Nurse shares her personal story of COVID-19

Joann Breen was on high alert when COVID-19 came to Nova Scotia. The Glace Bay native had spent more than three decades working as a Registered Nurse in Acute Care, caring for people with illness and injury who were at higher risk for severe disease.

The 61-year-old took every precaution to ensure her health and that of her ailing husband, Berkley. They were both immunocompromised, and with Berkley residing in a nursing home, the risk was elevated.

Breen took an active approach to self-care and caring for her husband. They were both vaccinated. She kept her social circle small. She washed her hands frequently. She wore a mask when she was outside the home. She would also tune into the press briefings with Dr. Strang and the premier to ensure she could make informed choices.

Even with all of those precautions, COVID-19 still caught her off-guard.

Breen was a few weeks away from booking her second booster dose when she tested positive for COVID-19.

“I had an excruciating headache. I was nauseated. I had diarrhea. I was hacking and coughing. I had a sore throat. I don't know what my temperature was, but I could change my shirt every couple of hours, as I’d just break out into a sweat. And my breathing, I was very, very short-winded,” she described.

Being immunocompromised, Breen took all the necessary steps to reduce her risk of severe illness, which included filling out the Report and Support form. This is how Nova Scotians are assessed to determine if they would benefit from COVID-19 medications.

A few days after submitting the online form, she received a call back from a member of the Therapeutics team, who was working with infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett to determine the best course of treatment.

“Dr. Barrett called my rheumatologist and they discussed my medications,” said Breen. “That's impressive that they're able to collaborate with your doctor and make up this whole schedule for you just to make sure that you have everything you need. That's wonderful.”

Ultimately, Breen was given an antiviral medication, and a pulse oximeter to monitor her oxygen levels, which were very low and dropped even lower with even mild activity.

Once she started the medication, she found her health quickly improving. By the next afternoon, her headache, which had been constant since she fell ill, was gone.

However, even with medication and doing everything right, Breen’s full recovery was not swift. The lingering effects and exhaustion took much longer to alleviate.

“It took four or five months before I can say that I felt totally normal again,” she said. When she was no longer infectious, she resumed her daily visits with her husband Berkley at the nursing home. It turned out to be precious time.

“He passed away in September. You know, it’s been a difficult journey.”

In the wake of losing her husband and recovering from her personal bout with COVID-19, Breen has had some time to reflect on her experiences. As she watched Nova Scotians resume normal life and learn to live with COVID-19, she had this to share:

“What I would tell people about COVID-19 is that some people get it and they don't have any issues, but there are people who get it and they have a lot of issues, and it could make them very sick.”

She urges people to continue to wear masks, wash their hands, stay up to date with their vaccines, and to be conscious of their health and that of the people around them. She also encourages anyone who tests positive to complete the Report and Support form so they can access COVID-19 medications if they are eligible.

“You never think it will happen to you,” she said. “It’s not anything to be messed with. No, it's not.”