ON SITE Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald is pictured at her practice at the Deel Medical Centre in Crossmolina last week. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
IN all of her 35 years as a GP in Crossmolina, Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald has never experienced a time as ‘challenging’ as the last 12 months.
She describes herself as ‘an optimistic and a positive person’ – and these were qualities she needed to draw on quite a bit when the worst of the waves of Covid-19 hit her patients and her practice.
Dr Fitzgerald admits she was ‘a bit stunned’ when coronavirus reared its ugly head again earlier this year, as she expected it ‘to be dead and buried’ by the end of 2020. But the roll-out of vaccines in recent weeks has seen a change in the mood music, and while she is adamant that we need to keep up our guard, the experienced GP feels there are reasons to be optimistic.
“No two days are the same,” admitted Dr Fitzgerald, a Galway native who joined the practice run by her father-in-law, Dr Mick Loftus, as an assistant back in the mid-1980s.
“Starting from last Tuesday, after the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, it was like an explosion of phone calls, people enquiring about their vaccines, and people who were sick and needed to be seen. There was also an avalanche of people who wanted to be sent for consultations.
“The levels of Covid infection have, thankfully, gone down here in Mayo, and people who had delayed in coming forward with issues they had now want to get them checked out.
“So the last three days were very busy. Thankfully, today [Friday] has calmed down a bit again. But there’s no room for complacency; we can’t relax.”
Vaccine supply ‘haphazard’
The news headlines recently have been dominated by stories about vaccines. Issues with supply and demand have been constant themes, and it has been no different on the ground in Crossmolina. But the signs are that a corner is being turned now.
“Things certainly didn’t go to plan when we started off in March,” explained Dr Fitzgerald. “We submitted our list of over-70s and had over 400 patients to vaccinate. We started off with the 85-year-olds and older first, and we had sufficient vaccines for them.
“But once the 85s stock started running down, we didn’t get the numbers we were supposed to get. So that created some issues. because it didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen.
“It was very haphazard to be quite honest, we wouldn’t like to go through that again,” she added. “It was down to supply and that’s fair enough, but we had to do the communicating to the patients and that was where things got difficult. The girls making and taking the phone calls got the brunt of it.
“But things have improved, and we’re getting a full supply of Pfizer this week. We’re going to finish all our over-75s age group, we’ll have a first dose to some and a second dose to others. And then we’ll be able to get the over 70s in.
“In a month’s time we’ll have all our 70-year-olds upwards vaccinated, with at least the first dose. And then we’ll be starting the Astra-Zeneca for the high-risk over-70s after that.”
Like every GP across the country, Dr Fitzgerald knows all of her patients well.
Recently, she has detected a sense that ‘anxiety levels have definitely dropped’ in the Crossmolina community, mainly due to the ‘low levels’ of infections in the area. “We haven’t diagnosed a case of Covid infection in our practice for the last two or three weeks,” she said.
But it’s the vaccines that are giving people real hope and lifting spirits.
“There’s a different atmosphere in the surgery when we’re doing the vaccine clinic. There’s a sense of relief when the patient comes in, there’s so much gratitude, there’s a change in personality almost when they’re getting it. And we’ve had no reactions, thankfully.
“I think the older age group feel like they don’t have to be locked up anymore.”
As for the future, Dr Fitzgerald is hoping to be back on the sideline with the Crossmolina Deel Rovers GAA club again sooner rather than later, watching her sons, Patrick and Mikey Loftus, in action for their senior team.
But she is adamant that we all have a part to play in keeping the virus under control.
“People have to bear in mind that even though they’re vaccinated, they can still transmit the virus. So mask wearing, social distancing and washing your hands remain so important.”