‘It was just terrible’: Living with COVID-19 and what comes next


In early December, Robert Yelton, a 76 year old master carver from the Squamish Nation, in North Vancouver, B.C., started to feel unwell.

He got a test that came back positive for COVID-19.

Yelton is currently in a hospital bed recovering.

“In the beginning it started like the flu I thought it was just a flu the first week and then I couldn’t eat nothing and then the second week I thought it went away it came back.”

Yelton says it was the sickest he has ever felt.

“It was just terrible and I never got to eat again and the third week now I got no energy and it just kept going I got so weak I couldn’t even stand up,” he says.

On top of having COVID-19, doctors have also discovered Yelton is battling a second virus called Giardia that’s making it hard to keep anything down. He says it’s been 25 days since he’s had anything to eat with just fluids keeping him alive.

Robert says he was careful and remained isolated for ten months since the beginning of the pandemic but after the B.C. government loosened some of the restrictions – he let his guard down and met a friend for coffee at the mall. That’s when he thinks how he may have been exposed.

However, he’s thankful he wasn’t intubated like others.

“It went after my heart I got a stent in my heart and it also goes after you liver your kidneys,” he says.

Before COVID-19 Yelton used to love to ride everywhere on his scooter – but after he went into the hospital with COVID-19 he couldn’t stand for more than 30 seconds – but slowly he’s getting stronger and trying to build up his appetite.

He is now recovering at home and no longer contagious.

The Pandemic

Since the pandemic started in March of 2020, more than 110 million people have become infected with COVID-19 globally – 84 million of those people have recovered but over to 2.4 million people have died.

New variants of the coronavirus are also emerging with studies showing they are more contagious and possibly deadlier then the original virus.

The lockdown has also meant countless businesses were shut down, millions of people have lost their jobs and many have struggled with their mental health from the isolation.

“We have to reach a point where we are in control of the virus the virus is not in control of us,” says Dr. Michael Ryan with the World Health Organization.

One of those hardest hit countries is the United States – with 28 million positive cases of which, 18 million people have recovered. The death toll in that country is nearly half a million people in less than a year.

“It’s not a joke I don’t what more or how more I can express,” says Sara Montoya – a 43 year old mother of three daughters from El Paso, Texas.

She posted a video to Facebook on July 5, 2020. She wanted to warn the public about how dangerous the virus is.

“Please do not put your families at risk I did the best that I thought I could! It is not worth it – put your masks on! Don’t go out if you don’t have to!” said Montoya as she struggled to breathe from her hospital bed. Montoya died on Aug. 19. This was her last Facebook post.

Stories like this are all too common as the world struggles to combat COVID-19.

Experts say it’s very contagious. It could start with something as simple as a sneeze from someone who is positive – minute fragments of droplets can then land in the nose or mouth of another person – once the extremely contagious coronavirus enters your body it starts to attack cells to reproduce – the virus has protein spikes that look like crowns – they find a receptor molecule of a healthy cell and fit in like a key –  it then begins programming that cell to make new viruses.

Once that happens it starts attacking mostly your throat and lungs and in some cases people develop pneumonia.

Eventually the body starts to attack itself and in some cases leads to death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly tried to get people to follow public health orders.

“Social distancing, physical distancing is the single best way to keep the people around you safe what does that mean? It means keeping two metres between you and someone else it means avoiding groups it means staying home as much as possible,” Trudeau has said on a number of occasions.

As of Feb. 16, 829,468 Canadians have contracted COVID -19 since the pandemic began – 773,330 that have recovered – there have been 21,354 deaths.

So far, 19,068 Indigenous people are confirmed positive for COVID-19 – 17,380 have recovered and 204 people have died across Canada.

Experts like Dr. Teresa Tam, the head of Canada;s public health agency, says its vital we hold the line in terms of safety measures.

“Our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow we all need to act now!”

Learning as the months go by

Dr. John Boyd is a critical care doctor at Vancouver’s St, Paul’s Hospital – he says they are still learning so much about COVID -19.

“March, April and maybe early May we were seeing mostly travellers we were seeing people who were older in their 70s and 80s and the starting in September we had a lot of patients here at St. Paul’s we had in the ICU we were running 11, 12 patients in the ICU on ventilators and so on and triple or four times that on the ward we are seeing them younger,” says Boyd.

Robert Clifton was one of those who started to not feel well last September – once a very gregarious and social person who loved to entertain friends and family before the pandemic – he says despite his best efforts to stay safe – he also contracted COVID -19.

“It’s strange where I could have gotten it I was doing all the right things of doing on-line shopping, not going out to restaurants, not going into crowded spaces so it’s still a mystery how I contracted it.

The virus is still such a mystery.

COVID -19 affects people in different ways – some can be asymptomatic where they show no symptoms but can be a carrier, others only get mild symptoms but then there are people like Robert Clifton who gets severe symptoms.

“I was completely bed ridden for actually 20 days the typical isolation period is ten days but they kept me in isolation because my symptoms were not rectifying. I dropped 20 pounds in two weeks was having difficulty keeping anything down. At one point I was having difficulty breathing and my resting heart rate was 140 beats a minute,” explains Clifton.

Unusual symptoms in his arms and hands soon developed.

“The sensation I had going on down my arms the burning sensation in my palms felt like I had flame throwers at the end of my hands and it was really an uncomfortable feeling for me and it lasted probably about two weeks. You know the stuff that I reported to the health authority they hadn’t really heard of this before, says Clifton.

Shortly before we aired this story there was an outbreak at St. Paul’s Hospital with three wards shut down including the cardiac intensive care unit.

In Part 2 of Covid in the Community we take a closer look those that don’t believe in the pandemic and we hear from those that are fighting everyday on the front lines. That’s coming up tomorrow February 17th, 2021 on APTN National News.

Video Journalist / Vancouver

A proud Métis from BC, Tina began her television career in 1997 as a talent agent for film and TV. She joined APTN National News in 2007 as a Video Journalist in the Vancouver bureau. In 2010, she was the recipient of the Amnesty International Human Rights Journalism Award for her story on murdered and missing women and girls.