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

A Change in Perspective

Food Ottawa Food Insecurity

I’ve spent way too much time alone with my thoughts since March 2020, a date that will likely go down in history as the time when life in Canada changed forever. Sadly, life changed more for some than for others. The inequity Covid-19 has exposed is like a raw wound with coloured bandaid;

What are you missing most about your pre-Covid life? What has this new reality revealed to you about yourself? Your community? Has something changed that has inspired you so much that you now want to incorporate it in life moving forward? Has anything shocked or surprised you?

We have all had to make some difficult decisions in the past year: Who do we hug? Should we travel, even within our own country or province? Is it safe to go Christmas shopping? Should children attend school? How do we cook with and share a meal with our Neighbours?

The Parkdale Food Centre has also had to make some challenging decisions, reimagining all that we do. Follow along for Parkdale Food Centre’s covid-19 year in review in pictures.

In March of 2020, with the national lockdown in place and without Volunteer support (the lifeblood of our Food Bank program) all PFC staff were assigned to the Food Bank. It was of paramount importance that we continue to provide a COVID safe “shopping model” to our Food Bank. This meant our Neighbours continued to have food agency and “ordered” items through our grocery list on the phone at intake.

Boxes, Challenge, Neighbours, Pivot

Those early and challenging days, while our staff resources were stretched, they stoically shopped, prepared takeaway meals (which were lined in Food Bank boxes), prepared Food Bank orders, boxed them, and delivered them to our Community. Staff were on a weekly “bubble rotation” which provided time away from the stresses of frontline service and ensured the safety of our team.

In early May, we partnered with Krackers Katering, who supported Food Bank deliveries, until October when Ottawa Cares Volunteers came to assist and continue to do so today, one year later.

Food Insecurity Nutrious Pivot

For our wonderful Social Enterprise, Thirteen also continued with their work and in December “popped up” the Social Market- your one-stop shop for items with a cause, social enterprises. All the while continuing to provide our youth with valuable work experience and meaningful employment.

Social Enterprise For A Cause

In March, when food service providers closed, The Ottawa Community Food Partnership saw a tremendous gap in service provision and pivoted- Cooking For A Cause Ottawa was born. Since that time; 115,652 meals,11,552 litres of soup, 15,668 loaves of bread have kindly exchanged hands between our Neighbours, businesses, and social service agencies. To facilitate our work, Velma the Veggie Van was brought into the family too!!

Good Food Market

Some of our lighter, kinder moments- staff arrived after difficult work weeks to beautiful messages from our Neighbours. 

Kind Words Neighbours Share Love You're Awesome

Some other highlights we managed to implement during difficult year were:

🍎We successfully transferred our Cooking Workshops to a virtual concept, where Neighbours could “tune in” and cook together. All ingredients are provided by PFC and where necessary, we facilitated internet access and ChromeBooks for those that needed it.  

🍎Simon and Friends Cooking show was introduced on Facebook Live, to replace our Community Meals. Neighbours can tune in and follow along with the preparation of our Community Meal where Neighbours are later able to access the meal, takeaway style!

🍎In October, PFC launched a supplementary free produce market offered weekly in tandem with our Community Meal takeout.  

Good Food For All

While we hope we never encounter another year like this one, we are certain there has been a silver lining: a change in perspective.

Spread the impact,  share with your community.

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