Ireland women’s rugby union international Claire McLaughlin is among the health service heroes putting their lives on the line in the battle against coronavirus.
The 28-year-old Bushmills native is a junior doctor at the Ulster Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department.
“I only graduated four years ago and I am one of the most junior doctors within the A&E,” 16-times capped McLaughlin told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.
“I could never have imagined being involved in something like this. It’s not something you’re really taught about going through university and medical school.
“But we’re all in this together. Doctors, nurses and all the health care professionals. It’s really showing that we all are coming together as a healthcare system.”
Unprecedented public health battle
The nature of this unprecedented public health crisis makes for almost constant change in work practices but McLaughlin says she and her colleagues are coping at present.
“There have been more patients coming through with coronavirus symptoms but so far we haven’t experience the surge that we’re expecting to happen in the next while.
“Day to day, thing are changing all the time – things are evolving pretty rapidly with this virus.
“It is worrying in that we don’t know how bad it’s going to get or when it’s going to get to that point.
“Obviously we are taking information on what’s happening in China and Italy and seeing what way they have dealt with things and how the virus has impacted on them and their health care systems.”
‘This time is showing us what’s important in life’
McLaughlin says one of the Ulster Hospital’s main tasks at the moment is to keep as many A&E beds free as possible for when the expected surge in coronavirus patients arrives.
“We have had to change how we manage patients within A&E,” she said.
“There are certain patients who, three or four weeks ago, we would have been admitting to hospital whom we are now sending home. There’s even risk involved in that and changing the way we do our medical practice.”
While inevitably the work hours are long and arduous, McLaughlin, like seemingly everyone, is using technology to keep in touch with her loved ones and is also doing her best to maintain her fitness – even though it’s far from clear when she will be back on the rugby field.
“This challenging time has shown us what is so important in life and having connections with people is so essential. It’s great to have the likes of Facetime and Skype and all the other video type calls that we can do.
“I’m working a bit more than I have been in the last few months but trying to find time to keep my fitness up.
“I managed to grab some weights and some equipment from the Ulster Rugby gym and they were really good in letting me go in and grab a few bits and pieces so I’ve set up a home gym.
“I purchased a bike as well so I’m waiting for that to arrive. I’m kind of hoping to come out the other end of this fitter than I was before.”
‘Rugby values helping me in work’
But while rugby has to take a back seat for now, McLaughlin insists the values intrinsic to the sport are helping her in these most challenging of times.
“There are certain things that medical school can’t teach you. Leadership, communication and team work are all things that rugby has massively helped me to develop.
“It’s been hugely important transferring those skills into medicine and into the day-to-day job that I’m doing. I’ve learnt so much through playing rugby.”
Having missed out on direct involved in Ireland’s three Six Nations games this year because of an ankle injury, McLaughlin was looking forward to a busy summer of training camps and Tests with the national squad in advance of a World Cup qualifying campaign in September.
All that is up in the air now with her total focus on helping to save lives.
“I’m trying not to think about that [rugby] at the minute. I’m just hoping the worst of all this will be over and that most of those matches and training plans will go ahead,” she said.