Michelle Hunter had fully planned for her first child’s birth, then the pandemic hit and she tested positive for COVID-19 three days before her due date.
In March, she had a prenatal check-up with her doctor in Revelstoke, shortly before her due date. She had a slight runny nose and had 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, 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.
“I just cried and had a freakout. 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 to Vernon Jubilee Hospital immediately. Hunter and her husband jumped in their truck and drove.
“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.”
Yet, Hunter said she tried to stay calm. She didn’t want to go into labour during the drive.
|At Vernon Jubilee Hospital. (Submitted)
In Vernon, a nurse met them at the hospital and took them to a private elevator. They were told not to touch anything, not even the walls.
“My husband and I just cuddled together.”
They were put into an isolation room and not permitted to leave. The next day, she was told it would be safer to have a C-section.
“By this time, I was bawling my eyes out. I was very, very scared.”
She was wheeled down empty hallways with all the entrances and exits sealed. Entire wings of the hospital were closed to stop contamination.
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. It was unbelievable.”
The surgery got underway, and then 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.”
Hank tested negative for 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 it does not spread through amniotic fluid, the placenta or breast milk.
“That was a huge weight lifted.”
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 enter the house, so the new parents showed off Hank through their living room window.
“We were like the zoo.”
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 is fearful of a second wave of the pandemic.
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.
“Everybody was unbelievable. I can’t thank them enough.”
B.C. Centre for Disease Control do not yet have data on how many mothers with COVID-19 in the province have given birth.