Michelle Hunter had completely planned for her first child’s birth. Then a pandemic hit and she tested positive for COVID-19 three days before her due date. Her plan imploded.
“It was pretty surreal. I never thought when they tested me it would come back positive,” said Hunter.
In March, she had a prenatal check-up with her doctor in Revelstoke, shortly before her due date. Hunter had a slight runny nose and had completely lost her sense of taste.
|COVID-19 Signage outside the Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
According to a study by the University of California, the loss of taste and smell can be a symptom of COVID-19.
The doctor sent Hunter for testing on March 20, the day after the province had declared a state of emergency.
Shortly after, Hunter got a call from the BC Centre for Disease Control. She had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I just cried and had a freakout,” she said. “I have never felt so contaminated and dirty in my entire life.”
Tests indicated Hunter’s blood pressure was abnormal and she was at risk for Preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition that can damage multiple organs, including the liver and kidneys.
Doctors told her to drive right away to Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
So, Hunter and her husband jumped in their truck and drove.
“I had no idea what the future held for me. I did not know if my baby was going to be sick when he came out. I did not know if he was going to be alive. I didn’t even know if I was going to make it,” said Hunter.
Yet, faced with so much uncertainty, Hunter said she tried to stay calm. She didn’t want to go into labour during the drive.
“Which would have been disastrous,” said Hunter.
|At Vernon Jubilee Hospital. (Submitted)|
In Vernon, a nurse met them at the hospital and took them to a private elevator. Hunter and her husband were told not to touch anything. Not even the walls.
“My husband and I just cuddled together. I had my arms on my belly,” she said.
They were put into an isolation room and not permitted to leave.
The next day, the hospital told Hunter it would be safer to have a C-section.
“By this time, I was bawling my eyes out. I was very, very scared,” said Hunter.
Soon, nurses came and wheeled her away for surgery. Hunter said she was taken down empty hallways with all the entrances and exits sealed shut. Entire wings of the hospital were closed to stop contamination.
“It was like a horror movie,” she said.
Hunter’s husband was not permitted in the operating room. She would have to have the baby alone.
When the anesthesiologist entered for surgery, Hunter said he was wearing a full hazmat suit with a gas mask.
“He looked like Darth Vader,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
The surgery got underway and shortly after, Hunter heard her baby cry.
|Grandma meets baby Hank through the window for the first time. (Submitted)|
To protect the newborn, doctors took him six feet away and propped him up so Hunter could see her first child, named Hank. She was not permitted to hold him.
“I was helpless. Completely helpless.”
The hospital tested Hank for COVID-19 and found he did not have the virus.
While current studies are limited, the BC Centre for Disease Control said there is no evidence of parent-to-infant transmission of COVID-19. Tests indicate the virus does not spread through amniotic fluid, the placenta or breast milk.
“That was a huge weight lifted,” said Hunter.
After four days in the hospital, Hunter and her family were permitted to return home.
Back in Revelstoke, the family went into isolation. No one could come into the house and the new parents showed off Hank through their living room window.
“We were like the zoo,” said Hunter.
Two months later, Hunter said her family is healthy. Her COVID-19 symptoms never progressed beyond a runny nose and loss of taste. Hunter has no idea how she caught COVID-19.
As the province starts to reopen, Hunter said she’s scared of a second wave of the pandemic.
The provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said British Columbians should prepare for the virus’s probable resurgence.
|The new parents hold baby Hank. (Submitted)|
Hunter hopes some form of normality will return.
“We can’t live in fear for the rest of our lives of a virus that’s out there.”
Although the experience was frightening, Hunter said the medical care she received was outstanding.
“I couldn’t have asked for better. Everybody was unbelievable. I can’t thank them enough.”
B.C. Centre for Disease Control wrote in an email to Black Press they do not yet have data on how many mothers with COVID-19 in the province have given birth.