Jordan: We’re going to start with me just telling you about my COVID-19 experience. If I had to guess, and I have a lot, I would say there’s about a 50 50 chance that I had it. I’ll tell you my story quickly and then we’ll talk to somebody who definitely had it, and you can spot the similarities and see what that means for our overall approach to this virus. So first I traveled. But I did so in mid February and I didn’t go to any of the hotspots, which were then in Southeast Asia. I went to Los Angeles for a conference. I had no symptoms when I left. I had no symptoms when I got back. It wasn’t till about 16 days later that I developed the worst cold I’d ever had. And here’s why I’m telling you this story. Because when that happened, I did everything I was supposed to do. On day three when I got my first fever, I called Public Health. I told them where I’d been. Because my travel was not to any hot spots and I hadn’t come into contact with someone who had tested positive, I was told I wasn’t at risk and I should see my doctor if it got worse. So a few days later, I did. I still hadn’t been to work. I called my doctor. I answered the same screening questions I had for Public Health. And they told me the same thing. It wasn’t COVID-19 but come in, we’ll look at you. And my doctor looked at me and said, essentially, I don’t know if you have it. I don’t think so. But you can’t get a test anyway. You have no risk factors, so when your fever goes away, you’re okay to go back to work. So a couple of days later it went away and I went back to work and that night it came back hard. I called Public Health, and when I talked to them on about a seven or eight when my lungs felt really tight and my fever was at about 101, they told me the exact same thing, that I had no travel history, no need for a test, couldn’t get tested, it’s a cold or a flu, stay home. So I did, I’ve been working from here since, and I’m feeling much better now. But this lasted, I would say 3 weeks, maybe more. And just to try to keep this short, here are the symptoms of COVID-19 from Public Health and whether or not I had them. Fever. Yes. Cough. Yes. Shortness of breath. Yes. Wheezing lungs that sound like pneumonia. Yep. Fatigue, of course. Loss of smell, I really can’t remember because we didn’t know that was a symptom then and I just assumed I had a cold. I was stuffy. Here are the ones I don’t have. I had a runny nose. That’s not a symptom. My cough wasn’t totally dry like it’s supposed to be. That’s not a symptom. I didn’t really have any headaches, which is something a lot of people, including our guest report. But I saw doctors twice and called Public Health for what was a bad cold, and I wouldn’t normally do that, but I did because it was such a weird cold, like nothing I’d ever had before. And I tried to get tested because I was trying to be smart, and nobody would test me. I was told to carry on. I don’t know if that’s a failing or not, but that’s what happened. And now we’re seeing evidence that this virus was on the US West coast as early as late January. And I’ve also heard stories like this from friends. I’ve seen stories like this on social media about weird colds that hung around, strange coughs with no fevers, all the symptoms, but no need to test because no recent travel. And I’ve heard them enough that now I wonder. Yesterday on this show, an expert told us how far off our official numbers might be because as he said, this is a stealth virus and it presents differently from person to person. I didn’t know what else to do with that information other than share my story and then to talk to somebody who has been through the full hellish experience of COVID-19 including all the symptoms I just described at their worst, and ask her to share what that experience was like and note that she wasn’t tested either. And so we’ll do that as soon as Claire gives us the latest news. Hi, Claire.
Claire: Wow. I hope you didn’t have COVID-19 but I’m glad you’re better now. The latest is that there are now over 1 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. In Ontario the Premier is promising to release projections today of death rates in the province, kind of like the numbers we’ve seen out of the US. Doug Ford warned people though that the numbers are going to be hard to hear.
News Clip: I want everyone to know one, where Ontario was, where we’re at now, and where we could be if we don’t take further steps. It’s going to be stark.
Claire: Within Ontario, Toronto’s Mayor announced more details about the stricter social distancing measures. So it is now law for Torontonians to stay two meters away from each other at least. And those who don’t face a fine of up to $5,000.
News Clip: The time for puzzlement at this misbehaviour is over. Lives are potentially at stake, and we will turn up the heat in the hopes that the few who still don’t get it or pretend not to get it, will get with the program.
Claire: In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault says he is aware that some companies are staying open even though they are not considered essential. He wants anyone not following health regulations to be fined between $1,000 and $6,000. As pressure finally seems to be easing in hospitals in Italy, we’re hearing about some of the lessons learned there. One of them is putting infected patients into hospitals throughout the region. So one of the recommendations out of Italy is to set up hospitals designated for people with COVID-19. As of Thursday evening, over 11,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada with 130 deaths.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Meghan Kraft works for an international consulting firm, so she travels, but she lives in Toronto and she’s been battling COVID-19. Hello, Meghan.
Meghan: Hi. How are you?
Jordan: I’m all right. Why don’t you start by telling us, what day is this for you, with the virus, and how are you feeling?
