Nova Scotia

Surviving COVID: a Stellarton family share their experience one year later

Many who have recovered from COVID-19 are feeling a mix of emotions that includes a renewed gratitude and appreciation for life and family, but also anxiety around the anniversary and the difficult memories it brings back.

Rick and Faye Cameron and their daughter Kelly Marshall are celebrating life and looking to the future

From left to right: Faye Cameron, Rick Cameron and Kelly Marshall pose for a photo in their home in Stellarton, N.S. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Rick Cameron's memory of his life a year ago is slightly fuzzy. He remembers going to a Bantam hockey game on March 12, and the next day he started feeling like he'd caught a cold. 

"I was getting short of breath. It was so bad that for two nights or three nights I slept in the basement. And I would wake up soaked, and then I would get the chills. It was like a really bad flu," he says in an interview from his home in Stellarton, N.S. 

Within a few days he told his wife he thought he ought to go to the Aberdeen Hospital in nearby New Glasgow. Lying there he feared it was COVID, but that wasn't confirmed until he was moved to Truro and swabbed at the COVID unit at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre. 

There, he was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma. It's the last thing he remembers before waking up five weeks later, in May.

"It was a serious thing and I don't like to make light of it, but I'm so glad that I'm through it that I don't want to go back and revisit it," he says. "If it weren't for those two over there," he says, with a look at his wife, Faye Cameron, and daughter, Kelly Marshall. "They were strong."  

He credits them with getting him through the long process of recovery after coming out of his coma. It took months for him to rebuild muscle after waking without the strength to raise his head or hands.

"They were good for me. It makes you more appreciative of your family, I think, and the people you love."

Rick and Faye Cameron (right) speak with their daughter Kelly Marshall. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Cameron isn't certain where he contracted COVID-19. As he approaches a year since his diagnosis, he says he's been trying not to think too much about the past and looks forward instead to things like painting the house and golfing. 

"I just want to carry on with my life, enjoy my family, and get as much out of every day as I can," he says. 

Difficult memories surface

On March 15, 2020, the first three cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia were announced at a Sunday afternoon press conference. The cases were presumptive, as labs in Nova Scotia didn't yet have the ability to confirm the findings. 

Nova Scotia was the last province to discover a case, and although Nova Scotians had been bracing for the news it marked the beginning of a difficult new reality. 

A year on, more than 1,500 Nova Scotians have caught and recovered from COVID-19, while 65 have died. A few are still fighting the illness. Many who have recovered are feeling a mix of emotions that include a renewed gratitude and appreciation for life and family, but also some anxiety around the anniversary and the difficult memories it brings back. 

For Faye Cameron and Kelly Marshall, this March feels a bit stressful. They too caught COVID, though were not as severely ill as Rick.

"It's bringing a lot of anxiety up. I never thought I'd feel this way," Marshall says. "As it gets closer, I feel me getting more anxious. Then with the talk of the new strains going on and stuff, I'm always on guard." 

She worries more about her parents' health, but she still feels some after-effects like getting tired and out of breath, and recently some unexpected chest pains.

Cameron and Marshall share a laugh in the kitchen of their home. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"I can still kind of remember the moment where I felt like, oh, I have it. Because my whole body just ached, and my legs felt so heavy, and I was short of breath," Marshall says. 

Faye Cameron realized she was sick when she was fatigued, her throat was raw and her body ached. It took about a month for her to feel fully better. 

"You would feel good and then a few days later you wouldn't feel so good. You'd feel like you were getting it all back, all over again," she says.

Now she, like the rest of her family, are looking for something positive to take them into the next year. 

"I was just saying to Rick the other day we need to do something to celebrate him surviving this, coming up in a year," she says. "It's something to be grateful for."