Frank Jack Smith Jr. says he felt like family during an eight-week stay for COVID-19 at Royal Jubilee Hospital last year.
The Alert Bay resident said his symptoms hit him hard one day on the way to work.
“It was headaches — bad ones,” he said. “And I was gasping for air.”
Smith’s wife persuaded him to see a doctor and he was diagnosed within 20 minutes.
“And then I was on a helicopter to Victoria,” he said. “I tested positive for COVID and I had double pneumonia. I had a hole in my colon, my kidneys failed and I had a blood clot in my leg.
“I was in excruciating pain.”
Smith had been wary of hospitals in the past, but that changed during his time at Royal Jubilee. He is telling his story to bring awareness to an ongoing Victoria Hospitals Foundation fundraising campaign.
Called It’s Critical, the campaign’s goal is to raise $7 million to establish the Island’s first High Acuity Unit, to take pressure off the Intensive Care Unit.
Smith said the staff at Royal Jubilee took great care to explain his situation to him. He said he believes some thought he might not make it.
“Sometimes we don’t listen to our bodies,” he said.
“You know, we’re not doctors, we’re not nurses. My care team though, they made me understand that they were there to take care of me.
“Being honest, it took a lot out of them to help me understand what was really going on for me.”
Smith said he appreciated them all.
“I was a total stranger to them, but they were always there for me,” he said. “I know today if I could walk in there, that they would remember me. For a fact.”
Their presence helped him get through being apart from his wife, sons and grandson due to visitor restrictions, Smith said.
Clinical nurse leader Cara Webb said the staff admired the way Smith adapted.
“He had many ups and downs,” she said. “He put up with a long stint of isolation, tests, tests and more tests.
“But he was a favourite for all staff.”
Smith said he came to know how much he meant to the people in the hospital.
“I was there for two months and it was never like: ‘Here’s your meds, here’s your breakfast,’ ” he said. “They took care of my body, but they really cared for me.”
The day Smith left the hospital, staff members presented him with balloons made out of rubber gloves and lined the hallway and applauded. He was the last patient from COVID-19’s first wave to leave.
Smith thanked them in his Indigenous language. “My wife just started crying and she turns to me and says: ‘You know, they don’t do this for every patient that leaves the hospital.’ ”
Christopher Hawkins, manager of the clinical teaching unit and strategic initiatives, said the scene was very moving.
“Seeing Frank’s healed trust in the health care system and hearing him thank us was humbling,” he said.
Smith is happily at home now.
“I hope soon I can play soccer again with my sons and keep up with my grandson,” he said. “I still have another surgery ahead of me, but it’s not as scary now.”
He urged people to support hospitals.
“As a survivor, with everything that I went through, I really believe that we should step up and help out where we can. It’s up to us,” he said.
“If you end up in the hospital and you need that care — think about it. What you give will definitely help you out in the long term.”