Meghan: Today it would be day 16 since the onset of my symptoms. I would say I’m feeling pretty wiped out still. The majority of my symptoms have dissipated significantly from their worst, but it’s definitely lingering and it’s been a slow recovery.
Jordan: So tell me your story. Where do you think you got this virus and when did you first notice your symptoms? What happened?
Meghan: So that’s an interesting line. I feel like we haven’t been so great in Canada at tracing some of these things, and I’m not really sure we would, would’ve been able to figure out where I got it from. But I was flying home from Washington DC on March 12th. I started feeling symptoms the following Monday the 16th. During a period of time I was with a couple other friends. I had, you know, a close knit dinner, but I was out in public and, you know, at the time there weren’t really as many restrictions. And while I thought I was being careful, maybe I, in retrospect wasn’t as careful as I thought I was being. And, based on my, you know, the typical onset of symptoms, the five days make sense. So I’m guessing I picked it up in Washington Dulles airport, or, you know, Porter Airlines. At this point, it’s pretty hard to say.
Jordan: So when you mentioned that you started feeling the onset of symptoms, what were they?
Meghan: So, on the morning of the 16th, I had woken up really excited to get, a new week of work going. I had just come back from this exciting business trip and I remember getting through part of my morning and coughing, and it was just this really dry cough. It wasn’t a lot of coughing, but I just noticed that it was kind of, it was very, very dry and that I hadn’t really had a cough like that before. I had felt a little tired on the weekend and put that up to traveling. Didn’t think much of it, but at the end of Monday, I had just this really terrible headache starting and felt like very cloudy. I continued to push through my work week through Tuesday and into Wednesday, and I remember mentioning to someone at work, I’m like, I’m not really feeling very good. This is hard to manage my workload right now. And by Wednesday night I was starting to feel pretty terrible. You know, starting to get kind of hot and achy, and by Thursday I was pretty sure I had a fever and started to seek out treatment to see if this is what.
Jordan: So what did you do? Where did you start seeking treatment?
Meghan: So on the Thursday, I started reaching out to Toronto Public Health for more information. At first I was in a little bit of denial about what my symptoms were. But you know, with all the international travel and the symptoms kind of lining up, by the time I got to, I guess it would’ve been the Wednesday night, actually, I called Toronto Public Health. At the time it was about an hour and a half wait on the phone just to get through to somebody. It’s improved significantly since then. And they told me that I should only seek medical help if I– and get tested if I had a fever develop. And at that time I wasn’t certain. Throughout Thursday, I attempted to find a thermometer in the city of Toronto, which is next to an impossible task right now. And at this time I had a fever and that I should start trying to find a treatment centre. So I went to Mount Sinai hospital on Friday the 20th. They were opening up a new clinic there, that was their first day, and I was patient number eight. So, I had to walk a kilometre and a half because obviously I can’t take public transportation or an Uber. So I walked with a fever about a kilometre and a half, and it felt like just one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to had to do. It was really scary. And so I waited an hour and a half to get tested.
Jordan: Can you describe the testing facility to me? Like where were you waiting? What was going on there? What did it look like? What were you seeing?
Meghan: Yeah, so when I got to Mount Sinai hospital, they brought me into this kind of like a tunnelled area, provided me with a mask and everybody was kind of geared up, and some hand sanitizer, asked me if I suspected that I had COVID-19, which I said I did and that I was recommended for testing. They sent me back outside and into a new tunnel that they had kind of built around the outside of the building where there had been these big statues. They had literally erected that tunnel within 24 hours. And so that tunnel, we were all placed six feet apart, one at a time. And by the time. They opened the testing centre, cause I was there about an hour and a half, there were people having to wait outside because the tunnel couldn’t fit enough people. People were being, you know, really good about it, but it’s hard to keep people six feet apart when they have to stand outside and they’re not feeling very good. So, I waited single file in this hallway that kind of wrapped around to building. Once you went inside, there was, you know, a triage that was pretty highly protected. From there they moved you into a kind of an independent area that was like kind of bordered off and you sat on a chair and waited for a doctor to come. And I was really scared based on what I’ve heard about testing centres in America or China. And, you know, to walk into a testing centre in Toronto was a lot less intimidating than I expected, and everybody was really helpful.
Jordan: And what happened when the doctor arrived?
