Laure Dautet, a single mother of three, had only barely survived a life-threatening infection when COVID-19 hit.
The 49-year-old nurse had been in hospital on Montreal’s South Shore continuously since the fall 2019, after a routine hip replacement surgery went terribly wrong.
Dautet developed an infection during the surgery that progressively worsened, eventually leaving her in septic shock. Her organs started shutting down and she spent a week in intensive care as doctors tried to curb the infection’s stranglehold.
For months, she battled more infections and endured surgeries and transfusions. Eventually, in January, doctors decided the only way to stop the cycle was to remove her hip entirely.
She was still recovering in hospital in March when the world outside changed forever. Dautet found herself extremely vulnerable — weak from her months-long fight and unable to leave the hospital, one of the settings where the opportunistic virus was flourishing.
After months confined to a hospital bed, her world started getting even smaller.
“At first, you know the orderlies were allowed to go downstairs to get whatever care package family sent,” she said.
Quickly, anything coming into the hospital was banned. She could no longer could her laundry home and had to wear a hospital gown all day. Visitors were barred and her contact with the outside world came to a dramatic halt.
“My daughter was coming every single day practically and I was more worried about how she would handle it than how I could handle it, because she would cuddle up to me and sometimes fall asleep with me after school,” she said.
Her department was transformed into a red zone and she was moved to a new area of the hospital. For weeks, Dautet stayed isolated in her bed, unable to even open the curtain surrounding her.
“I have things where I can contact my kids and family. But a lot of people, especially the elderly, they were really lonely and alone,” she said.
“I could play games on my phone. I could do certain things. But a lot of older people, a lot of other patients, that isolation is very, very difficult on them.”
By April, the infections that had ravaged her body were under control. While she knew COVID-19 was burning through long-term care centres and hospitals, she did not know that the hospital she was in had been battling an outbreak for weeks.
She was discharged May 2, but the long-anticipated homecoming was marred by the virus she unknowingly brought with her.
“The next day I was having problems breathing,” she said. “Then I was sore everywhere and I thought, well you know I have been in the hospital for over seven months, so maybe it was asthma and maybe it was just some [soreness]. But when the fever started really badly I started suspecting COVID.”
The question that weighed heavily on Dautet was: is this coronavirus or another antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
She returned to hospital where she tested positive for COVID-19. It was a bit of a relief, she admitted, because the thought of enduring another bacterial infection seemed more daunting at the time.
Positive for weeks
After 11 days of high fevers and vomiting, she was once again discharged. But she was still testing positive. With a severely asthmatic child, she refused to go home and completed the rest of her recovery elsewhere. It would still be several weeks before her tests returned a negative result.
Even so, some of the effects of the infection persist. Her spleen ballooned up and is only now returning to normal. She loses track of thoughts and her words sometimes jumble. She’s going to see a neurologist to see what can be done on that front.
She says she’s still extremely cautious when she’s out in public and she warns people not too take the risk too lightly.
“I wear a mask even though I know I’m negative, but you know you wear a mask to prevent spreading it to others,” she said.
“I was lucky. I was very lucky to get out with very few complications. But you don’t know if you’re going to end up with complications or are you going to make it out. So you have to try to not catch it and the best way is to follow the guidelines.”
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This story is part of CBC Montreal’s Living Through COVID-19 visual storytelling project. If you have recovered from from COVID-19 and would like to share your experience, get in touch with us here.