Vanessa Phillips and Val Parr: A Daughter Who Contracted Covid and a Mother Who Witnessed It

Val Parr, 70, has lived in the Alberta Avenue community for the past 20 years. In March and April, she watched her daughter, Vanessa Phillips, 50, endure a Covid infection. At that time, very little was known about the illness, including how contagious it was or what its effects would be. 

Phillips explained, “On March 21, on a Saturday, I was at work in Southgate mall. The mall closed on Tuesday of that week. I was sick by the next Saturday. No other co-workers got sick.”

With the news there was a pandemic, Phillips said working in customer service, “felt like sitting ducks waiting for something to happen.” 

She continued, “Watching it all online, it didn’t feel like enough people were talking about it or were very aware of it. We used to own a restaurant, so I was aware of cross-contamination, and in the last week we were open we used Clorox wipes. I had a heightened awareness being in a public environment.” 

She explained what the first days of infection were like. 

“I had a sore throat like I’ve never had in my life. It was different than anything. There were pinpricks of pain. Exhaustion. I only had one night with shortness of breath, and I didn’t have a cough.”

Phillips self-isolated away from her husband and her son in her family’s unfinished basement. For the first days of her sickness, she slept for nine days straight, only waking to text her husband or go to the bathroom. She showered three times in those days and ate nothing. She laughed, “I would text photos of Kleenex and Tylenol.”

Parr said watching her daughter deal with the virus alone was “very scary.” She continued, “The message we were getting from public health was ‘isolate and deal with it.’” 

Phillips self-isolated away from her husband and her son in her family’s unfinished basement. For the first days of her sickness, she slept for nine days straight, only waking to text her husband or go to the bathroom. She showered three times in those days and ate nothing. She laughed, “I would text photos of Kleenex and Tylenol.”

Phillips clarified, “The options were to go to hospital and get intubated or self-isolate and deal with it at home with over-the-counter medication. I treated it with Tylenol only.” She drank 15 litres of tea or hot water with fresh lemon a day. She stated incredulously, “I cannot in real life drink that much!” 

The only thing that gave Parr comfort was that “Vanessa’s dog would not leave her side.” As a mother, “The worst thing was envisioning her in the basement all by herself. Sitting over here knowing there was not a damn thing you can do.” Vanessa’s dog, Rick, is an eight-year-old Havanese. 

Phillips said, “My case was mild. I could breathe through the whole thing. I managed my fever by lying on water jugs filled with cold water. It took forever for the fever to stop. It was cold downstairs in the unfinished basement. I usually sleep with quilts and weight on me. During this, I wore PJs and only had a sheet all through March and April. The cold helped with the fever.” 

She added, “I was very aware of 14 days. I did a hard 14 days.” But at 13 days, her sore throat returned, and according to public health, if you had another symptom reappear, you had to isolate again.

“It took two days to eat an apple. I ate Stoned Wheat Thins, apples, and juice, and lost 10-15 pounds.” Phillips spent a total of 10 weeks in her basement “so scared—we didn’t know what it was.” She continued, “It’s wild. Being downstairs was like labouring again. The end of the pain and, ‘I can do this.’ There was so much unknown and ‘what is next?’ Mentally, I was deep into it.”

Parr interjected, “I couldn’t do anything. It was terrible.” 

Phillips reassured her, “You checked in on me all the time. I would say, ‘Everything is fine.’”

“It was a horrible thing. You can’t reach out,” Parr stated. 

Phillilps said, “It’s very dark. I was so concerned about infecting my family.”

“I got some comfort with Rick being there. He never left your side,” Parr said. 

Phillips responded, “It gets so dark. You’re so in your head, not knowing if it will take a turn for the worse.”

Phillips is what is being termed a long-hauler. Four months after her initial infection, she still wheezed and had sore lungs with crackling noises. She has “Covid eye” (light sensitivity, sore eyes and itchy eyes), alligator-like skin patches, and sleeplessness. She does not have brain fog, but her memory of the time she was sick seems to have dissipated. “I had to find an online community of long-haulers.”

She explained what it’s like to be a long-hauler. “I would have a great day. Word was ‘14 days and done’, but that’s not what it’s like. Any physical activity made me sick again.” Her first relapse was after a fast walk. “I was in so much pain.” She continued, “Each setback was less than what I had prior. It’s not as serious as the first time. The symptoms move around. The muscles in my chest, sore lungs, sore chest, and I have a sore throat always.”

Phillips said it was difficult to receive medical care at that point. “There was no place to go if you were positive for Covid. Doctors were scared to let me in. The nurse on the phone said I could not come in.” 

Parr interjected, “You had to get tested.”

When Phillips did get in to see the doctor “no one else was in the building. The staff were all kitted up. I had to have a negative test before I could see the doctor.” 

No mainstream medical care was available for her symptoms. 

Phillips said, “I saw an article on Reddit that a vitamin drip could help.” At the same time, she also saw an ad for a doctor’s clinic near her that offered vitamin drips. She went to the clinic and paid $150 for the care. After two treatments, she said, “I felt 95 percent better.” 

Parr stated, “This shows the importance of the family doctor versus being at the Medicentre.”

“I have to be mindful of looking after myself. I believe it will get better over time. Everything is clear, but I just keep getting better,” said Phillips. 

Phillips returned to work during the Stage 1 re-entry on May 11. She is a manager at Crate and Barrel and acts as a greeter at the front of the store. She found herself yelling instructions at customers. Some stores were handing out masks, while others were not. At the time of the interview, her store just went mandatory with masks, but she still had to face customers walking in without a mask. A mandatory mask law came into place in Edmonton on Aug. 1. 

Phillips stated, “It’s early days. We’re not through it yet.”

Over the coming months, it was determined that people could be re-infected with Covid, and often the second bout would be worse than the first. Up to 30 percent of people who had an infection had symptoms that last over a year, including heart damage.

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