Former IMO president comes out of retirement to help fight coronavirus

By Oisín McGovern

The recent ‘Ireland On Call’ initiative by the HSE has seen over 40,000 healthcare workers don their scrubs and stethoscopes once more as Ireland gears up for battle with coronavirus.

Among them is Dr Ken Egan, who practised as a GP in Mayo for over 40 years but remains a proud son of Galway to this day.

Galway born and bred

Reared in the heart of Eyre Square, Dr Egan spent a while in Lincolnshire in the east of England where he completed his GP training.

Home came calling in 1974 when a number of GP vacancies rose in the West. He and his wife settled in the village of Ballindine, nestled in the most southeastern corner of Mayo only a few miles from the Galway border.

The plan was to move back to Galway, but the Egans fell in love with the Mayo village, which they still call home 46 years later.

Having once having served as president of the Irish Medical Organisation, he retired from his beloved general practice a few years ago. Dr Egan explained to Galway Pulse why he is coming out of retirement.

The village of Ballindine, situated near the Mayo-Galway border

Retirement on hold

“People need help support. Sure, I’ve been doing it for the past 50 years, it’s second nature for me. All my colleagues would like me to come out and help. We’ve never come across anything like this before”, he said.

Cancellations of non-urgent appointments mean the health service is currently not overburdened. However, demand is expected to surge as the number of cases of coronavirus continues to increase.

As Dr Egan explains, plenty of other non-coronavirus cases will still have to be attended to during the upcoming battle with the coronavirus.

“You have to remember that no matter what happens people are going to have heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. So I suspect that I’ll be doing a lot of that kind of stuff and that the hospitals will be dealing with the front line stuff.”

“I could be back doing the ordinary GP work or, if it comes to it, I could be putting up drips and taking blood and things like that. All those decisions will have to be made about who goes where and what they do.”

A lifetime in medicine

During his five decades in medicine, Dr Egan has witnessed health scares similar to Covid-19. He recalls handing necessities to isolated patients through the windows in Merlin Park Hospital during a tuberculosis outbreak.

“There’d be an odd fella wanting a glass of whiskey so you’d be handing in the naggin of whiskey in the window. They’d be locked away with their TB for up to year some times”, he said.

He remembers the polio outbreak which postponed the 1956 All-Ireland Football Final. He also recalled the AIDS scare of the 1980s and 1990s which “they thought was going to destroy us all”. However, he is confident that Ireland will get through this latest crisis.

“We all just have to put our shoulder to the wheel and help out any way we can and it will work out fine.”

Social Distancing

He expressed concern for the lack of adherence to social distancing among the younger people, saying: “It’s very disappointing to see that the youngsters aren’t knuckling down to help everybody and they’re causing problems [by] mixing. It’s terrible to see that they don’t want to help everybody.”

His advice for the public is blunt but shrewd: “Stay away from everybody. Get yourself exercised, do your walking, keep yourself fit but stay away from people. You can’t get this disease from the air, you’ll get it from [human] contact. They’ll be healthy. They won’t know they have it.

Remember this; you don’t get it from the wind. It’s somebody that’ll give it to you.”

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