COVID-19 has brought a halt to normal life in Ireland over the last few months, with everybody feeling the impacts. However, only 0.5% of the population have officially contacted the virus. One of those is Dublin footballer Siobhan Killeen, who is also a radiographer in Dublin’s Mater Hospital.
We spoke with Siobhan to discuss her battle with the coronavirus, the recovery period, returning to work and the lessons she’s learnt from the experience.
Can you tell me about the last few months, in terms of the impact COVID-19 has had on you and what it was like to contract the virus personally?
The first thing was sports being cancelled and then around a week later I became symptomatic. I got the test pretty quickly and tested positive, so those two weeks I just isolated.
I was fairly sick for the first week. Compared to what’s happening around Ireland and the world, my symptoms were mild, but I was still sick and was still bed-bound.
The second week I started to feel better. That was positive, but at that stage, it was still very early on in the pandemic so the fear of how my symptoms might develop was unknown. I was still worried that my health might deteriorate.
It was only when I came out of isolation that my battle to recover from the virus started and I was well enough to go back to work in the Mater. I’ve been fortunate that I still had a level of social contact with my colleagues so that was nice. And it was just nice to be busy and to play my part.
Can you tell me how your family and team felt when you were diagnosed?
We were already isolating and training had stopped so we were just catching up through Zoom. A lot of people reached out worried about my health, based on what they had seen over in Italy.
I always felt well enough to remain at home. I had amazing contact with doctors and nurses from a distance over the phone daily. I was well looked after from afar, so I never truly felt alone in the battle against it.
My parents were who I was worried about. Due to my job I was distancing from my family quite early on, so I was very fortunate with that. That’s just my fear – I fear for them.
Maybe I was naive that my age and health would help me in the battle against it and maybe it has, but it also has a very unpredictable pathway and it can affect young people just as much. I’m really lucky.
During your recovery from COVID, was your focus on self-care and what tools did you use to help build yourself up?
It is very tough, even regardless of having COVID. I listened to a lot of podcasts and read books about how to stay motivated and how to get through tough times. It gave some simple advice like getting up at a normal time, have lunch at a normal time, getting dressed etc.
I was trying to keep some kind of structure in my day but also just checking in with myself, which I think it is quite important.
Things like “how am I feeling today?”, “have I a sore throat?”, “am I stressed, or do I have anxiety?” It allows you to stay on top of things and nip things in the bud before they develop into bigger scenarios.
Sportspeople tend to have very regimental schedules. Do you think the experience helped you recover quicker by being that kind of professional in your outlook on life?
Yes, I would say my time management and planning is a huge part of my life. Last year was the big learning curve for me as I had a bad injury and it kept me out of work for about six months. The Dublin team played a huge part in keeping me involved and keeping a positive attitude.
I think I would have seriously struggled, particularly with my mental health, if I had to go through that recovery on my own. I was out of work, I didn’t have training, I had nothing to do, I was completely dependent, and they kept me involved. It was the same during this period – whether it be over the phone or video it made it a lot easier to get through it.
Do you think the mental health aspect was maybe overlooked or underestimated or was this something that was very prominent in everybody’s mind?
I think it is very prominent in everyone mind. It is a very big topic and it’s so important. The reason we play sport is for our enjoyment and if you take that away it’s your mental health that suffers most. We were still able to go on walks and jogs but you weren’t able to have a kick about or play games.
The whole reason we had those meetings were more so for mental health and to keep us enjoying each other’s company. A lot of people were working from home, people couldn’t see their family and friends. So, it was really an outlet – something other than working at a screen from home or not working at all.
To still have that connection and interaction was so important and management emphasised that from the start and that if people were struggling, they didn’t have to attend sessions. There was always a phone you can ring. We had to stay on top of our mental health.
Over the next few months, how will you get back together and start training again?
The emphasis is all on the club football now – we are back training with our clubs and that is great.
We have all been running miraculous 5K times, world records and having kickabouts on your own but you cannot replicate what you do in a training session. It’s just about slowly getting back to normal.
We won’t focus on fitness too much at the moment – the enjoyment of it is what we’ve missed the most. So just to get us playing football again and enjoying it.
We’re all very much looking forward to it and then we can deal with the county season. By that stage will have a good baseline and will be back playing football a few months so it’ll be an easier transition from club to county.
Is there anything you can look back on over the last few months and say you’ve learnt from?
I think with the GAA being postponed, I learned how much I love the sport, and not just the competing, but the social interaction. It’s also further developed my resilience, trying to look for enjoyment as best you can from little things through difficult times.
We have to make do with our situation. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve found a lot of enjoyment throughout this tough time and it’s reminded me of what’s important in my life and what means the most to me – my family and friends.
We get locked into the mindset of going on holidays and going to pubs and restaurants when really for me what’s hardest it’s not being able to go into my friend’s house or go and play with my nephews. They’ve been the toughest times, so for that, it’s great to realise and remind yourself what’s really important and what matters most.
Do you have any tips or words you’d love to send out to all your supporters?
It’s great that the countries reopening and it’s due to our hard work. I would say to remember that we’re not finished yet and we still all have a huge role to play even though restrictions are lifting. It’s more important than ever to try and following the guidelines as best we can.