Charla Huber: Island man with COVID-19 finds support from some, judgment from others

I know someone who had COVID-19 recently, and I asked if he would be willing to share his story for my column.

He was willing to let me use his full name — until he saw an online group in his community searching to identify the person in their area who had the virus.

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Now he’s worried for his safety and has asked that I call him Richard instead.

Richard is in his 60s and contracted COVID-19 several weeks ago. He is no longer contagious, but is still recovering.

Here on Vancouver Island, we have had fewer cases than other places in the country, and having lower numbers can lead to complacency.

Complacency can aid the virus in spreading, but even people who are diligent in their efforts to protect themselves have contracted COVID-19.

“People close to me were shocked to hear I contracted COVID-19 because I had been so careful,” said Richard. “I wore a mask when I went shopping or was near others. I washed my hands often and carried hand sanitizer with me.”

Even with contact tracing, Island Health could not pinpoint how Richard caught the illness. He was deeply upset when he received the diagnosis, as he has underlying conditions. A nurse told him to focus on healing rather that being angry.

“It was simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Richard said.

Patients with COVID-19 are entitled to privacy and never need to publicly disclose the diagnosis. Richard has found support and kindness from some, and immense judgment and stigma from others.

It’s deeply upsetting that people can be so awful to someone who has gone through such a traumatic experience. We shouldn’t be shaming or victim-blaming people who contract it.

“Having COVID-19 is not what I expected. I want to let people know that if they are expecting COVID-19 to feel like the flu, they are in for a rude shock,” said Richard. “This is not a cold or the flu. COVID-19 is something that should not be in the human body.”

Richard still has chest pain and lung issues from the virus, and has no idea what the long-term repercussions are.

Richard self-isolated in his bedroom for two weeks, and thankfully, his wife did not catch the virus from him. They stayed apart in their home, wore N95 masks, and heavily disinfected the washroom after use.

“I didn’t even realize how much it would affect the people around me,” Richard said. “I can’t imagine the guilt I would have felt if my wife caught it from me.”

It started with a small sore throat. It was something he normally wouldn’t have paid much attention to, but now with all the protocols in place, he knew he had to take it seriously and stay home.

We are living in a different time right now, and Richard’s story is an important reminder that if we have a small symptom, it’s best to stay home and keep others safe, just in case.

It’s also a good reminder to be kind and understanding.

Charla Huber is the Director of Communications and Indigenous Relations for M’akola Housing Society.

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