COVID-19 put this Calgary man in a 25-day coma and he's now cringing at sights of large gatherings

A Calgary man who spent 47 days in hospital after getting COVID-19 — 25 of those days in a medically-induced coma — says he can't help but watch nervously at scenes of large public gatherings like the past week's protests against racism and police brutality.

Jay Chowdhury fears others, like him, might be symptom-free and spread it unwittingly

Calgarian Jay Chowdhury spent 47 days in hospital, including 25 in a medically-induced coma, after contracting COVID-19 at a prayer gathering in early March. His wife and children also caught it. (Submitted by Jay Chowdhury)

A Calgary man who spent 47 days in hospital after getting COVID-19 — 25 of those days in a coma — says he can't help but watch nervously at scenes of large public gatherings like the past week's protests against racism and police brutality.

That occasion was a Black Lives Matter vigil in Olympic Plaza in Calgary's downtown core on Saturday afternoon that attracted thousands of people, as have multiple demonstrations held earlier in the week in solidarity with widespread protests throughout the United States and around the world.

Jay Chowdhury says his blood pressure is rising as he watches the Alberta government and the city cautiously ease restrictions imposed due to the pandemic — in part because a COVID-19 carrier might, like him, have no clue they're even carrying it.

"That is what's scary: people are gathering. Maybe people are positive but there may be no signs or symptoms," Chowdhury told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

Chowdhury contracted COVID-19 very early on in the pandemic's spread in Alberta, while at a religious gathering. 

He says he was symptom-free for five days — and then things went completely sideways.

Chowdhury, shown in an interview the CBC program Power & Politics, fears that, as the province reopens the economy and as people attend large gatherings, COVID-19 will spread in part through carriers like he was, who don't show symptoms. (CBC Power & Politics)

"I was just like a normal person. I went to work. I was meeting people. I had no clue I was COVID-19-positive," Chowdhury said.

But then the symptoms came down hard. As soon as he got to hospital, he passed out on a stretcher — and that's all he remembers for more than three weeks.

"I woke up on Day 25 and I had no clue what happened."

He had been in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator for that time.

But that was only part of Chowdhury's problems.

  • Hear more as Jay Chowdhury describes how he feels watching large gatherings after being in hospital for 47 days when he caught COVID-19, in the audio file below.

His wife, a health-care worker, had also tested positive. So had all three of their children.

Because of the age of their youngest, his wife decided she was not going to leave their children's side — at any cost.

When paramedics wanted to rush her to hospital, Chowdhury said, she told them: "If I have to die, I have to die with my kids, rather than just locking them up at home."

Chowdhury believes he caught COVID-19 along with 28 other people at the prayer meeting from a pastor visiting from another country.

"We were not in very close contact with each other: we were sitting apart," Chowdhury said of the pastor.

"COVID is a serious thing."

  • Watch as Jay Chowdhury describes his experience being one of the first Calgarians to be hospitalized with COVID-19, in the video file below.

Like other provinces, Alberta has been slowing reopening its economy in phase 1 and easing restrictions imposed after the pandemic began.

However, after celebrating the lowest daily number of new cases since early on in the pandemic in mid-March on Friday, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta jumped back to double digits on Saturday. The province reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday — with 19 in Edmonton and 15 in Calgary — while the total number of deaths remained at 146 and the number of people in the hospital remained at 44. As of Saturday, 6,656 Albertans had recovered from COVID-19.

The province had said it would offer more details early next week about Stage 2 of its relaunch plan.

Alberta officials were considering moving sports, fitness and recreation facilities into Stage 2 from Stage 3, allowing them to open much sooner than expected.

The province was scheduled to give another update on Monday afternoon.

Chowdhury says he understands Calgarians' desire to get out from under self-isolation.

"For some people, they have never ever stayed home like this. For day after day, month after month. They are getting tired. Some are saying, 'If it is going to happen to me, it's going to happen to me.' I don't think that is the right statement," Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury points out that another man who got COVID-19 at that prayer meeting wasn't as lucky — if you can call it that — as he was.

"He fought for only four days and died."


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