20 Questions: Doc pulls padded shorts back on for Air Ambulance £10k challenge

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week, Air Ambulance doctor Aidan Cullen

Air Ambulance doctor Aidan Cullen is undertaking a cycle challenge to raise funds for Air Ambulance NI with colleagues. Picture by Damien McAnespie
Gail Bell

1 Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

To be honest, working as an anaesthetics doctor and on the Air Ambulance Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) very little has changed. But, in hospital, we have changed our pattern of working and, as a result, the old home-schooling thing has come into play. I have to admit, though, that my wife, Siobhan, is a powerhouse with all of that.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? I always make sure and get breakfast. It's usually a banana with toast or a bagel. When I'm off, I try and be a wee bit more creative and my daughters, Niamh and Eimear, tell me that I make a mean stack of pancakes.

Lunch? When I'm at work, I run light – maybe an apple, a yoghurt and maybe something like a hot cross bun.

Evening meal? I'm all up for trying loads of new stuff, but the ladies in the house demand a regular helping of potatoes.

3 Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

Only some bits of my job lend themselves to working at home. Part of my job as an anaesthetics doctor involves working in the preoperative assessment clinic – I write the letters at home. Obviously, the core part of my job dictates that I am in the theatre complex in the hospital and at the air ambulance I’m based at the charity operational base in Lisburn. Working at home has some perks. That said, for me, it is the patient contact and team working with nurses and other healthcare staff that is one of the best bits of my line of work.

4 Best/easiest lockdown meal?

Barbecues! The good weather has been a real silver lining to all of this.

5 Weekend treat?

A couple of Brewdogs and maybe a mojito.

6 How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

I would have hit the local gym a few times a week before the lockdown, but since St Patrick's day, it has been 5k runs around the local townland of Collegeland or home-made circuits in the garage.

7 What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

Cycling – I have committed to doing a cycle challenge for Air Ambulance NI with my HEMS colleagues on the first weekend in October. Income to the charity has been hit hard, so 11 of us will be cycling 110 miles over two days and trying to raise £10,000. Any donations are welcome.

8 How do you relax?

I like to go walking and listen to a podcast.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal during the week and then a few ‘social’ ones at the weekend. Purely for medicinal purposes of course...

10 What book are you currently reading?

Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore has been recommended by one of our team. It’s about a guy totally under-prepared and out of shape with a cheap bike, who decides on a whim to cycle the Tour de France.

11 Best Netflix?

I watched the documentary film LA 92 last week. It was harrowing. Real food for thought after the recent tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

12 Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

That despite swearing I would never get on a bike again – after a Ring of Kerry trip a couple of years ago – the gauntlet was thrown down by the members of the Air Ambulance team and once again I have pulled on the padded shorts and am preparing for the pain. Does anyone know who sells Chamois Butt'r?

13 On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever?

Yeah, it was really starting to creep up. It looks like there is a light at the end of the tunnel now, so we'll stay patient and get there. I'm still hoping Down can get their league finished, get promoted and I'll be in Croke Park before the year's out.

14 What are the three things you have missed most during lockdown?

GAA – up until recently, I was still playing for my local GAA team, the mighty Collegeland O'Rahilly's. After hanging up the boots, it's hard to let go of the buzz, so I have been part of the backroom team, helping out with the medical end of things on match day. The complete shutdown of all of that has, for so many, left a big gap in our daily lives. I’ve also missed visiting relatives and I’ve actually missed school – it is my daughter’s final year in primary school, so there were lots of things to miss.

15 Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are lifted further?

I will go and see my mum and dad in Belfast. My wee brother Stephen and his wife Lisa had a new baby on April Fool’s Day. We need to get down and get a wee hold of her too.

16 Biggest gripe?

With the cycle challenge we have taken on, I have become a lot more aware of road etiquette and the need for more give-and-take between cyclists and drivers.

17 Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Not really, but it has made me think back and appreciate those things I took for granted. I also have a new found respect for carers working in nursing homes.

18 Any new skills or hobbies?

Alas, I haven't quite become fluent in French...

19 What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

The pandemic has probably made people a bit more courteous and it has forced us to slow down and not be in a rush, so I would like those aspects to continue.

20 Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

That's a pretty deep question. To be honest, probably not. Working for the Air Ambulance has probably influenced my attitude to that much more. Life is precious. Enjoy every day.

Air Ambulance NI needs to raise £2 million each year to maintain its life-saving service and fundraising has been severely impacted by Covid-19. Anyone who would like to support the fundraising cycle challenge can donate through

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