to fulfil their role, it's a big jigsaw and we all have a part to play.

"And if they don't play their role, then we are missing a piece of that jigsaw, so that picture will never be complete."

She added: "Everyone will be touched by the impact of coronavirus in some way. We are a relatively small population in Northern Ireland, so there will be a lot of heartache."

In a final plea she said: "We are all united in this, we are on the front line but you are the commanders behind us, so help direct us by following the guidelines and we will win this."

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