BY PAMELA FAYERMAN
On a day when B.C. reported the third-highest number of new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began (85), a Vancouver hospital nurse who contracted the virus is shocked at the number of people “who still don’t respect the seriousness of this virus.”
“Don’t be fooled for a moment, it can take your life,” Amy Sangha said in a phone interview that was delayed a day because of lingering breathing problems that, five months on, prevent her from having long conversations, not to mention going back to work.
Sangha is one of nearly 150 nurses in B.C. who have gotten COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Her last shift worked at St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver was on Friday, March 20. By the following Monday, a scheduled day off, she couldn’t walk up four stairs or hold a toothbrush to her mouth.
“I have no idea how I gathered the strength days later to drive to the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre (where health care staff went, at the time to get COVID tests), but I did and the results came back positive the next day.”
Sangha, who lives alone, was a transition services coordinator, a nursing role that involves hospital discharge planning for patients with complex illnesses and needs.
“I am certain I got COVID at work. Maybe from a patient at the time who was waiting for the results of their COVID testing, I don’t know for sure and I have no way of finding out.”
Just over a week after she was diagnosed with COVID-19, Sangha – who has no underlying health issues – was rushed by ambulance to Burnaby Hospital for a few days because her respiratory symptoms were so severe.
When she was in isolation at home in Burnaby, the 44-year old Sangha stared out her windows, fixated on a willow tree blooming in the Spring with yellow flowers. She had an unrelenting fever for two weeks and that tree in her front yard became her symbol of willpower and hope.
She doesn’t recall ever reading the allegorical book, The Giving Tree, but Sangha resolved that her tree represented life and growth and that it should also inspire a giving movement, for herself and her large circle of family, friends and other supporters.
“And then I thought maybe if it had ribbons, it could also lift my spirits.”
She made a sign she placed outside her house that read:
“Health-care worker being held hostage by COVID-19. Please tie a ribbon on the tree to keep my spirits up as I kick some COVID ass.”
People have not only tied ribbons – they’ve attached guardian angels to the tree limbs, crystals, and balloons. Everything remains intact and Sangha has no plans to remove the decorations.
On various social media channels, she announced that for every ribbon that friends, family members, neighbours or strangers tied on the tree, she would donate money to various causes – the Burnaby Hospital Foundation, Care Canada’s COVID-19 relief fund, and Doctors Without Borders.
There are so many ribbons that she ended up emptying and donating all that was in her savings account – $6,400. People around the world – complete strangers – also rose to the challenge. One gentleman donated $26,000.
“He’s anonymous. But in my fantasy, he’s a patient I took really good care of,” she says.
While COVID has ravaged her lungs and kept her away from a career she’s had for 20 years, Sangha is encouraged by the heartwarming support she’s been shown. Her union has also had her back, playing a pivotal role in sick leave benefit issues.
“There are many days when I’m in a dark place because of the lingering effects of COVID, the breathing difficulties, and exhaustion. I’ve got PTSD and I want my life back. It wears on you, psychologically and emotionally.
“My breathing never deteriorated to the point that I required ventilation, but when your breathing is so threatened, it is really traumatic because you know that if you stop breathing, you’re dead.
“I was afraid to go to sleep because I thought I may never wake up again.”