Nova Scotia

Surviving COVID: a long-term care worker on her recovery and return to work

A significant number of the people who became sick in Nova Scotia from COVID-19 were either residents or staff in long-term care homes. One worker who was infected talks about her own experience. "I had so much racing through my head," she says.

Getting vaccinated capped off an emotional and anxious year for Nova Scotia long-term care worker Staci Smith

Staci Smith is a recreation therapist who works with residents at the Magnolia long-term-care home in Enfield, N.S. (CBC)

Staci Smith remembers how this time last year people in her workplace were waiting for a storm. It blew in suddenly one Sunday afternoon.

On March 15, the doors at the Magnolia long-term care facility in Enfield, N.S., were shut to all visitors. There had been a feeling it would come to this, that COVID-19 was inching its way into the province. But, Smith said, they didn't realize how quickly.

"It was terrifying, honestly," she said. "We went from having family members, musicians, churches coming in one day, and then nobody but staff the next."

Long-term care homes in Canada were hit particularly hard by COVID-19, and Nova Scotia was no exception. The vast majority of people who died in the province due to the virus lived in Northwood long-term care in Halifax, and a significant number of those who became sick were either residents or staff in long-term care homes.

Long-term care homes were hit hard by COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. (Photo Illustration/CBC News)

Smith is a recreation therapist at Magnolia, and one of the first 100 people in the province to be diagnosed with COVID-19. The Magnolia had an outbreak that started in late March and lasted until May 15. No one died.

Smith noticed that she had a slight cough during a training session at work in the third week of March, and decided it would be best to stay home for a few days to avoid spreading what she thought was a cold virus.

She had some head pressure with congestion and sinus issues, a severe sore throat and a low-grade fever. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. 

She wondered if it was COVID, but a test wasn't easy to get at the time. Finally, it was confirmed. 

"I had so much racing through my head. Did I take it into work with me? Did I get it at work? Have I exposed any friends or family members?" she said in a recent interview.   

Smith still isn't sure how she was exposed. There was some community spread in Enfield at the time. She quarantined for roughly a month until she tested negative, and even after that the recovery process took time.

"It's been quite the year," she said. She still has shortness of breath going up a flight of stairs and had to work back up to exercises she previously liked such as running or walking.

The front door of the Magnolia long-term care home in Enfield. Public Health declared the home's COVID-19 outbreak over on May 15. (CBC)

Her smell and taste are still affected, as citrus fruits like lemon and grapefruit taste unpleasant, and soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi taste metallic. 

"One thing that I loved, absolutely loved prior to having COVID was peanut butter, and to this day the taste has changed so much that it leaves a horrible taste in my mouth," she said.  

However, it was the mental stress that was hardest. 

"I think my biggest fear was that I was going to be blamed for bringing the virus into the nursing home," she said. "That was really scary for me. That's the last thing I ever would have wanted to do. I know how vulnerable our residents are, so that alone was huge for me." 

An anxious return

Smith came back to work in late April to a very different environment than she left. Everyone was in masks, and there was no more group programming. Some co-workers were missing because they were isolating, which meant extra work for those who remained. 

Dealing with COVID for a month was hard on Smith's mental health, and she had some anxiety about returning to the workplace. 

"That was really hard to adjust to, especially just coming back from having the illness and still recovering," she said.

Health-care workers and long-term care workers were considered top priorities for vaccination. Halifax nurse Danielle Sheaves received the first COVID-19 vaccination given in Nova Scotia on Dec. 16. (Robert Short/CBC)

As the anniversaries of when they first became sick come and go, many survivors are relieved they have an important new date to look forward to: the day when they will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As a long-term care worker, Smith has received her first shot already. 

"Which was quite emotional, and I have my second dose appointment this week, which, looking back is around the same time I might have been exposed to COVID. So it has been a full year," she said.

"I think mentally it will relieve a lot of the stress that comes with the virus, and it'll just put me in a better mental state that a year ago this was all beginning and now we're finally seeing the silver lining."

MORE TOP STORIES

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with national network programs, the CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit, and the University of King's College school of journalism. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now