Our Covid Experience: “Who could have written this script?”

Sitting down with Donna, Neil, and Donna’s sister Karen was a true miracle in itself. They were clearly still processing their Covid-19 journey, both shocked and grateful to have survived this surprisingly deadly virus. Unfortunately, Neil’s father did not survive, and the family are still grieving his loss. Our condolences go out to their families.

The story begins with an innocent visit by Neil to see his father in a local nursing home. He noticed his dad had a runny nose and was beginning to feel “under the weather.” Neil mentioned this to the nurse and a swab was taken. Two days later, they received the news his father had Covid-19. Neil was contacted by AHS and began isolating immediately, meanwhile his dad’s symptoms worsened and he was admitted to the hospital around Christmas. By December 21st, Neil was also feeling quite fevered, he was swabbed and learned he too had contracted Covid-19, and by December 28th, Donna also tested positive. Such is the nature of this virus….

By New Years Eve, both Neil and his dad were in hospital, and Donna was at home feeling worse by the day. Neil was able to visit his dad, and the difficult decision was made to turn off his oxygen. His dad passed away on Dec 31st, 2020.

By January 3rd, Donna was admitted to the hospital and Neil had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He was fighting for his life, receiving 100% of his oxygen via a ventilator. Much to their families’ dismay, things would still continue to worsen. Unbeknownst to Neil, Donna and he would be in adjacent ICU rooms, both on ventilators from January 14th – 29th. During this time Covid specialists from Calgary were overseeing their care plan. Neil and Donna were getting 5-star care and attention in hopes to save their lives. The family, however, was counselled to get matters in order and be prepared for one or both to not pull through.

During their time on ventilators, both have no recollection of the time passing; no pain and no awareness of how many people were fighting for their survival. Neil experienced some lucid dreams that make him giggle and also get emotional when recalling, while Donna had no such memories, just a deep sleep and a drugged fogginess.

By the end of January, Neil began to show signs of improvement. At this point it would be days before the medical team felt it was safe to let him know that Donna was next door. Family knew her condition was such that there was permanent damage done to her lungs, and that a full recovery was unlikely as she had pre-existing conditions that would hamper her. When still conscious, Donna felt overwhelmingly that Neil would pull through, while she would not.

Donna was taken off the respirator to breath on her own on February 7th, which just so happened to be Super Bowl Sunday, and they are both football fans. Donna had thoughts of giving up the fight as the struggle to breathe was too much to bear. Luckily by this time Neil had been moved out of ICU and was on his path to recovery. For the next 10 days, he struck deals with physio staff that he would do his exercise after he was allowed a few minutes with Donna to encourage her to fight through.

Neil was discharged on February 17th, but would wait 10 more days for Donna to come home. The wait was long, and during that time the grief and guilt were terrible. His neighbour would come by each night and lock up for him and also bring food sometimes. During their hospital stay this same neighbour had the house and car “Covid cleaned” for their return. They are very grateful for this thoughtfulness.

Fast forward to today, both are happily at home and thankful to have each other as well as supportive family, friends and neighbours. All together Neil was in hospital for 50 days and Donna for 58! They are so very thankful to not just their doctors and nurses, but also to the respiratory technologists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, lab, occupational therapists, nutritional services, and environmental services. It is amazing to them how large their healthcare team was, and how lucky they were to receive such wonderful care. Their sister summed it up by saying she felt much better after seeing how great the care they were receiving was! Donna even laughed while recounting that one young male staff member was ensuring her tropical plant lived by feeding it ice chips. They were surprised to hear that they had broken records for recovery after so long being on ventilators, that a GoFundMe was set up on their behalf, CTV news reported on their story, and even Premier Kenney knew of them.

They want to share the message that Covid-19 is real and scary and is not be taken lightly, but that there is hope and we can all get through this together. They have a new perspective on life and will not take anything for granted anymore.

Neil and Donna both still require care and assistance, and have some medical impacts. They are both considered “long haulers” and may not fully recover. Neil would love to return to work, but at this time still has decreased lung capacity and limited mobility to his hands and feet. Donna may continue to need oxygen, has little to no mobility of her left arm and suffers from severe exhaustion. Both also have some impacts to their hearing and eyesight, and await specialist appointments.

As Neil said, “What a ride, who could have written this script,” and it all started from an innocent family visit on December 17th.