Sask. man calls on province to tweak vaccination priorities after close call with COVID

·4 min read
Matthew Cardinal said one of the strangest things of this experience is that doctors can't tell him why he got so sick and required intensive care.  (Submitted by Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal - image credit)
Matthew Cardinal said one of the strangest things of this experience is that doctors can't tell him why he got so sick and required intensive care. (Submitted by Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal - image credit)

Matthew Cardinal said Saskatchewan's government must re-evaluate its vaccination strategy so that other people don't have to face death as he did, or grapple with the trauma that comes after.

The 34-year-old is still recovering in hospital after the B117 coronavirus variant nearly took his life.

"The way the province is handling this — I really wish they would prioritize frontline staff, like grocery store clerks, servers, delivery drivers," he said.

Cardinal said he understands there are limited vaccines available.

"But at the same time, the people that are coming in here, they're the ones that work at these jobs and they have no choice."

It's assumed he caught it in the workplace, where he worked as a waiter before the government shut down dining rooms.

Matthew Cardinal still can't fathom how sick he got after contracting the COVID B117 variant.
Matthew Cardinal still can't fathom how sick he got after contracting the COVID B117 variant. (Submitted by Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal)

Cardinal said it's hard to believe how fast he deteriorated. It escalated from a terrible headache that sent him home from work to an inability to breathe in just a matter of days. His early days in the hospital are a bit foggy, in part due to all of the medication, but he still remembers when staff told him he needed a ventilator.

He sent a goodbye message off to friends and family before doctors placed him in a coma in a Regina intensive care unit in mid-March.

"I literally was waiting for my turn to die."

Cardinal said he took every recommended precaution at work, but he still got sick. It's why he thinks people who are in similar positions should be protected.

Premier appears to pivot

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters Tuesday that tweaking the COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include front-line workers vulnerable to the spread of variants could jeopardize the province's already-stated goal of ensuring as many willing members of the general public as possible are offered their first dose of vaccine by the end of June.

"Right now, the challenge we have with changing the priority moving forward is it's going to slow down our ability to deliver the high volume of vaccines that we've been able to thus far," Moe replied. He insisted on using age as the criterion.

On Wednesday he offered a slightly different message while speaking at an Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium, saying that the government may look at prioritizing some front-line workers for vaccination in the coming days.

Moe said that setting aside the age limit for certain industries could help "to maybe lessen some of the risk of some of our younger folks contracting COVID and potentially ending up in the hospital."

But later in the day, Moe reiterated that doing so would slow down the province's vaccination roll-out. He said there are currently no solid plans to prioritize essential workers.

Mental health affected, too

Cardinal is also calling for more mental health supports for COVID patients. The experience was traumatic for him. For example, he said that each time he was briefly brought out of his coma, he wondered if this would be the last time he ever woke up.

He said he would become frantic or anxious as he saw the equipment protruding from his body and tried to gasp for air.

Cardinal said he's troubled because he has seen several COVID-19 patients who are his age in the hospital. He said it's incredibly sad, but what's worse is seeing the patients who never wake up. The images of the covered-up dead still linger in his mind.

He's often brought back to the moments where the thought his life would end.

"I freak out about being in the ICU again," he said. "I had a dream yesterday and I just woke up screaming because I thought I was back on a ventilator."

He's trying to navigate these feelings as they arise. When he's awake, he's able to daydream about breathing easy and walking around Wascana Lake.

Cardinal said his doctor has been a bit surprised by how quickly he's recovering. He's still on oxygen, but finally able to sit up and get out of the bed. He said he feels determined, like this is a second chance at life.

"It was not my time to go."