“It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to sit on the sidewalk, “said the veteran flight attendant. Thrilling muscle pain crossed her body, accompanied by a “disturbing dry throat” that she had never experienced before.
Wilson, who works for Air Canada and asked to use a pseudonym, had recently flown back from Toronto to Frankfurt and back. Used to the occasional discomfort caused by her work, she ignored the symptoms.
“I’m not really a hypochondriac. Honestly, I didn’t think, “Oh my God, I have coronavirus” or anything. “
That evening, however, a fever had set in and his chest had tightened, as if “someone was pulling a rubber band on each side” of his lungs.
The next morning, with his body weak and shaken by chills, Wilson’s calm had given way to total panic.
Within days, she was quarantined in the basement, but her family also began to show symptoms, which prompted the grim realization that she likely infected her loved ones with Covid-19.
Wilson’s experience highlights what many in his profession increasingly see as dangerous work, as the virus passes between travelers and flight crews locked up for hours on long-haul flights.
And as borders close and governments advise their citizens to return home, Wilson fears that infected crew members – some of whom will remain asymptomatic – have become “super spreaders” of the coronavirus, potentially infecting many more.
When Wilson first realized that something was wrong, she resisted a visit to the hospital – fearing that it would add an unnecessary burden to the Canadian healthcare system, which was already feeling the strain of the first wave of victims of Covid-19.
But she gave in after talking to a pulmonologist and was tested for coronavirus in a Toronto hospital. The doctors told her to go home and stay isolated, pending the results.
“I had sleepless nights, which didn’t help me while I was trying to overcome the illness. I thought about my family, but I could only see them on FaceTime, “she said. His only real interaction with them was the meals delivered to the highest step of the basement stairs.
After six days, the test became positive, but by that time Wilson had learned that she was not the only one on her flight who was infected.
Seven other Air Canada staff – two dead pilots and five flight attendants – tested positive for Covid-19 after the return trip to Germany.
The crew flew a Boeing 777-300, the company’s largest aircraft. Depending on the configuration, it can hold up to 450 passengers.
“We call it a high density aircraft,” she said. “Ironic, I know. “
The two pilots tested positive were seated in business class. Wilson worked at the back of the plane, on the opposite side of the plane.
“It led me to believe that there were many people who were positive for Covid-19 on this flight,” she said.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s family also began to develop symptoms – fevers, difficulty breathing, and body pain.
As she struggled with fever and the aching body, she was also overwhelmed with guilt – believing that she had acted earlier, recognizing symptoms like coronavirus – she could have spared her two daughters and her husband.
Although the family’s symptoms are mild compared to the thousands of cases requiring hospitalization and intubation, the virus has nonetheless also made a huge mental impact.
“I was only trying to consume minimal media on the coronavirus, because we all live it. But uncertainty is eating away at your mental health, “she said. “For days, I couldn’t fall asleep. For hours I was shaking and my mind was running. It was difficult. “
In recent days, as more and more flight attendants and their families have tested positive for Covid-19, Air Canada has dramatically increased its flight precautions. In-flight service has been reduced to minimize interaction with passengers. The flight crew has access to N95 masks and surgical gloves.
The company also checks passengers for any signs they may have the virus – and will deny boarding to anyone with symptoms.
Unions representing flight attendants say there isn’t enough movement, and say face shields and gowns are also needed. At least 14 flight attendants in Canada have tested positive for the virus and hundreds are in quarantine after a suspected exposure.
Wilson, who has been temporarily laid off alongside 16,000 other Air Canada employees, is skeptical of policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“If I was flying with my symptoms, I would not have sounded a warning bell. If you don’t go to intensive care or you don’t need a respirator, you can totally get away without showing symptoms, “she said. “The headaches, the fever – they all left with Tylenol and ibuprofen. “
Wilson does not believe – based on what was known at the time – that his infection could have been prevented.
She had worn gloves, washed her hands and minimized contact with travelers.
But as new research reveals the effectiveness with which the virus can establish an infection, these precautions are not always sufficient.
“We got it from the passengers. It is a fact, “she said. “But now we are part of the spread. We are the super spreaders because people are going home frantically. “
The only positive thing about his family who tested positive is that Wilson was able to leave the basement – if only to enter quarantine with her husband and daughters. Now they are slowly recovering, but the anxiety seems to be leaving a lasting mark.
“Whenever we all start to feel better, I read a story about someone who dies and I feel anxious. I’m panicking, ”she said. “There is this overwhelming uncertainty about how it will affect the next person you know – how it could affect my sister or brother or mother.” It’s absolutely heartbreaking. “