It Happened To Me – By Karen Secord

I am a Covid-19 statistic. Hospitalized. Isolated. Oxygenated. Traumatized.

Until March 22, 2021, when my five-year-old granddaughter and 17 others in her school tested positive, I only knew of two others who had contracted the deadly virus.

My granddaughter was asymptomatic – not a single symptom, ever.

I wasn’t afraid. And then I was.

On March 16, because I was in the GTA working from my son’s home in Brampton in a bubble I had maintained since March 2020, I drove to a pharmacy in Etobicoke and accepted the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I am 62 and at the time AstraZeneca was available for my age group in only three areas in the province – Ottawa wasn’t one of them. I only had to agree that I would return to the same location for my second dose, although the pharmacist had absolutely no idea when that might be.

I’d been working from my small apartment in Hintonburg, where I live alone, since the first emergency order in March 2020. It was one of a dozen compromises we made at the Parkdale Food Centre to responsibly protect the health of our staff, Neighbours, donors, and volunteers. 

It saddened us to have to lock our doors and limit the number of people on site. Our once bustling Centre suddenly became a task-oriented workspace. We prioritized staff over volunteers, postponed youth programming, and focused our efforts on what we felt was most important -ensuring our Neighbours received nutritious food, access to resources, and someone to talk to.

For the first four months, I was speaking to Ottawa Public Health regularly. Information was changing rapidly and it was clear that even the experts were learning on the fly.

There were many media interviews, especially when we closed our doors for a week. It was unprecedented. When one of our staff exhibited symptoms and Ottawa Public Health was not able to offer testing, the magnitude of the situation hit us hard.

A full year later, on March 25, 2021, I started to feel like I was getting the flu. When a dry cough interrupted virtual meetings I told everyone it was allergies. I even took some allergy medication. Quarantined with my family, we wore masks in the house and took our temperatures regularly throughout the day.

After all, the Covid test I had on March 22 with Peel Public Health came back negative. Still, a strange kind of exhaustion took over my body. It became difficult to walk up the stairs and once I was in bed, it took everything in my power to rouse myself, my chest and head both hurt.

I was in Brampton, the epicentre for the spread of Covid; going to a hospital emergency room or even sitting in the waiting area at a clinic seemed like a bad idea. I thought I could sleep my way to normalcy. But on April 7 I looked at myself in the mirror and my face looked grey. I was defeated.

The nurse at the other end of the call to Tele-Health Ontario made the decision for me – get to a hospital emergency room. I didn’t have the strength to argue.

I was admitted to the Georgetown Hospital with Covid pneumonia on Wednesday, April 7. They only accommodate a maximum of four Covid patients in a make-shift co-ed isolation ward at this small Hospital.

My family took me there because they had heard other area hospitals were overflowing and that they would begin transferring new admissions to other cities. My oxygen saturation level was only 80. I had a fever and an x-ray showed my lungs had severely restricted capacity.

My second night I messaged a long-time friend: “I have Covid. If I don’t recover, remember that I love you.”

Nasal oxygen relaxed me; my breathing began to return from shallow to normal. I realized I had been avoiding deep breaths so as not to drown in coughing fits. When I asked the nurse why I needed the “pic line” her answer scared me: “because we have seen patients with Covid turn quickly, not be able to breathe, we may not have time to put another one in”, her face and body draped and masked so that not a centimeter of skin was exposed to my disease.

For the six days, I was a patient I was the only female. I felt uncomfortable and asked for another room but I learned that “co-ed” was not the result of a desperate need for Covid emergency accommodation but rather the result of cuts to healthcare spending. Both doctors and nurses apologized to me – a woman of a certain age – for having to share a bathroom with men. I was cranky but at least I was near family, even if they couldn’t visit.

One morning a doctor came to the bedside of the older man on the other side of the curtain. He asked if the man had a “DNR” (Do Not Resuscitate) order in place. The young doctor explained to the patient that his oxygen saturation wasn’t improving and that they were going to have to put him on a ventilator. It didn’t sound like the man understood so the doctor, in a soft, soothing voice said that he would call the man’s son.

Before he could be moved, the nurse wheeled in another man and with nowhere to put him pushed the chair into a small cubby-like space behind a curtain on the other side of me.

When I could get data on my phone I read the opinions of what seemed like a growing number of people calling Covid a hoax. I took a photo of my red fevered face.

This is certainly real, I told that surreal image.

At the same time, in Ottawa, I had learned that a PFC staff member had tested positive which triggered testing, isolation, and a 2-week closure. A difficult choice that was made easier with the knowledge that all staff that were required to isolate would receive full pay. A privilege not all charitable organizations have the opportunity to offer. 

The month of April quickly became yet another, challenging part of our story. We persevered. Our community persevered, Neighbour to Neighbour. 

As we slowly make our way out from these unprecedented times, let us all demand:

  • An end to healthcare cuts, never before has our health and those that ensure we have it been so valuable. 
  • PAID sick days for all.
  • Help us challenge the status quo and begin the discussion: how have charitable organizations had to shoulder access to basic human rights such as food, housing, health? 

The month of June has brought with it gratitude and celebration for health (for myself and staff) and vaccinations for our essential service team (others too). After long weeks of darkness, last week I became fully vaccinated and under a tent at PFC, we welcomed the safe return of Neighbours for Fresh Eats- Meals & Market.

I can see the light. 

Karen Secord

5 Replies to “It Happened To Me – By Karen Secord”

  1. Hi Karen. Your one strong lady and alwayshave been, I hope me or my family never go through what you went through. I have 3 granddaughters now and we’ve all had our first shot except the littleones. Take care and I miss you.

  2. Hi Karen, I am relieved to know that you got good care and that you have recovered. To be a covid-statistic is frightening, I bet. Hoping for better days ahead. The PFC is such a tremendous organization buyoed by dedicated staff and hard work. Take good care. Linda B (HCA)

  3. Thank you for sharing your story Karen. You are one smart strong brod that our city and the world needs. I wish you luck and love as your body continues to recover from this horrible virus.

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