from Ottawa, Canada – Susan Antoni

Susan D’Antoni, retired from a career related to distance education and new technologies (Ministry of Education, Ryerson University) – with a little detour (Statistics Canada and Universities Canada) – and finally the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

30 March. First day out of the house since March 3rd.  We went for a walk in Agriculture Canada’s largely deserted Experimental Farm, which is close by our place.  A light rain certainly helped the desertedness, and contributed to lovely misty vistas and trees covered with silver droplets.  In addition to many fields the Farm has barns, lovely glass green houses and many many trees. Minor coughing, but no one about to fear I would infect them.

There are 6248 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada today, and 351 new cases in Ontario, the largest single-day increase.

At his daily briefing (not to be compared with the daily briefing given by the leader to the south), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the trajectory of COVID-19 cases seems not to be that of the US. 

Although it is too soon to know the impact of Canada’s efforts to curb the spread, he said he is proud that Canadians recognise the importance of staying home and keeping their distance from others.  Encouraging words, but we have seen people walking down our street and not keeping a distance, and doubt that they were all couples or living in the same house.

During the briefing the Prime Minister also gave more details on the emergency wage subsidy he had announced last week. Businesses, non-profits and charities whose revenues have decreased more than 30% will be eligible for the rescue plan. The government will cover up to 75% on the first $58,700 salary dollars and it will be back-dated to March 15th.  Companies are encouraged to re-hire laid off staff.  Trudeau was stern, at least for him (the new beard seems to help with gravitas), about punishing any efforts to profit from the plan.

Post retirement excitement has been a massive renovation project to create our “old age home” for which painful undertaking we received an unexpected award….and eventual great pleasure.

25 March. After that, it was a fog of coughing, fatigue, relieved by free opera from The Met, Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey and room service from Drew who stayed far far away at the opposite end of the house.  Now, finally out of the fog, I am dressed and upright for at least half of the day.  And looking around now I see that the virus has been busy making its way about Canada and the United States.

18 March and later. Today is the 12th day of our self-imposed self-isolation. 

In mid-February Drew and I headed off to Paris for a two month stay to visit with old colleagues and friends from an earlier 20 year sojourn, planning to eat in favourite restaurants, to visit galleries and museums, to just walk about and look at the beautiful city that we love so much. 

I was aware of the coronavirus being active in China, and I had played host to the H1N1 virus in 2009.   But only the foggiest memory remained of how sick I was.  I do remember being left down a long corridor in the hospital for an hour or so on a hard little chair, and thinking that lying on the floor was looking more and more attractive – what could be worse down there than what I already had.

We were not really worried as we headed off, but we did take the precaution of refreshing our pneumonia shots.  We also tried to get hand sanitizer, which the druggist informed me had flown off the shelves and would not be restocked any time soon.  We didn’t pay enough attention to that little warning.

Once in Paris, it was not long before the situation was made very clear about what was happening right next door in Italy.  We did go about to eat and visit friends and walk, but there began to be a cloud of concern hanging over us.  The media treatment was comprehensive, coherent and constant.  It was certainly interesting to watch the communication strategy as the country informed and prepared its citizens so efficiently. The Minister of Health spoke frequently and the President spoke to the country on television and visited hospitals to reiterate the government support for the medical and support staff.  At first, it actually felt comforting to be so continually informed.  But of course it wasn’t really comforting.  There were all those families that had been skiing in the Alps during Spring Break who were about to return to France.  By February 28 we started to consider returning home and booked a return flight through Montreal on March 3rd, for which we paid a considerable sum – and lost the long planned visit in addition to the lost money.  Upon arrival in Montreal, we were surprised that only passengers who had been to Iran were asked to identify themselves, not Italy.  And no evidence of temperature taking.  The only bright spot was not being charged for exceeding the limit on expenditure free of duty!

So, on the evening of March 3rd we returned to the winter snow and ice of one of the coldest capital cities in the world, which we had been so happy to escape.  At that point there were no COVID-19 cases in Ottawa.  Safe for the moment, we thought. 

But maybe not.  After a couple of days, I developed coronavirus symptoms – though no fever.  Having travelled from afar, it seemed responsible to identify myself and my symptoms to Ottawa Public Health.  A nurse took an excruciatingly detailed history on the phone and sent me off to the nearest hospital emergency.  The young fellow registering incoming patients whipped around in his little glass cubicle and put on a mask and gloves before touching my health card.  After a three-hour sit in a room by myself on a hard little chair (reminiscent of an earlier hard little hospital chair), a well-protected doctor came in and examined me, and sometime after that a nurse arrived, stuck two sticks down my nose, twirled them around and released me back to my bed where I stayed for an inordinate amount of time.

So, I had brought something home from France, but thank goodness not the really dangerous virus.  But whatever virus it was, it made me good and sick.