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British Columbians share what it’s like having COVID-19

COVID-19 patient Erin Leigh gives the thumbs up from a hospital bed in the Calgary area. .
COVID-19 patient Erin Leigh gives the thumbs up from a hospital bed in the Calgary area. . Erin Leigh / Facebook

Across the country, Canadians are being asked to make drastic changes to their lives in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Canadians have heard about how deadly the virus can be, strict social distancing measures needed to contain it, and the punishing effect it is having on the economy.

READ MORE: ‘No playbook’ for coronavirus symptoms, but early data shows pattern: experts

But what is it like to actually get COVID-19?

We asked three Canadians who contracted the virus — all of whom are under the age of 40 — to share their experiences, and what they want their fellow citizens to know.

Kyla Lee, 33

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee thinks she contracted the novel coronavirus on a recent trip to Ohio for a conference.

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She’s been isolated at home ever since, and was diagnosed by a doctor via videoconference last week. Fortunately, she says her case is on the mild side.

Lee says once her symptoms began to manifest in earnest last Tuesday, they came on fast.

READ MORE: B.C. ‘cautiously optimistic’ about COVID-19 forecast, but warns hospitals could still be overwhelmed

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee on presumptive case of COVID-19
Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee on presumptive case of COVID-19

“First I started just having a dry cough, just a couple coughs here and there, nothing that you would ever really pay that much attention to,” she told Global News over Skype.

“Over the course of 24 hours it got a lot worse, to the point where I was having coughing fits, where it was getting hard to catch my breath, and then chest pains that don’t seem to go away but get worse at points, especially when I’m lying down and trying to sleep.”

There is no cure for COVID-19 and no drug has been officially recommended for treatment.

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Instead, Lee has been told to manage her symptoms by taking Tylenol, staying hydrated, and walking around intermittently to prevent pneumonia from setting into her lungs.

She said one of the toughest aspects has been managing the anxiety that comes with COVID-19, noting she’s read scary stories online about otherwise healthy young people dying of the disease.

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But she said her doctor has given her clear advice about when to go to the hospital if her symptoms worsen.

Her message to the public? Stay home, because you could be the one to unknowingly infect someone else.

“Even if you’re just experiencing mild symptoms, as I was when I first started experiencing symptoms, things can get a lot worse and you don’t know who you are exposing to your symptoms so follow [B.C. provincial health officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice,” she said.
B.C. woman’s firsthand account of COVID-19
B.C. woman’s firsthand account of COVID-19

Erin Leigh, 38

Erin Leigh is only 38, but the Chilliwack, B.C. resident has found herself in hospital in the Calgary area.

She has some preexisting conditions that make her particularly susceptible to the virus.

“It’s definitely attacked my respiration, that’s the most crucial symptom that I have,” she told Global News via video from her hospital bed. “Really that’s the big thing, is just not being able to catch my breath.”

READ MORE: Loss of smell could be a coronavirus symptom, but some experts wary

Leigh’s doctors believe her case is a result of community transmission. She doesn’t know anyone who has recently travelled, and no one she knows has tested positive for the virus.

She said she is trying to keep her spirits up, but that her ability to breathe easily comes and goes in waves a few hours apart.

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Her message for the public?

“Stay home, listen to what the doctors say,” she said, both for the sake of immunocompromised people like her and health-care workers fighting the pandemic.

READ MORE: Quarantine that stress: Limit screen time during coronavirus outbreak, experts say

“The amount of stuff they do just to treat one patient like me is phenomenal,” she said.

“Every nurse or doctor that comes in has to be gowned and gloved and masked.”

Young Vancouver man sick with COVID-19 describes ordeal
Young Vancouver man sick with COVID-19 describes ordeal

Emilio Merritt, 39

Vancouver acting coach and producer Emilio Merritt also doesn’t know how he caught the novel coronavirus.

He said health-care workers suspect he either picked it up at a gas station or one of two grocery stores — the only three places he’s recently gone outside his house.

“Before I got the virus I saw it from outside, like it’s never going to happen, you know?” he said. “What [are] the chances? And then it gets you.”

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Merritt took B.C.’s self-assessment tool first, then tried to call the province’s 811 HealthLink number, but eventually went to the hospital after giving up on a five-hour wait to get through to an operator.

On Thursday, B.C. health officials said they’d finally managed to cut the average wait time for the service down to five minutes.

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Merritt says the symptoms have been painful and frightening.

“The most common and scary one is like a pain in this [the chest] area and the back,” he said via Skype.

“The pain comes in suddenly, like right now I have it, and it intensifies. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s like when you do a lot of exercise and your muscles are sore, but on the inside. And then it goes away for a couple hours and then it comes back.”

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Like Lee and Leigh, Merritt’s message to Canadians is to get serious about physical distancing.

“What I will say to people is they actually should stay home,” he said.

“And if there’s a family, only one should go outside.”

READ MORE: Know a B.C. health-care hero? Share your stories and photos