The COVID-19 virus hit Red Deer city councillor Michael Dawe so hard last spring that he was hospitalized for six weeks — two of them connected to a ventilator in intensive care.
The 65-year-old, who still requires oxygen therapy in his recovery from a collapsed lung, attended his first public event this week as a city councillor. It prompted him to speak out to the Advocate for the first time about his health ordeal in May and June.
“I was waiting until I had a high level of certainty that I’m indeed getting better before I started talking about how ill I had been,” he said Friday.
“My main message is: Don’t presume you know what’s going to happen to you. And don’t presume how (the sickness) is going to develop — it could be extremely rapidly as it happened with me,” said Dawe.
The Advocate columnist recalled having a vaccine appointment booked for May 14. But two days before, Dawe developed flu-like symptoms and got tested for COVID-19. His positive result was received on the morning of his vaccination appointment, so Dawe had to cancel.
While isolating on May 16, Dawe became so sick with congested lungs and a cough that “I was going to sleep while sitting up…
“I’ve lived long enough to have had many colds and quite a few flus, and this was nothing like a cold and it was no flu,” he said.
After blanking out several times, he became worried enough to alert his nephew, who lives next door, who called an ambulance for him.
Dawe remembers the emergency room doctor telling him his oxygen level was at a dangerous 67 per cent and dropping. “I was immediately taken to ICU and intubated on a ventilator for 14 days.”
He doesn’t remember much about this time because patients on ventilators are heavily sedated so they don’t pull out their tubing. But Dawe recalled the local ICU being so crowded with other COVID patients that he had to double up with a roommate.
Another memory is of a doctor telling him, “You are sort of in the one per cent,” based on the rapidity and severity of his illness and lung collapse, said Dawe, who recalled thinking: This isn’t an exclusive group anyone would want to be part of.
After 14 days in ICU, he was removed from the ventilator. Dawe thought he would be home soon, but was kept in hospital for another month recuperating from complications that resulted from his collapsed lung.
He reflected, “They don’t keep you in hospital that long unless you are very, very sick…”
As a COVID-19 survivor, Dawe, who was sent home at the end of June, knows he’s luckier than many people. Although he’s continuing with oxygen therapy at home, doctors have told him he should have a full recovery.
The Red Deer native still has no idea how he could have contracted the virus or why it hit him so hard.
While Dawe has some mould allergies, he has no known pre-existing conditions. He said he left his house infrequently — usually only to get groceries and other necessities, wore a mask, and saw few people as most of his city business was done online.
Lately, some reactions he’s had from members of the public who heard he had COVID were bewildering. “It seems to make some people angry. They say, ‘Oh, you didn’t really have what you say you had.’”
Dawe knows that many central Albertans have been hurt by work and business disruptions due to pandemic restrictions, but he added, “I didn’t go out and get COVID to annoy people.”
He remains concerned that some individuals unquestioningly believe what they see on social media, without trying to seek out other viewpoints. “I’d like them to take a more balanced view.”
There also seems to be a lot of doubt about science because doctors have changed advice about best practices, he said. “People don’t realize that advice changes because this is something that’s very new. When something is new, they just don’t know. It’s unfair to judge them and ask, ‘Well why didn’t they know?’”
He hopes sharing his experience will help make more people aware that COVID-19 can make them sicker than they think, and could even result in a rapid and serious health decline.
“If you don’t have your health then you don’t have much… I wouldn’t want to have to spend the rest of my life confined to a room, hooked up to an oxygen tube.”
While Dawe must still wait another few months to get the vaccine, he said top medical doctors say it’s the best way to prevent getting the virus, so he believes in following the best medical guidance we have.