Meghan: So, when the doctor came into treat me, I was really very sick. I had a really, you know, I really was feeling quite unwell at that point. Basically felt like I could barely sit up in my chair. And so we went through, he looked in my throat, asked me about my symptoms, and you could tell that he wasn’t sure what to do. He informed me that as of that morning they had changed the testing criteria. So while when I had spoken to Toronto Public Health, the criteria was like, have you traveled internationally? Do you have a dry cough? Do you have a fever? Do you have a headache? Some of those key symptoms of COVID-19, which I did have. So when I went into the treatment centre, they had changed those criteria to only include vulnerable population. So even though I had traveled internationally and I had symptoms of COVID-19, because I was a 30 year old with no preexisting conditions, I no longer qualified for testing. To qualify for testing, you needed to be a vulnerable community, which meant preexisting health conditions, elderly, a healthcare worker, or in contact with somebody who had tested positive for COVID-19. The doctor apologized to me for not testing me and asked if it was okay. I mean, in retrospect, I wish I kind of pushed harder, but I just didn’t really feel that I could do that in the moment, I guess. He told me that the course of treatment really wouldn’t change and that I should go to an emergency room if I had difficulty breathing and that otherwise I should go home, treat with Tylenol every 4-6 hours and just rest as much as possible.
Jordan: So they told you you couldn’t get tested because you were no longer on the list for tests, but did the doctor tell you, like look, I think you have this. You probably do.
Meghan: Yeah. So he said to assume that I did have COVID-19, that I should go home and act accordingly. Since this time, I’ve spoken with my own GP and, you know, three other ER physicians that are friends of mine, I’ve done a considerable amount of research on the disease, and I would say after someone who’s also had a pretty bad bout of the flu, that this felt significantly different. And I’m confident without a test that this is what I’ve been fighting and I’ve acted accordingly. At this point in time, if you believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should act accordingly. You should self isolate. And you should treat it as seriously as it should be treated.
Jordan: So they told you to go home and come back to the ER if your symptoms got worse. It sounds like you were already in pretty bad shape, so what happened when you went home?
Meghan: So yeah. Yeah. So symptoms getting worse to them, basically, at this point, it’s like if you think you’re going to die, come back to the hospital. It’s interesting because I feel like I understand that they’re overwhelmed. There’s limited testing at this time. I think it’s taking sometimes over a week to get testing results, and so it wouldn’t have really made a difference. But I went home and I continued to have a fever for another two to three days. Days started blending together at that point. My breathing was, was difficult kind of through the worst of that. I wouldn’t say that I ever felt like it was so terrible that I needed to go to the hospital. I’ve heard of cases where people literally are, you know, continuously gasping for air. And while I did have a few moments of feeling like really, really difficult breathing, I felt that it was something I could manage at home. My symptoms were very slow progressing and continued to get worse for a couple of days. I would say the aches and the fever were pretty overwhelming. I could not survive without Tylenol, every four hours. I would wake up in the middle of the night in pain. But as the fever dissipated, I was able to move my body around a little bit more. I spent some time trying to stretch and, you know, try and take care and move my body a little bit to just try and loosen it up because I was in a lot of pain, physically.
Jordan: I can’t imagine feeling like that, as somebody who often worries about, you know, should I go to the doctor for this symptom? And knowing that like they’ve told you, don’t come back unless you’re worried you can’t breathe. What were you feeling then? Did you have anybody who supported you? Were you scared?
Meghan: That is a really scary feeling. As someone who really advocates for my own personal health and is the person who would say, you know what? Like I can’t breathe very well right now. Like, I’m going to go get this looked at. To know that that wasn’t something that I could do and that I needed to consider the health of our entire public over the health of myself. Knowing that my fear was the reason I wanted to go into the hospital, but that I was likely, okay. That’s kind of a scary thing to contemplate and not something I’ve ever had to do in my life. You know, we’re very lucky here in Canada to have amazing, you know, health care and have that at our disposal when we’re feeling unwell and so that definitely is really scary. I was able to keep that fear at bay through connecting with my community. When I went in for testing, I shared on my Instagram kind of what that experience looked like. I don’t think I really knew what I was doing at the time. I just felt it was important to share that information because I knew a lot of people were feeling scared and really didn’t know what a treatment centre looked like. And from there, a lot of people reached out and said it, I’m so glad you’re sharing this. Please continue to share. It’s so, so important. And so I did that even when I was feeling pretty crappy. You know, I spent the time trying to express how I was feeling in hopes that that would settle some of that fear in other people. And I think in doing so, it was able to help me get through some of it. Those scary moments myself. You know, being isolated completely alone in my condo, I was really reliant on my community, both through social media and physically having people bring me the supplies that I needed to get through this.
Jordan: During that time, the few days when it was at its worst, aside from Tylenol every 4 hours, did you find anything else made a difference to your health, helped with the symptoms?
Meghan: Yeah, I mean, even those, even after those 4 days, it was pretty terrible. And I would say I use the same treatment throughout. I feel like there were often times where I would have a good day and then I would rebound into some pretty heavy symptoms and not be able to get out of bed for a day. The way that I manage that beside Tylenol was, just really simple things like move my body, breathe and just like let myself focus on breathing for long periods of time and then just nurture myself with fresh foods, and as much tea and hydration as I could get in my body.
