He thinks he had COVID-19 and it feels like 'breathing through gravel'

"There were a few times when I woke up and kind of accepted, 'This is the day I might die."

After spending five weeks sick in bed, Ian Rintoul says he won't hesitate to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Back in March, the 40-year-old Nanaimo man says he woke up one day with a sore throat. While he didn't think much of it at the time, his condition rapidly worsened.

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Rintoul says he's had bronchitis, but this illness felt decidedly different. He wasn't coughing anything up, but he could feel there was something in his lungs.

"It was like I was trying to breathe through gravel," he tells Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview. 

With the constant sound of his heart beating in his left ear, as well as a pounding sensation in the left side of his throat, Rintoul says sleep was his only reprieve. He was also severely fatigued. During the five weeks that he spent in bed, he speculates that he was only awake a couple of hours each day. 

Rintoul adds that spending so much time alone was hard, especially since his bedroom - which is in a basement suite - has no windows. 

"For a little over five weeks, I did not see a living creature, other than my landlady's dog and a few spiders," he explains. 

Although he was never been tested for COVID-19, Rintoul feels sure he had the virus. He has no pre-existing conditions and says he has never been anywhere near as sick as he was this year.

Before he became extremely ill, Rintoul says he was brushed off when he sought medical attention at a local walk-in clinic. 

"On March 12 I saw a doctor. He barely examined me and said it was probably a lung infection. Sent me home," he says.

Despite profusely sweating, barely eating and feeling incredibly weak for over a month, Rintoul did not see another doctor. Before going to see someone, he hoped to speak to a health care professional on the phone who could point him in the right direction. 

"I dialled 8-1-1 probably 400 times. I always got a busy signal," he laments. "So, because I got sick at the beginning of all this, everyone was pumping out information, but I could never get through. Everyone was told to call that number, but you couldn't get through."

Rintoul's employer - a charitable organization that he wishes not to mention - encouraged him to recover completely before returning to work. After the five weeks he spent in bed, he spent an additional two weeks at home slowly regaining his strength. Despite this recovery period, he says he was still extremely weak upon returning to the workplace. In fact, he says he was so weak when he went back to work that his employer offered him more time to recover. He'd lost just under 20 pounds, and he would get out of breath quickly. 

"Mentally, the isolation screwed me up for quite a while. I'm getting past it, but only with the help of the counselling provided by my work," he says.

Moving forward, Rintoul hopes to participate in a COVID-19 antibody study. An antibody test, also known as a serology test, looks for specific antibodies in your blood. The test is useful because it shows if you have had the infection in the past, even if you had only mild symptoms. However, antibody testing is only being used right now for limited clinical and research uses and select outbreak investigations.

Rintoul underscores that everyone should take this disease seriously. While the worst is behind him now, he says the experience changed him. In his darkest moments, he feared for his life. 

"There were a few times when I woke up and kind of accepted, 'This is the day I might die.' The hospital is only about 10, maybe seven minutes from my house, but there were several days I felt that way.

"It's serious and it can affect anyone."


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