Paul Mayrand has no memory of 30 days of his life last March and April.
One of the first COVID-19 patients at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Mayrand nearly didn’t make it. He spent 67 days in hospital, thirty of them in intensive care. Soon after admission, his health declined rapidly: his kidneys stopped, he struggled to draw breath and his heart and liver began to fail. The staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital ICU had never seen anything like it.
“Everything was so unknown back then,” says Nicholas Boulieris, ICU patient attendant. “It was kind of like the starting gate. He was the gun that fired off this race, and we learned a lot through his case.”
Mayrand was intubated within hours of being admitted to the hospital. His organs were failing, and the ICU staff needed to work quickly to stabilize him. The heavy sedatives required while he was on a ventilator left him deeply comatose.
“We were doing everything we could for him, but he never stirred once over the course of a week,” says Dr. Peter Goldberg, ICU physician. “I worried he would never wake up.”
Despite their worries, the ICU staff were hopeful that Mayrand would wake again. They were at his bedside frequently, and as the global crisis intensified, they became more and more invested in his care.
“For this particular case—maybe because it was the first one—I wanted to know his story. I wanted to know if he was married, about his family. It humanized everything and made it very real, and made me realize this could be anybody. This could be any one of us,” says Boulieris.
While caring for Mayrand, ICU nurse Julia Lefebvre was shocked by how the disease had so quickly stolen his health.
“My first reaction was, ‘oh my gosh, that could be my dad.’ He was the same age,” says Lefebvre.
Moved by his case, Lefebvre found Mayrand’s cell phone and began making calls to his family. She and the other ICU staff would hold the phone to his ear so his wife, France St-Jean, could speak to him. This small kindness was one of the few comforts the nurses could offer the otherwise unresponsive Mayrand. The couple have been together for 47 years, and St-Jean would remind Mayrand who he was, where he came from, and what they still had left to accomplish in their life together.
A month passed, and Mayrand began to wake up. His eyes opened, and he was able to communicate with blinks and facial gestures. He had survived, but his recovery would be a long one.
“It was shocking to see how much I’d wasted away,” says Paul Mayrand. “I couldn’t walk. In fact, I could hardly move or even lift a spoon. I was in bad shape, but the hospital staff were determined to see me recover, and they did everything in their power to make it happen.”
Mayrand spent long hours in physical therapy to regain his ability to walk. Previously, he had been in excellent physical shape. Physiotherapist Nadine Musampa recalls how, at first, he could not even speak.
“We spoke a lot with gestures,” says Musampa. “I said ‘if you understand me, give me a thumbs up. I am going to help get you your strength back.’ he gave me two thumbs up from his bed, and I knew he was motivated and that we were going to work hard to get him out of here. That really encouraged me.”
Mayrand’s recovery brought hope to all of the ICU’s staff. As reports of thousands dead around the world poured in, seeing Mayrand walk out of the hospital after 67 days gave them immeasurable relief, and showed them that severe COVID-19 is survivable.
“Seeing a patient wake up after 30 days is so joyful, it can bring you to tears,” says Dr. Goldberg. “In the ICU, where so many cases are dire, it is a truly joyful moment.”
Mayrand is extremely grateful to the staff at the ICU, who still check in with him weekly. Though his recovery will be long, he has the support of the MUHC team as he works to regain his former strength.
“I feel so much better now, but there’s a long way to go to regain my strength and my life as I knew it before COVID-19,” says Mayrand.
As the second wave of COVID-19 progresses, the MUHC’s ICU team is more prepared to care for the complex cases caused by the coronavirus. In Dr. Goldberg’s words, living during a pandemic has “normalized.”
“In the ICU, COVID-19 is now just a normal day’s work,” says Dr. Goldberg
While COVID-19 remains a threat around the world, we can take comfort that the team at the McGill University Health Centre is prepared to help those who become critically ill. They continue to adapt in the face of the unknown; trying new therapies, treatments, and approaches to care for each patient. They cannot do this work without your support. Your support of research, clinical care, innovation, and the hospital’s greatest needs. Learn how you can support them this holiday season.