• Lucia Joyce

A Virus Story

This is another blog about the Coronavirus.

But this is different from my usual hope-in-uncertainty manifestos and tales-from-isolation. This is a true story about real, ongoing heroism in the Canadian medical community, as experienced firsthand by none other than my own mother.

Yes, my mom and stepdad tested positive for COVID-19. We got the news yesterday morning. Yes, they are quarantined--confined to their home and yard only until an Alberta case-rep clears them to leave. And yes, they are OK. It seems they are on the recovery end.

Their flu-like symptoms began around March 17, which, unfortunately, was the day they flew home from Toronto, where they were visiting relatives. Ironically, Toronto-Pearson security seemed unconcerned with taking extra precautions to sanitize bins and equipment between uses, and the floor of their Air Canada plane was full of dirt and garbage. Exhausted from a long trip and 3 hour time change, they both felt flu-like and had trouble breathing. At home in Edmonton, they had difficulty getting through on 811-the dedicated Alberta hotline for Coronavirus facts and assistance. But my mom scheduled a phone appointment with her doctor, who has continued to check in with her all week. They were advised to quarantine for 14 days and check in again if they ran a fever for 3 days or more.

Luckily, my brother was able to drive them some groceries, and took precautions to stay out of the house and 6 feet away. Last Sunday, after speaking with a rep at 811, they drove themselves to the emergency ward at Grey Nuns Hospital, where they received COVID-19 tests and were sent home with Ventolin inhalers to help with the shortness of breath.

Yesterday morning, they got the call. A flurry of phone calls ensued. Mom with my brother. Mom with me. Me with my brother. Mom with an assigned COVID case rep. They are quarantined until their rep decides they are fully recovered.

A Bit of Background

If you don't know my mom, you might not know that she has been committed to mental wellness, sound nutrition, and fitness for decades. My mom is everyone's source for the newest diet science and superfoods. She has probably eaten 3 carbs in the past year. Her cupboards are full of flax and quinoa, chia seeds and collagen. She can tell you about every herb and supplement on the market. Literally today she told me about a high fiber, low carb noodle called konjac (never heard of it). I remember getting a bag of chia seeds in the mail from my mom on my first cruise ship contract in 2009. "Trust me, these are going to be all the rage," she wrote. My mom made almond milk from scratch in the 80's (easily 20 years before it became mainstream on grocery shelves). You get it. :) Her partner, George, is healthy and fit too. They make incredible meals together and walk miles of the river valley pretty much daily.

Road To Recovery

The virus really knocked them over in the beginning. They barely ate for several days. The smallest physical activities made it hard to breathe. They mostly slept. They got a few tips from a nurse friend. At one point I Facetimed my mom and watched her try to get down a few sips of boiled rice-water. She's been Keto for years, and she doesn't even like rice. It was painful (and only a little bit funny).

Everything changed when they got through to 811. Based on the length of time they had been short of breath and showing a fever, they were sent to the ER. Tests were administered swiftly by kind staff, and the inhalers they took home that night made a big difference. By morning they were showing signs of improvement. On the day we found out they had tested positive, my mom actually seemed much improved. She was newly pissed about the state of that Air Canada plane, which felt like a healthy leap from barely able to speak while sipping liquid rice.

Today they both worked from home and enjoyed their first full evening meal in 5 days (konjac noodles--go figure). George is still dealing with a dry cough. Going up and down the stairs still leaves Mom a little breathless. They have a lot of strength to regain, but they are coming out on the other side of the virus' worst side effects. I spoke with my mom at length about this whole insane process-her eyes were bright and her humor was back up to 100.

(*Memes from Mom in the past 2 days)

A Silver Lining

The one thing she felt compelled to note was the incredible efficiency and kindness of the Alberta healthcare system. Every nurse and phone rep was genuine and informative, and every brush with a healthcare provider left her and George feeling like they were in good hands. Part of the case rep's job is to take down the names of every person they recently came in contact with, so they can keep track of hot spots and past travel itineraries, update official case counts, and contact those who may be at risk. It was almost a relief to get the news of their diagnosis so they could be assigned proper care and put the next steps into play. In the past 24 hours they have each gotten personal calls from their regular doctors, 2 friendly COVID case reps, AND the thoughtful staff at Grey Nuns. A caseworker will call periodically in the coming weeks to check in, until they've shown no symptoms for 4-6 days and their case can be resolved.

Canada Gratitude/America Skepticism

Getting into tiptop shape is my mom's specialty, but she is supported by a wide network of excellent, well-communicated procedures and selfless Alberta Health employees. Of course, zero money is exchanged for all that care and communication, a fact not lost on Mom or George. Last December on Shane's first visit to Edmonton, we explained a few features of the American healthcare system: medical offices who frequently scam their patrons, debts in the hundreds of thousands for people we know with preexisting conditions, and the constant choice low-to-middle income citizens are forced to make: whether to sacrifice doctor visits and prescription medications in order to pay for rent and groceries.

I can't pretend to know everything about the country I'm from or the country I've lived in for almost 10 years. But I think this personal story is worth mentioning. Maybe it's for Americans who want to know more about Universal Healthcare's realtime impact. Maybe it's for Canadians who have only ever felt solid and cared for, and don't know how much worse it could be.

According to an NBC news chart from yesterday, America has around 10X the population of Canada and has administered markedly fewer tests, (under a third of the tests Canada has administered). US state governors working toward a higher standard of testing and care are struggling to receive support from the Trump administration. The culture of sensationalism, division, and insensitive, unchecked tweets is wearing thin.

What's Really Important

Who is this story definitely for? The people who know me and my kickass mother, of course. And those looking for a little sense of peace at a time of so much uncertainty. There are recoveries in all the chaos. There are a great many people taking the pandemic seriously and 'flattening the curve'. There are every day heroes in government action and health care, working to provide round-the-clock information and emergency care. And, despite so many stories of tragedy and carelessness in your newsfeed, there are a lot of good, sane people in high spirits. I am so proud of my mom, and George, and so many of the people in my message threads and newsfeeds who are staying safe, grounded, and kindhearted.

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