When Debby Clements was taken off a ventilator inside the intensive care unit at the Moncton Hospital, she had no idea why she was there.
The Moncton woman was sent to hospital more than two weeks ago because she was having coughing fits and was struggling to breathe.
“At first it was very surreal,” said Avery Tower, Clements’ daughter. “It felt like a bad dream and we weren’t sure what was going to happen.”
When the 47-year-old first went into hospital, doctors there weren’t sure she was going to survive.
But Tower never lost hope.
“I know my mom and I know she’s tough and she’s proven them wrong,” she said. “And I was right.”
There are a total of 118 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. At least five of those people were sent to the intensive care unit, including Clements.
In critical cases, COVID-19 attacks the lungs and restricts breathing to the point where a patient needs a machine called a ventilator to stay alive.
Clements was sedated on a ventilator for more than two weeks in hospital.
It’s a reality Tower is still trying to wrap her head around.
“I broke down and lost it,” she said. “In my head I was thinking, ‘No that’s not right. This makes no sense.'”
Clements was taken off the ventilator earlier this week and has been trying to regain her strength. And she’s learning to walk again with a cane.
But the COVID-19 survivor is still weak and swollen.
Where did the virus come from?
Tower, who lives in a separate home with her family, suspects her parents caught the virus through a community transmission.
Tower, who describes her mom as a germophobe, said the couple ordered their groceries online to avoid going to the store. She would also drop off items for her parents.
“I was really angry at how she would’ve gotten it,” Tower said. “She is very careful.”
Debby’s husband Mark told CBC News the progression was quick.
He started to feel symptoms last month — headaches, fever, and a loss of smell — and called 811. He was tested at a drive-thru testing site in Moncton and got his positive results back a day later.
Then his wife and daughter started feeling sick, and their tests, too, came back positive.
But while father and daughter started to feel better after a week, Debby got worse.
Tower said she knew something was seriously wrong when her mom asked to be taken to hospital, when she typically tries to avoid them entirely.
There she was prescribed some puffers for her cough. Two days later, she wasn’t feeling any better. She returned to hospital.
“She has asthma, so she had a hard time getting breath and was coughing quite a bit,” Mark said in an earlier interview with CBC News.
Communication is hard
Clements still has trouble speaking after ripping out her breathing tube once she woke up.
She has been too weak to convey what she wants to her family through an iPad provided by the hospital, but does know sign language.
The family can’t visit Clements, so have been relying on video chat and text. Tower said has to decode what her mom is trying to say because some texts include a cluster of letters.
“I’m getting pretty good at it,” she laughed.
Tower said her mother was also able to write the family a message earlier this week on a dry erase board, asking whether everyone was OK and safe.
“Once she was learning about why she was in the hospital, she thought that we had the virus. So that was very scary to her,” Tower said.
She also a drew a picture for her three-year-old grand-daughter Lily, that said in messy writing: Mimi loves you.
Tower said the family assured her they are safe and recovered from the disease.
“Her job is to get rest and come home.”
Alone in recovery
Tower said it’s difficult not being able to visit her mom, even though she and her dad have fully recovered from the virus.
“That’s really hard and confusing and frustrating since we are all better.”
Tower describes the Clements as a tight knit family.
“If I don’t see her every second day, our thing is to FaceTime after supper,” she said. “It’s really hard but we’re all sticking together.
Clements is expected to return home in about a week.
There, Tower plans to spoil her with some of her favourite movies, like The Breakfast Club and anything with actress Winona Ryder.
Tower also baked homemade bread and muffins that are already safely stored in her mom’s freezer for her return.
“Anything comforting and carby.”