What is a singer without her voice?
It was a question 27-year-old University of Victoria music major Chelsea Kutyn was forced to grapple with this spring, when she came down with a presumed case of COVID-19 that left her bed-ridden for 29 days.
For about two weeks of that month, she was also unable to speak.
“As a singer, that’s really concerning because that’s what I’m going to school for. That’s my livelihood,” she told Global News.
Kutyn became ill in mid-March, when the first wave of COVID-19 was spreading rapidly throughout the province.
At the time, testing was only being offered to health-care workers and close contacts of confirmed cases, but Kutyn’s doctor and 811 health line said the believed she had the coronavirus.
“I even had to go to the hospital (after almost losing consciousness) and the doctors there said it’s likely COVID as well, based on the way it progressed and the symptoms and the timeline,” she said.
Kutyn was not hospitalized or put on a ventilator, but spent the better part of a month in bed, isolated at her parents home.
“It felt like having one of those blood pressure bands that inflate kind of around your entire chest cavity. Breathing through that kind of immense pressure is what it felt like constantly,” she said.
“I didn’t think that I would be susceptible to that state, just because I am training as an opera singer, I have a very healthy respiratory system, I’m pretty young and healthy.”
The illness almost derailed Kutyn’s graduation, taking her out of action just as she was preparing for her final recital.
In a stroke of luck, she and her accompanist had pre-recorded a version of the performance as a backup.
“The insurance policy, that was incredible. She submitted that video to her committee,” said Benjamin Butterfield, acting head of the UVic’s School of Music.
“(She) was still able to produce something ahead of time that was of quality, that made everybody go, ‘But this is a superior thing, how could she have gotten sick? How could that happen to this person?'”
In the end, Kutyn didn’t just graduate. She also won the Victoria Medal, which is awarded to the student with the top cumulative GPA in UVic’s faculty of fine arts.
She’s also begun the hard work of re-training her voice after recovering from COVID-19.
She still can’t taste spicy food, peanut butter or cinnamon, and says she has trouble with cardio exercise.
“Any kind of elevated heart rate is still really, really difficult for my lungs to deal with,” she said.
“That’s a concern because I start (a new master’s program) in the next couple of weeks. I just can’t sing at the same state the I could before.”
Kutyn is sharing her story in the hopes that it gets through to other younger people, who she says should take the virus seriously.
“It is something is prevalent among the younger generation as well,” she said.
“But it’s not something to fool around with in any way.”View link »