New Brunswick

COVID is real, says Edmundston nurse infected during Manoir Bellevue outbreak

Annie Dionne urges people not to take COVID-19 lightly even if they're getting tired of it. She wants people to get vaccinated, practise good hygiene, wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others.

Healthy, active 46-year-old says she's still recovering three months after testing positive

Annie Dionne's first-hand COVID-19 testimonial was uploaded to YouTube by the Vitalité Health Network. (Vitalité Health Network/YouTube)

A registered nurse in Edmundston who contracted COVID-19 during a nursing home outbreak this winter is speaking out about her experience.

"It's real," said Annie Dionne.

"And you can't trivialize it." 

Dionne urged people to get vaccinated, practise good hygiene, wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others, in a video posted on YouTube April 30, by the Vitalité Health Network, which has been viewed nearly 8,000 times.

In a follow-up interview with CBC, Dionne said she agreed to do the video after being asked by her employer.

If it leads even one person to get their vaccine, she said, she'll consider it a win.

Dionne tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 7.

Normally assigned to the cardiac recovery unit at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, the 46-year-old nurse had spent the previous week working at Manoir Bellevue.

"I wanted to do my part," said Dionne, who has also worked in intensive care and public health during her 20-year career. 

"If I had a loved one in one of those homes, I'd want someone to help them."

Many residents were in distress, said Dionne.

She, and others who came from around the province, supported the regular nursing home staff by giving medications and food, checking vital signs, and assessing patient condition.

They also talked with patients and tried to keep them as active as possible while they were stuck in their rooms.

Took precautions

Dionne said she was being "really, really, really careful," wearing all the right equipment and taking every precaution.

"I didn't think I would get it."

"But I learned something," she said in the video. 

"I discovered that the coronavirus moves quite a bit faster than I do. And it caught up to me. And it had consequences for me. And I still feel those consequences two months later."

After working at the Manoir six days, Dionne woke up early on the seventh day with a bad headache.

She also had nausea and nasal congestion and found it difficult to swallow. 

As the days went on new symptoms developed. She lost her sense of taste and smell. 

She became short of breath from walking up a few stairs.

After nine or 10 days, fatigue started to set in.

It was a stark change for Dionne, who was normally "very, very active, energetic and athletic" and didn't have any pre-existing breathing or heart problems.

"I'm usually on the go all day long," she said. "That was before corona."

A healthy and happy Annie Dionne, pre-COVID. (Submitted by Annie Dionne)

Every day of her illness she wondered if that would be the day her condition would deteriorate to the point that she needed hospitalization and a ventilator.

"In the end, I didn't and I consider myself very, very, very lucky."

She's convinced what kept her out of hospital was the vaccination she'd received three weeks before going to the home. She's looking forward to getting her second dose this week.

Dionne was in isolation for 17 days until her symptoms subsided, but it was "a good two months," she said, before she started to regain some energy.

She went out for a 30 minute walk — something that would have been very easy for her before — and needed a nap when she got home.

She returned to work, but found she couldn't handle a full-time schedule. She'd have to take sick days between work days.

"I don't trust my body any more," said Dionne, in the video. "That's very hard for me to accept."

She's still on the mend. Her energy level is gradually increasing. This is her second week back to work full-time, but she's very tired when she gets home and still easily winded.

Annie Dionne says hopes she'll regain enough energy by summer to get back to her usual activities, like cycling, tennis and even housework. (Submitted by Annie Dionne)

Based on the way she felt and compared to some of the sickest COVID patients she has seen, Dionne rated the severity of her illness at about a four out of 10.

Yes, there are people who have mild symptoms, she said, but it's not the same for everyone.

"It's not just a little cold."

You have to take it seriously, she said.

"I'm tired of it just like everyone, but you have to take care of yourself. And not just think about yourself. We do it to  help others, to help our loved ones."

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