Called to Action

Called to Action

Donnchadh Walsh must be wondering what the hell is going on. Just a few months ago the former Kerry footballer’s fiancée was traversing the globe for weeks at a time before checking in three days ahead of their December wedding. Not long afterwards his new bride took off again, on that occasion bound for Australia and New Zealand

“It’s either a feast or a famine, isn’t it?” Louise Galvin muses. “In those first few months we barely saw each other and now he can’t get rid of me! We’re counting our lucky stars though to be honest. We had our day out; our family and friends are healthy and we’ve had time together to reflect on a special times in our lives and look forward to new experiences!

“I think some people are a bit afraid of being seen to be too upbeat at the moment,” Galvin adds, “but I’m really seeing what’s important to my life: the small things are actually the big things and we tend not to appreciate them as we should. That’s what I want to remember when we return to normal, or however that might look.”

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Throughout much of her ‘normal’ time on the Sevens programme, Galvin kept her competencies up and worked as a locum physiotherapist out of the Beacon Hospital in Sandyford. However, once out-patient clinics were cancelled she responded to the HSE’s call to action and soon found herself in an enlarged intensive care unit in Tullamore Hospital. It was a baptism of fire.

“Have you ever started a job without shaking someone’s hand?” she asks. “It was mad! With all the PPE gear all anyone could see was my eyes! I scribbled my name and ‘physio’ on my jumpsuit and just got on with it. It was all a bit weird but there’s a lot to be said for it – I’d never felt part of a team as quick!”

Of course, teamwork is intrinsic to Galvin’s very being. Whether running out for Finuge GAA or representing the voices of her teammates on Rugby Players Ireland’s Executive Board, she has always been the quintessential team player. As an attribute it is being well deployed at present.

“Everyone has had to be very adaptable. When you’re in ICU you can’t have staff going in and out unnecessarily and wasting their PPE gear, so once you walk through those doors you have to be mentally prepared for a decent shift. It can be intense and uncomfortable – sweat might be dripping down your back, your nose might be itchy, but you can’t do anything about it. There’s no time, you’re always needed for something.

“If you see a nurse struggling to turn a patient or checking pressure areas, you dig in. You’re gowned up and ready to work, it’s not the time to say ‘actually, I’m sorry but that’s not my job!’ It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters what is necessary for the patient at that time.”  

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Prior to joining the Irish Rugby Sevens programme five years ago last week, Galvin held down a senior role as a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist at University Hospital Limerick. Coupled with her experience in working with cystic fibrosis patients, she was much sought after not least in caring for Covid-19 patients but also in overseeing their recuperation.

“When patients are at peak stages of their illness, we need to optimise their positioning and get as much oxygen into their lungs. Sometimes they can be on their belly for up to 16 hours a day which is a big ask for any able-bodied person.

“Once they start to wean them off their ventilator, my job is then to get their arms and legs moving. It’s amazing how much muscle can waste in that time. Getting someone to sit out of bed after what they’ve been through is like having them run a marathon. It takes a huge physical and psychological toll.

“You have to bear in mind that everyone moving around them in ICU is in an alien suit too. With their medication they might be a bit hazy and all they see are visors, masks, goggles – they must feel like they’ve landed on the moon! All the patient wants to see is a familiar face, but they don’t see any face at all.

“It’s a new experience and so it can be quite disconcerting for all involved. When you see them start on the ventilator you know they have a long and hard battle ahead of them, the toughest they’ll ever face. On the other hand, when they emerge on the other side it serves as a great boost for us all! We need that.”

When rugby gets up and running again, it will give Galvin another lift. But while the game is important to her, Covid-19 has been something of a reality check. The injuries and lack of matches pale in significance when placed alongside her recent her experiences. While she’d love to cast her mind to a fixture in the future, she knows the next few months remain out of her hands.

“For me it’s about controlling what I can control. That comes down to my fitness work and my work. As I’ve always said, rugby has me in this fantastic and privileged position, but it doesn’t last forever. At my age I’m very mindful of that and so I’ve always maintained a career alongside it. I try not to worry about it all because if I become too invested in my thoughts and concerns, you’re not going to be any use to anyone.

“I’m working four days in the week, so when I get home, I hit my training targets. We have our GPS sets and they feed the info back. I can see what everyone is doing so that keeps me motivated and while I know I’m not going to hit Amee-Leigh [Murphy Crowe]’s speeds, I can tell where my efforts may need to be adjusted. It’s a bit of healthy competition and it gives my mind a break too!”  

While not quite on the levels of Big Brother, everything is closely monitored for the player’s sake from prehab sessions to collective HIIT workouts facilitated by IRFU staff. As a physiotherapist, Galvin knows better than most how important the insights of those with the expertise can be. Ironically, without it her own profession may be in great demand once restrictions ease.  

“People are going to be presenting with issues, I’ve no doubt about that. They have a lot of time on their hands and they’re using it as a chance to get fit. It’s fantastic to see people in their new gear heading out for a jog, but all the road running and HIIT sessions can have an impact especially when you’re not used to it.

“I read that after the NFL lockout in 2011, injuries spiked when players returned to training. Because of the 14-week strike, teams were left with less time to get ready for the rigours of the season, so everything took off quickly. Those lads hadn’t put in the necessary preparation to play. Ultimately, whether you’re in the NFL, a Sevens player or a weekend warrior it’s crucial that your workload is consistent and balanced.”

@lougalvin4 – Instagram

Going several months without rugby generally smacks of the off-season. Ordinarily, that might mean a trip home to Kerry or further afield with Donnchadh. However, while Galvin is enoying additional doses of Netflix and the fine weather, it has been anything but a holiday.  

“It’s funny, I was actually onto another player on the circuit there and she asked me if I was enjoying the down-time?! It was the first time I’d really thought of it that way. As Leo Varadkar says, the plan is a living document so nobody can be sure what is to come so I am keeping myself ticking over, as a professional athlete that’s my responsibility. It’s my choice to take on additional duties.

“Yes it’s great to see young boys and girls out in the parks kicking ball with their parents. It’s lovely to see people enjoying the good weather as it should be enjoyed. It’s great to see relationships blossom when they finally step out of the rat race.

“Thankfully, not many of them will have seen what it is like in ICU though. I’d just hope they remember what has them in this situation in the first place. It might not seem so bad but it’s not a holiday either, this is so much bigger and greater than that.

“As much as I’d love to go back tomorrow, we need to stay the course. Every day counts. I want to be able to see my mother soon!”

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