As people continue to stay home and do their bit to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Warriors Women captain Lyndsay O’Donnell is among those NHS frontline workers risking their own life to save and care for patients affected by the deadly disease.
An inspirational leader on the rugby field, the Stirling-born second-row is a Chartered Physiotherapist at Worcestershire Royal Hospital where she helps identify COVID-19 patients who need extra help breathing. Delivering a range of rehabilitation treatments, Lyndsay also has the job of assisting patients in order to clear the airways of secretions, further underlining the crucial role she plays in the fight against the virus.
“I am currently working on a testing ward for COVID-19 patients, with those patients who are suspected of having the virus remaining on our ward until their swab results come back,” said the 26-year-old.
“My day begins with the nurses giving me information as to who needs physio for mobility, and who needs physio for their chest, including how much oxygen each patient is on. From there, myself and the other physios will go around the ward to see our patients as we look to deliver rehabilitation techniques as well as maintaining their strength and function as well as completing chest physio where needed.
“A lot of people who come into hospital suspected of having Coronavirus are either deconditioned or have lost significant strength and are not able to move as they normally would.
“We help with that and we help nurses to establish how to safely move patients, assessing whether they need walking aids and what equipment we might need in order to move them. It is important that we have a joined-up approach with the nurses and we’re also doing quite a lot of respiratory physio, which can play a huge role in increasing the amount of oxygen a patient can get.
“We provide oxygen therapy, assisted coughs, manual techniques, suctioning, advise on positioning and we play a role in setting up the non-invasive ventilators.”
Working five days a week as well as some weekends, Lyndsay says it is a calling that she is more than happy to respond to despite the all too obvious risks posed the moment she steps foot on the ward.
She said: “When I was asked to work on the ward, my first reaction was to get stuck in. I love my job, I love what I do, and I love the effect that I can have in terms of optimising a patients’ quality of life.
“There has always been a natural instinct for me to want to help people and I think of myself as being selfless and helping people whether that be my grandparents of volunteering with the Girl Guides, which I do.
“I love helping people and along my path of becoming a physio, I’ve worked with some amazing people, who are so knowledgeable about their subject. I suppose that has given me the drive to want to learn more and hopefully one day I can become a specialist in a specific area – I’m only at the beginning of my career, so there is a lot to look forward to.”
Admitting that there are many highs and lows of working in the healthcare profession, she added: “Sometimes it is hard to always go into work and be positive, but you do get those patients that you are able to help and that makes everything worthwhile and helps your mentality towards it all.
“It’s important that we take the necessary precautions by wearing PPE and ensuring that we are vigilant in everything that we do. When we’re doing chest physio with any patient, we’re asking them to cough and complete aerosol generating procedures, so that increases our risk of contracting the virus.
“It also gets extremely hot with the full PPE on, but it’s doing a good job of protecting us. I’m really happy to be playing a part and hopefully we can keep patients as mobile and as active as possible.”
Graduating with a degree in Sports Therapy from the University of Worcester, Lyndsay then achieved a Masters in Physiotherapy at Glasgow Caledonian University prior to becoming a fully-fledged NHS physio, a post she’s held for just over a year.
Like the experts, Lyndsay is learning about COVID-19 with every shift she embarks on, something which the Scotland international is relishing.
“I love learning and I still read my textbooks even now, which is very important for my development as I work towards going on the on-call rota,” she added.
“I suppose as physios we cover such a range of illnesses and diseases such as cardiovascular, neurological and muscle diseases, so we’re always learning. Last week we had a bit of time as a group on the ward to have a bit of a brainstorm and teach each other on gastro anatomy and how it would be implemented, so I’m always learning.
“There is always new information coming out regarding COVID-19 and it’s important to try and stay on top of that, whilst also learning and upskilling as I always do. I’ve been doing a lot of upskilling and over the past week I’ve been working on the Intensive Treatment Unit and learning how the disease can impact on a patients’ breathing and how it presents different challenges from a respiratory point of view.
“Generally, I’m looking to use all the skills and experience that I’ve gained from the different placements that I’ve been on throughout my journey.”
With the ongoing battle against COVID-19, sport has taken a backseat and has ultimately paled into insignificance compared with the challenges that Lyndsay and her co-workers face. However, Lyndsay is managing to train on her own as she takes comfort in knowing that rugby will one day return to Sixways.
Earlier this month, Warriors Women were successful in maintaining their Tyrrells Premier 15s status, with Jo Yapp’s side invited to join the next three-year league structure of the women’s top-flight showpiece.
Lyndsay reveals she first heard the news following a long day at work, saying: “It was such good news to come home to and I was probably one of the last players to see the news.
“A lot of work has gone into the women’s set-up both on and off the pitch and we can be very proud of where we are at the moment. The hard work continues as we get ready for the new season, whenever that might be.
“I was actually due to make my return to action after being side lined for about three months, but the lockdown and the cancellation of the league prevented that from happening. It was hard to take, but when you look at the bigger picture there are more important things than playing rugby.
“I’m looking forward to the day we can get back to training as a unit at Sixways.”