Chloé is 29 years old. At a time when the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic is just beginning to hover over Quebec, it presents symptoms that are reminiscent of those of the new virus that has turned the world upside down. Just over a week later, she was admitted to intensive care. Story of a survivor.
I started to experience symptoms on Friday March 13th. It was just a few days after WHO officially declared that the COVID-19 had reached the level of a pandemic. Some airlines had started to cancel their flights and the day before, the government had banned gatherings of more than 250 people. In the days that followed, the whole of Quebec closed in on itself, confined at home, moving only for the bare minimum. In one week, our life changed. But on March 13, despite the increasingly critical situation, people who were returning from travel or living in close contact with an infected person were still considered as potential cases.
That morning, I went to work by subway, as I did every day, in a building in the city center. As the day went on, I started to feel more and more tired. When I got home, I lay down to take a nap, and my condition quickly deteriorated. The next morning, I was coughing, I had a fever, my rib cage and my whole body ached. The coronavirus was on everyone's lips, and my boyfriend, who has asthma, was worried; so I tried to reach government phone help. Unsurprisingly, the line was constantly busy. When I managed to be in communication, the next day, I was told to call 8-1-1… There, I needed more than 12 hours of additional testing and waiting before speaking to someone. Since I had not made any trips recently, I was told it was influenza and was advised to go to my regular clinic in five days if my fever had not subsided.
Then my condition worsened. I was coughing endlessly, I was hardly eating anymore and I was in pain everywhere. I finally contacted my clinic and obtained a telephone consultation with my family doctor who, believing in pneumonia, prescribed me asthma pumps and antibiotics. A few days later, because I was not better, he prescribed something else, but it still did not work. I was finding it harder and harder to breathe, I was throwing up and sleeping all the time. My boyfriend, more and more alarmed, insisted on calling an ambulance. Convinced that I only had a flu, I was very reluctant to this idea. I'm scared of hospitals and, looking back, I realize that I was a bit in denial about the seriousness of my situation. But one night my condition became intolerable, so I ended up accepting that he contacted 9-1-1. I could not be accompanied (visits are prohibited), so I went alone by ambulance to the Montreal General Hospital, where I was put on oxygen and isolated in a room, for prevention.
There, I was asked several questions about my symptoms and my movements. After countless blood tests, a swab was stuck in my nostril and down my throat for the screening test. COVID-19, and I had an x-ray, which revealed significant bilateral pneumonia. Just under 12 hours after my arrival, I was transferred to intensive care.
I must admit that my memories of the six days I spent in intensive care are a little blurry. These days are all mixed up in my head, but I remember being plugged in everywhere, covered with electrodes, with a device at my fingertip that measured the oxygen level in my blood. I was alone in a room, behind large glass doors, through which the doctors spoke to me using an intercom. Only nurses in protective uniforms entered my room. I was breathing with
barely, and I was unable to go to the toilet on my own. I was kept under close surveillance, being given intravenous antibiotics, hydroxychloroquine and diuretics to remove water from my lungs. When my damaged veins stopped donating blood, they had to prick me in the feet, and then finally settle in PICC line (catheter) in the chin strap. I still try to forget these very unpleasant few minutes during which a very unsophisticated resident, unable to penetrate the catheter into the vein of my arm, put a sheet on my face and suddenly inserted a long tube in the vein of my neck.
I was finally able to start eating again. Each day started with a shooter of potassium at breakfast. Disgusting, but necessary. Then my fever stopped. I had a little more energy and I could get up on my own. One morning I was transferred to an upstairs bedroom. I was no longer in intensive care, and my boyfriend was allowed to prepare a bag that a friend left for me at the reception. In the panic of the ambulance departure, I had thought of taking the charger for my cell phone, but no spare panties. I’ve never been so happy to have my own!
I got my leave five days later and went home, where I had to isolate myself from my boyfriend for 14 days, even though we shared the same bed for the first eight days of the illness. Surprisingly, he never had any symptoms, and his test was negative. Doctors think it is a false negative, but I guess we will never know.
Since I got home, I'm slowly getting better. Aside from a chinstrap clot, which earned me another emergency room visit and a prescription for anticoagulants for three months, I'm slowly going back up the hill. But the COVID-19 has caused me to have very severe viral pneumonia, and I may be short of breath for a few more weeks. I hope to return to work remotely soon because I am starting to find the time long.
Today, I realize that I should not have let my fear of hospitals keep me from consulting for so long. I will be eternally grateful for the incredible work of nurses intensive care.
Sometimes I ask myself: why me? I am 29 years old, I have no chronic illness, I am in good health. Why did the virus hit me so hard? Research may tell us someday. But for now, all that matters to me is being alive.
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