Melissa Hance’s last memory of her husband is saying goodnight as she put him to bed on the family couch with a tray of medicine as he grappled with COVID-19.
“I look at him, and I say, ‘Do you have everything?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Do you need anything else?’ He said, ‘No.’ So I just said, ‘OK, goodnight,'” she said.
“That’s the only night that I didn’t say I love you. I said I love you every night prior to that. It’s the only night I didn’t say I love you because I thought I would have the very next day.”
Now the mother of two from Tsawwassen, B.C. is speaking out with a warning: it’s not just the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions at risk of death from COVID-19.
“Even though my husband had COVID (he was a) perfectly healthy 46-year-old, no underlying health conditions, non-smoker, worked out,” Hance told Global News.
“This is how tragic, how fast, how indiscriminate this is.”
Hance and her eight- and 10-year-old sons all tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of spring break, after being notified they’d been exposed by a close contact.
She and the boys only developed mild symptoms, while her husband Reid initially tested negative. After developing a cough, he was tested again — this time the result coming back positive.
It wasn’t long before Reid’s symptoms became more serious than those of his wife and children: he developed a fever and chills and was completely sapped of energy.
“About three days in, they started getting worse. His cough was getting rougher, deeper. It took everything out of him and his whole body shook,” she said.
Reid wasn’t having serious trouble breathing or a tightening in his chest, she said, and didn’t feel like he needed to go to the hospital.
But after he developed sinus congestion and the symptoms persisted, the couple booked him a doctor’s appointment and reached out to a public health nurse at 811.
The nurse suggested sleeping with a humidifier, but when she asked if he felt he needed medical help right away, he said no.
“Before we hung up, she says one more time, ‘So Reid, you’re OK?’ and he says ‘I don’t have tightening of the chest.’ Because that just seemed to be the recurring (symptom they asked about),” Hance said.
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That was the last night Hance saw her husband alive.
The next morning, April 14, Hance said her husband appeared to be peacefully asleep when she came downstairs.
“And I was like OK, I’m so happy, he got some rest, he slept through the night,” she said.
“I went over, just to say good morning and I put my hand on his arm, and he was cold.”
In disbelief that COVID-19 could take someone in her husband’s condition with little warning, Hance sought to have an autopsy but said she was rebuffed by health officials.
She was eventually able to secure a post-mortem chest X-ray which confirmed Reid had died of complications of the virus.
“My husband did die of COVID,” she said.
“Due to COVID, he contracted, or it led to, him dying of bilateral pneumonia.”
About 85 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have been among people over the age of 70, according to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
But age isn’t a universal predictor. The province marked its first death of a person in their 20s last week, while 14 people in their 30s and 19 people in their 40s have also lost their lives to the virus.
Ontario’s chief coroner recently raised concerns about an increase in COVID-19 patients dying at home, calling for more investigation of why patients who don’t seem seriously ill are taking sudden turns for the worse.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that over the first year of the pandemic, 38 people had died of COVID-19 at home.
She said it was an issue the BC Coroners Service was monitoring, but did not appear to be a growing concern.
“We have seen a spike in cases in the last few weeks,” she said.
“We have been working closely with the coroner’s office and we have not seen an increase in sudden, unexpected deaths related to COVID or even to be investigated as possibly related to COVID in the last few weeks.”
Despite that, Hance said the province should be updating its list of COVID-19 symptoms because she believes husband’s severe case slipped through the cracks.
She also wants to see a full lockdown of B.C. to get the virus under control.
And she has a message to anyone who thinks they might catch COVID and be fine.
“COVID does not discriminate. It’s not just the elderly, the sick and the weak,” she said.
“So everybody out there, you think you’re invincible? You’re not.”