Aoife McGivney: A Message of Hope and Courage on National Nurses Day

May 6, 2020 Aaron Kinne

5-minute read

Read and watch more stories of inspiration and bravery from the front line here.

Aoife McGivney

“Courage is not some magic power that’s only available to superheroes. Courage is a choice that’s available to anyone, at any time.”

That quote, sent to me by a friend a few days ago, strongly resonated as I watched Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton interview Aoife McGivney – a nurse at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin – in a recent episode of the “Keeping Work Human” series.

Since this pandemic first began, we have been sharing many stories of the incredible courage and compassion healthcare professionals around the world are displaying. On National Nurses Day, it is a privilege to celebrate Aoife – and those like her who have chosen to be healthcare superheroes.  

Here are just a couple of stories that illuminate her amazing courage, dedication, and selflessness.

Aoife is currently in lockdown at home, isolated from even her own family, after being exposed to positive COVID-19 patients. But because the hospital is short of staff, she will return to work early under strict monitoring. How many of us – after already being exposed to this deadly virus – would go back into an inferno like that? 

But it was an incident that took place a year ago that perhaps best reveals Aoife’s incredible character and courage. During her morning commute, she noticed “the bus was kind of driving on its own. We were going through red lights and people started screaming. We actually knocked down a cyclist.”

As heroes will do, Aoife ran toward the danger. She went to the front of the bus and attempted to revive the driver who, it turned out, was having a heart attack. By shaking his legs, she was able to move him off the foot pedals and the bus rolled to a stop.

But she wasn’t done yet. “When the bus stopped, I asked a few people to give me a hand, and we carried the driver out onto the street. I started CPR on him. Once I had him on the ground, I just went straight into autopilot. I’m shouting out orders like there was no tomorrow, asking for the AED [Automated External Defibrillator] machine. And there were a lot of people trying to help.”

In the end, the bus driver survived. In fact, Aoife still keeps in touch with him. And the cyclist? That too had a happy ending; while his bike was mangled, he was uninjured.

When Aoife’s sister posted the episode on Instagram, the story went viral in Ireland – including an appearance on “The Late Late Show” with Ryan Tubridy. But to heroes like Aoife, it’s not about accolades: “For me, it never really was about anything that happened afterward. It was always about being just so grateful that this man was still alive and OK. That’s obviously the main thing that was important to me.” 

So how has her life changed since the onset of COVID-19? Aoife works in a surgical ward, dealing primarily with oncology-related procedures. “But after COVID, everything has changed,” she noted. “It’s a whole other side to nursing that I hadn’t been experiencing because it’s dealing with people with respiratory failure. You just don’t know when people are going to get so sick. They can deteriorate really quickly. Everybody’s a lot more on edge, just trying to be a bit more on the ball.”

And while dealing with end-of-life goes with the territory for nurses, it has taken on a new poignancy and heartbreak in today’s pandemic reality. “End of life is probably one of the hardest things for a healthcare provider – for anyone – to deal with. For COVID patients and their families to have to say “goodbye” over FaceTime®, using an iPad®, is just wrenching.”

A family member had to say goodbye wearing full gowns and personal protective equipment – and was allowed just 15 minutes. “It’s a really cold way that’s taking its toll on staff as well. Not being able to hug families – it’s taken out that personal side of our job that we’re so used to. Such a huge part of nursing is not only what we do for the patient, but their families and everyone else involved.

“We’re the patient’s family now. We’re the only person that can see them for weeks. And you do make these powerful connections that are very special in one way. But it’s also heartbreaking in another way.”

Looking ahead, how does Aoife seeing the crisis playing out? “My whole mindset is I’m never going to take for granted giving someone a hug again. Just recently, in the last week, it’s hit me that we might not get the chance to do that for a very long time. Even if they do ease restrictions, nurses and healthcare providers are probably not going to be included because we’re the ones in contact with patients every day. How can we go back to what it was? When will the day arrive that we can feel ‘normal’ again?”

In the midst of it all, Aoife stills views the world through a lens of hope. “Seeing everyone working together all over the world – when have we ever done anything like this before? I see people recovering, and I see people released from ICU. And as you see these recoveries – they’re the inspiration. They’re what keeps us going and keeps the drive there.”

As he closed the interview, Steve observed that heroes like Aoife remind us of the importance of humanity, and are the reason to have hope that we will return to “normal” – whatever that might look like – “a bit more humble, a bit more grateful.” In his view, these heroes inspire us to look ahead, and visualize the day when we can once again give hugs to the human family.

In the end, it’s this very promise of gratitude and connection that inspires this healthcare hero. As Aoife said, “It’s amazing what we as a world can do for each other when we actually get down to it.”

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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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