Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.03 5 Apr 2020


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An 82-year-old who survived the Siege of Jadotville says that fight 'was a picnic' compared to his recent battle with COVID-19.

A few weeks ago, Tom Gunn - who served in the Congo with the Irish army - began to get a ‘chesty cough’ that got progressively worse.

Speaking to Susan Keogh on Newstalk Breakfast, Tom explained: “After two days it became unbearable, so my daughter rang the ambulance and they arrived.

“I kind of guessed with the symptoms… that [coronavirus] was most likely what I was suffering from.”

'Jadotville was a picnic compared to this' - 82-year-old Tom Gunn on surviving coronavirus

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He was taken to Mullingar Hospital near his home, and spent two days in isolation on a ward waiting for a test.

He told Susan: “When I got the results... at my age this was a death sentence. It hit you like a brick wall, so then you have to try and gather yourself together and fight it off.

“It’s a frightening experience - I was in Jadotville, which was a picnic compared with this.

“At least in Jadotville I could see the enemy - this is an enemy I couldn’t see. But I did fight it.”

'You must stand up and fight'

Tom said he wouldn’t have survived the virus if it wasn’t for the nursing staff, doctors and medical staff who helped him throughout his time in hospital.

He also developed a few techniques to help him get through the experience.

Tom explained: "I did draw on my army experience in the Congo: you must stand up now and fight, not lie down, and do all the things that the nurses and staff tell you to do.

“I developed my own strategy as regards breathing - I used to grab the back of the bed… fill my lungs with air ten times, breathe it - even though it hurt an awful lot - to get the phlegm and stuff off my chest. Then relax, and do that about once an hour: very strenuous breathing to release that congestion on the lungs.

“With the help of the nurses, I think that pulled me through - plus the fact I had a good positive outlook on life and death.”

Tom said he was scared, and that this was a “different battle” to the one he fought in Jadotville.

He feared that he would “just fade away in some bed” - suggesting that would not be “a very dignified way for a soldier to go”.

'Where there's life, there's hope'

After two weeks in hospital, Tom is back home with his family.

Tom said he “could have hugged every one” of his nurses when he received the all-clear.

He observed: “It was a great feeling of elation.

“I had two patients in the ward with me: they were excellent altogether… comedians in fact. We had belly laughs during the whole lot… I want to thank them.”

Tom is now encouraging anyone who tests positive for the virus here to keep ‘their Irish spirit to the fore.

He said: “Where there’s life, there’s hope.

“We Irish went through famines, pestilence, wars… and we always came out on top. I think we’re going to win this one as well. There will be casualties… but we will come through.

“In years to come they’ll probably talk about this episode in our history - and they’ll say this was our finest hour.”

Main image: Tom Gunn

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