What started as a sore throat quickly worsened for Michelle Brazeau, and within days of being diagnosed with COVID-19, the Alberta wife and mother was being treated in an Edmonton ICU.
Brazeau tested positive for the novel coronavirus in November, shortly after her husband did. Their 13-year-old son didn’t contract the virus.
Brazeau said as she got sicker, she had a bad fever, nausea and trouble breathing. She had three trips to the emergency room and on her third visit, she was admitted.
While in hospital, Brazeau was briefly under the care of Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician and nephrologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
On Nov. 28, Markland tweeted about a tear-filled conversation he’d had with an unidentified patient, sharing a glimpse at the fear she was facing as he told her she needed to be intubated as her condition worsened.
“Despite the layers of protective clothing between us, she can see the concern in my eyes and I see the fear in hers,” Markland tweeted.
He shared more of the brief conversation, saying even his patient’s attempts to speak were causing her oxygen levels to drop, as he advised she call her husband and son before having a breathing tube put down her throat.
“More tears now,” he tweeted. “But now we are both crying.”
Markland said there are no guarantees on how patients will fare with intubation, and the results vary from case to case.
“It can be somebody’s last moment or it can be like a nap, where they wake up from a bad dream,” he explained to Global News.
Ten days later, Markland received a notable reply to his tweet, which brought him “absolute joy.” It was Brazeau, and she was on the mend.
“When I saw her reply to that to me it was joy, it was absolute joy, because I lost touch with her,” he said “Normally, you’re in the unit for periods of time and I didn’t know what happened to her.”
Brazeau said it was emotional sending the tweet — which read “I made it” — to make sure Markland knew she was going to be OK.
‘He saved my life’
Brazeau has been out of the hospital for nearly two weeks, and her memory of her experience there is still fuzzy — but she does remember “a kind voice” at the start of her nearly two-week ICU stay after being intubated.
“I ended up being medically paralyzed for my own safety, and I don’t remember any of that,” she said. “This is really difficult mentally to deal with, knowing that I lost this time. I lost that time with my family.”
Brazeau is also still dealing with weakness on the right side of her body, as well as a cough and raspy voice.
In addition to the tweet back to her “hero” doctor, she’s been open about her close call with the illness online, in hopes of driving the message home about its severity.
“Dr. Markland is my hero. He truly is. He saved my life.”
Markland said in his years of working in critical care, he’s learned to “shepherd” people through some of their worst moments, something he credits to loving family members who are normally by his patients’ sides, which is now restricted during the pandemic, meaning he is often the one holding those hands.
Markland said he will keep in touch with Brazeau in hopes of better understanding the long-term repercussions of serious cases of COVID-19.
“We pat ourselves pretty hard on the back when we get them out the back door of the ICU, but the story and the saga continues,” he said. “It becomes an important aspect for families and patients to understand the trauma they’ve gone through.”
With files from Sarah Komadina, Global News.