Jordan: Speaking of fresh foods, I got to ask you, because it’s something a lot of people have said they’ve experienced. Did you lose your sense of smell or taste?
Meghan: I did. It was definitely one of those defining symptoms. I don’t know what day exactly I lost my smell. I think it was likely during the very feverish portion of my sickness, but one day when I was trying to move my body around, I lit an incense and I realized, incense is always such a grounding thing for me, and in that moment I couldn’t smell the incense. And I also was realizing, Oh wow. Like you can’t taste anything. You can’t taste your food. I tried to cook something one day and realized it was completely not satisfying because I couldn’t taste anything. On day 16, I’m still not fully able to smell or taste. I would say I’m about maybe like 50% – 60% there, but it is slowly returning, which is nice. Again, you really value your sense of smell when you lose it, like very quickly like that.
Jordan: I know you said you have kind of good days and bad days, maybe even still, but was there a point where you felt like you were turning the corner and what was it that you noticed that made you feel that way?
Meghan: I feel like there’s been a couple of different days where I’ve felt that day. And the first one was like, after my fever broke and I was, you know, kind of feeling better, I was like, wow. Like, I’m going to move my body. And this is really great. And, you know, this is probably only going to last a couple more days and maybe that was like, you know, maybe day seven of symptoms. Day 8 maybe, I was moving and I felt so good for like a few hours and then I really crashed. And there were so many days after that where I was like, you know what? Like you feel okay today. Like you’re going to wake up tomorrow and feel so much better. And then you just don’t. And that’s something I’ve heard a lot from other patients. It’s just quite relentless and very slow moving accumulation and dissipation of symptoms. So I would say when I really started turning, the point was on day 14, two days ago. I was able to go for a walk for the first time and leave my house. I hadn’t left my house other than to go to the hospital in 14 days. And I went for a walk and got some fresh air. And as much as it was exhausting to move my body and do that, like to go down and walk to the Harbourfront and experience just being outdoors, that was such a big turning point for me. And it was kind of the line I drew in the sand and said, this virus is not taking my life anymore. I’m done with this. And it’s still slow. Like, I can’t really focus on work for an entire eight hour shift. I’m still taking naps during the day. And you know, I have kind of intermittent headaches and other symptoms, but I feel like the future is bright. I’m on my way out of it and it feels good to be out of the worst.
Jordan: Well, I’m very glad obviously to hear that, and thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Before I let you go, is there anything concrete or specific that you’ve learned through this that you might want to share with somebody who might be listening to this on day four or wondering if the symptoms they feel or the start of it or et cetera, et cetera?
Meghan: I think that a couple of things. One is that you can get through this. It’s really, really scary, but you know, 80% of these cases are mild or moderate, like mine. You know, there are a hundred– over like a hundred and something thousand people who’ve recovered from this disease. And, you know, it’s really easy to focus and spiral on on the worst of it, but I would encourage people who either, you know, think they have symptoms or who I have confirmed that they have symptoms to focus on the positive, which is difficult at times, and to also just take the time and honour your body. That was a very difficult thing for me to do. I’m quite a high achieving person and would generally push through sickness and in this case I really had to stop and focus on the needs of my physical body, which is not something we often do. And I definitely am coming out the other end of this with a much greater appreciation for my body, a much greater appreciation for my breath, and a much stronger connection with my community. So I would say lean into your community for support, make use of, you know, social media or whatever platform you have to stay connected while you’re isolated and, you know, stay safe and don’t put others at risk if you’re worried you have symptoms.
Jordan: Well, thank you for your time, Megan. And I hope days 17 and 18 are finally the end of this for you.
Meghan: Thank you so much. Me too. I really appreciate the support of everybody around the world who’s helped me through this and thanks for taking the time to share my story.
Jordan: Meghan Kraft is thankfully feeling better and hopefully will be 100% in no time. That was The Big Story. For more from us we’re at thebigstorypodcast.ca, you know that by now. We are in your favourite podcast player and we read every review you send us. And especially now when we’re making the show from our basement, that means a lot. And of course, we’d love to talk with you anytime, whatever you’re feeling on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN, and if you want to send us an audio clip, we’re still looking for him. We play them after every episode except this one cause I got to do the credits. And if you want to send us audio, you can send us whatever you’re doing. You can record it with the voice recorder on your phone or shoot a video. And send it to email@example.com. The Big Story is produced by Claire Brassard. Ryan Clarke and Stefanie Phillips are our associate producers. Annalise Nielsen is our digital editor. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. Stay safe this weekend, stay indoors and stay healthy, and we’ll talk Monday.
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