Winnipeg man wakes up from COVID-19 coma


As the rest of the province dust off the cobwebs that have accumulated over the past few weeks and prepare to reopen, Genevieve Funk-Unrau is still trying to understand the mess COVID-19 has made in her life.

Her husband Neil, 66, has just emerged from a month-long medically induced coma. Doctors thought it was his best chance to beat the new coronavirus while he wrestled with him in the intensive care unit of St. Boniface Hospital.

The couple returned from a vacation to Cuba on March 15. It was their first winter vacation because Neil is normally linked to the courses he teaches in conflict resolution at Menno Simmons College, but he had started to cut spending before retirement.

Shortly after their return, everyone had tested positive. On March 27, Neil was admitted to the hospital with significant respiratory symptoms. Geneviève has since made a full recovery.

He was among the first in the province to be hospitalized with COVID-19. After being admitted to hospital but before going into a coma, Funk-Unrau remembers talking to Neil on the phone and he joked that he was lucky to have the most experienced doctor with COVID-19 in Manitoba to treat him – he was the doctor’s third patient.

But the window where Neil could handle phone calls was short, and after setting foot in the hospital, his wife was unable to visit him – even after she recovered.

The month dragged on for her. All she had to check was that it was really going on, was short videoconference visits where she could see him plugged into the wide range of machines keeping him alive.

“I described the hospital as that black hole where people might go in and out,” Funk-Unrau told Free press.

There were no guarantees, and there were several times when Neil took turns for the worse and she had to consider the prospect of his death, never having had a chance to say goodbye.

“There were a lot of scary moments when it was very present,” said Funk-Unrau. “I think the lack of control was the most difficult. Even after removing the drugs that put Neil in a coma, it took him a lot longer to wake up than expected.

Funk-Unrau tends to be a private person, but when things got too much, she contacted her church community on social media.

“Things have gotten worse for about two days, so I thought,” You know what, he needs more than my prayers, than my family’s prayers. So I called for it on my Facebook page, “Funk-Unrau said.

Within 12 hours, things were recovering.

Neil woke up, but it was a slow process and it became apparent that he had suffered a series of blows. Her speech is mumbled and muddled, but it is interactive with nods and nods, she says.

“We have a pretty good support system, but it’s going to last much longer now. You can get ready for a week or two of something, but now – especially since Neil is out of his coma – and seeing that he will have a long road ahead of him, recovery, then it puts us in one place different. And it’s going to be more difficult, “she said.

Funk-Unrau wants to be there to help her recover at the hospital, but she is still not allowed to visit him, even though he has now been removed from intensive care. She knows that doctors and nurses take good care of him, but they will never spend the time a woman would have.

“I’m still hopeful for Neil for the future, and I really need that hope. I think the part that really scares me a little bit is the fact that I’m not there to help her heal. I don’t ‘I don’t think he’ll recover without me too, because the staff just can’t spend enough time to really engage with them, to help them get out of this,’ he said. she declared. “So it’s a little bit of hope and a little bit of dread. “

She understands the need for caution, but believes that the potential negative impact on her husband’s health if he does not have her support should be recognized.

So, with all of that, to ask Funk-Unrau what it thinks of the loosening of restrictions coming into effect on Monday, it calls for caution as it knows the damage that this virus can cause.

“You have to do it very carefully because this virus is so unknown. And I don’t necessarily want it to open only for economic reasons, but I think it is necessary for emotional and mental health reasons, “Funk-Unrau told me.

She also hopes to see more widespread testing in Manitoba as the restrictions are lifted.

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Twitter: @SarahLawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press reporter on climate change comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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