By Michelle Materi,
On January 6, 2021, both of my parents were diagnosed with COVID-19. As both of them live with long-term health conditions, the gravity of the COVID-19 situation suddenly hit very close to home.
Even though my mother was the first to go get tested when she started to exhibit symptoms that are synonymous with the onset of the disease (high fever, nausea, vomiting and lethargy), my father was actually sick first with mild symptoms of no appetite for the previous five days.
Within 48 hours of testing positive, my father rapidly started declining. He started experiencing nausea and vomiting. He was dehydrated, lethargic and collapsed at home. He was admitted to hospital on January 8 after EMS was called for support. His symptoms progressed quickly to include the cough and high fever over the next few days. He was unable to eat and was treated with IV fluids to help combat the dehydration. As quickly as his symptoms arrived, they began to disappear and he was released to go home on January 12.
During the time my father was in the hospital, my mother continued to struggle with her own symptoms at home. Her symptoms continued to include the fever, nausea, vomiting and lethargy, and within a few days, she had a cough, chest congestion and difficulty breathing. She was unable to eat or drink anything.
On January 9, I went to check on my mom at her home to see how she was doing. I was able to deliver groceries and help with a few things, but wasn’t able to comfort her or be near her while at the house. In separate rooms, wearing masks and avoiding all contact, I spent less than 10 minutes there that day.
Over the course of the next few days, my mother’s health continued to decline. EMS was called to assist her, but as she was still able to manage at home, they did not want her to be admitted to hospital. She was assisted with a nebulizer treatment to try and alleviate her breathing issues and arrangements were made for additional medications to allow her to continue trying to fight the disease at home.
On January 13, with her health rapidly deteriorating and her inability to keep her oxygen levels up, my mother was admitted to the hospital for treatment. She spent the next five days fighting to maintain her oxygen level, fighting to keep the nausea and vomiting away long enough to eat/drink, and fighting an ever-present fever and cough. She was on oxygen full time and was unable to remove it without causing a dangerous drop in her oxygen levels.
Finally, on January 18, for the first time in more than two weeks, my mother was able to hold a conversation for more than a minute without gasping for air. It was the first time in more than two weeks that she was able to keep food in her system. On January 22, she was finally released from hospital and able to go home again.
Through all of this, the supports provided to both of my parents were phenomenal. Hospital staff did everything they could to assist and keep both of them comfortable. Even through being short staffed due to winter storms, high patient volumes and staff who were sick, the nurses and doctors did their absolute best to ensure treatment was ongoing.
But it was hard – for the staff, for my parents, and for our family. Every entry and exit from their hospital rooms was done under full PPE and required planning, coordination and attention to ensure no one else was exposed to the disease. It meant no nebulizer treatments for my mother while in the hospital as that treatment aerosolizes the disease into the air. It meant no visitors. It meant three weeks of being alone at home or in the hospital, barely able to support themselves. It meant small updates whenever mom or dad were feeling up to talking for a couple of minutes, but not a lot of communication with hospital staff due to the prioritization of treatment. It was feeling useless and not being able to be there when family needs you.
This disease is real and it is scary. It has been a long month and there have been too many moments to mention that have stopped my breath and made me worry that we may not get to see my parents again. But we are lucky. Both of my parents are now home and on their way towards recovery. My father is still challenged by ongoing fatigue, but the symptoms have dissipated. My mother has damage to her lungs, which continues to hinder her ability to breath fully. But they are both here and when it is safe again, we will get to see them, and hug them, and spend time with them.