Virtual Thanksgiving may not seem like fun, but surviving COVID-19 is more than enough to be grateful for

Roast bird or not, next Monday I will give thanks for my Canadian friends and family who’ve helped me through my COVID-19 recovery and I’m sure they’ll be thankful they haven’t got the virus; or worse yet been the one who spread it around.

Small mercies are big blessings when you're one of the lucky ones

Canadian Gary Fowlie was diagnosed with COVID-19 while living in New York. (Submitted by Gary Fowlie)

This is an opinion piece by Gary Fowlie, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 at Easter. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

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My COVID-19 story begins on Easter Sunday in New York City. With any luck, it will be over by the time my Saskatchewan family sits down for Thanksgiving dinner.

I'm Prince Albert, Sask., born and raised. I left CBC Regina in 1989 for a career that took me to Vancouver, Geneva and finally New York. Regardless of where I was, come May long weekend plans were always being hatched to get back to our cottage in Saskatchewan.

There was only one problem this year. I was one month into my battle with COVID-19.

I'd been diagnosed after running into the viral enemy during a masked trip to the drug store to get relief for our upstairs neighbours, the first in our building to be attacked. I'd done my best to avoid a woman in line who had a bad cough.

My best wasn't good enough. 

Five days later I awoke to a splitting headache and pain in my lungs. Suffice it to say things got worse. I was forced to break quarantine and head to a doctor.

"Only" 514 New York City residents had died the day I was presumed positive, down from the peak of 813 in one day. Two days later, when my COVID-19 was confirmed, 1,400 more bodies were added to the pyre.

Two weeks later I felt better. I chalked up the lingering symptoms to the fact I'd done nothing but sit or sleep. I thought a bike ride would be the thing to get me going. Indeed, it did get things going: my symptoms returned.

When I finally felt well enough to have a beer it came with a metallic sting. I might as well be chewing on the beer can. Weekly trials have yielded similar results and I've accepted the fact I may never be able to drink a Canadian Pilsner again.

I console myself with the fact that I can swallow and that I hadn't been separated from my loved ones in a hospital, left to wonder when the lights went out and the ventilator went in if I'd be one of the 25 per cent to survive this drastic end play. 

Small mercies are big blessings when you're a lucky one. Eighty per cent of Covidites have mild symptoms and recover in two weeks on average.

Then there are the COVID long haulers, a group I'm part of. Manageable symptoms like shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and a persistent cough. 

The problem is the symptoms didn't manage to end anytime soon.

Fortunately, when June arrived, I'd improved a lot, even if good and bad lung days were the touchstone of my existence.  The New York City lockdown was lifted on June 8 and we packed our car and headed for the border. Canadian passports and a promise to quarantine for 14 days got us to Waskesiu Lake in Prince Albert National Park.

Canadian pandemic response

There's no denying the splendour of a social-distanced COVID recovery in northern Saskatchewan, even if those of us with American licence plates weren't always welcomed.  A few nasty comments led me to hang a Canadian flag above our driveway in case someone got the idea of running their keys down the side of my car. 

A sign Gary Fowlie attached to his American-plated vehicle while visiting Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Gary Fowlie)

It seemed Canadians had become a bit smug about their pandemic response when compared to their American cousins. I reminded more than one friend that when it comes to COVID, Canada has the natural advantage of fewer people and more terrain. It's easier to isolate in moose pasture than in a concrete jungle.

Still, Canada has performed so much better than the U.S. It was able to ramp up testing more quickly, better isolate the sick, trace contacts and limit the spread. A single-payer health care system makes it easier to prioritize protective equipment and emergency services. The country is less divided and more disciplined, and politicians have largely set aside partisan grievances for a Team Canada effort.

Despite best efforts by our children for us to remain in Canada, our New York responsibilities brought us back in September. Upon return, a neighbour noted my Canadian accent had too. Fortunately, most of my COVID symptoms haven't.

Cautionary tale

Fall in New York City seems almost normal, at least in comparison to the hellish COVID spring. But pockets of infection are spiking again, due mostly to communal gatherings like weddings and funerals. That and the fact COVID spikes are starting to show up in Canada too is enough motivation for me to write this cautionary tale — a warning to Saskatchewanians who think it's time to open up their pods and invite everyone over for dinner.

I admit we stopped celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving years ago. The air conditioning kept coming on as my wife basted the turkey, and with the over-the-top American version just a month away there's only so much fowl the Fowlies can digest.

Roast bird or not, next Monday I will give thanks for my Canadian friends and family who've helped me through this ordeal. I'm sure they'll be thankful they haven't got the virus, or worse yet, been the one who spread it around.   

A Thanksgiving meal over Zoom may not seem like fun, but take it from me, compared to a Zoom funeral for a friend and fellow baseball fan, it's more than enough to be grateful for.

If you'd like a link to Gary's complete 'COVID Recovery Road Trip', you can email him at

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Gary Fowlie is a technology economist. He represented the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations specialized agency, at UN Headquarters in New York, where he had previously served as the UN Chief of Media Liaison.