Labouring through COVID-19 at a North Grenville family farm

NORTH GRENVILLE — Put Oxford Mills-area farmer Luke Swale in the official COVID-19 “recovered” column after enduring a three-week infection with the virus that included a nine-day wait for a positive test to confirm the fact.

Swale, 40, told Nation Valley News that the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health has given him the all clear this evening (April 6), after checking in with him daily for several days as his symptoms subsided.

The organic market gardener and meat producer was informed that he had the virus April 1st, nine days after a sampling swab was pushed deep into his bloodied nose at an Ottawa assessment centre on March 23 — and more than two weeks after he and his young family returned from a trip to his native New Zealand.

In Ontario, the lifting of quarantine restrictions for people who test positive for coronavirus is based on time and lack of observed symptoms. Follow-up testing is only performed for those who work in the healthcare industry.

“I’ve had a full day pulling trees out of the bush,” so I think I’m OK,” reported Swale, adding he’s been feeling totally recovered for about the last three days. “I’ve got my energy back; I want to do things.”

The situation on April 1st

“It feels like a flu, honestly, the headaches have been the most persistent piece for me,” he had told NVN on April 1 — the same day that confirmation of the diagnosis arrived via his local Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.

He said his wife and their two children, nine and thirteen years old, also picked up the bug. Though they weren’t tested, they all went into self-quarantine together at the family farm immediately after returning from their trip. The others bounced back from mild symptoms in two days — especially the kids.  Not so for Swale, who described the experience as “very painful … my joints were sore like somebody had wedged something in there.”

Other symptoms included “a bit of diarrhea, discharge … and heaps of headaches and — fatigue — sleeping for days,” said the farmer, who continued to work on early season preparations at his operation when he could.

“I’ve had a sore sort of chest on the left side and then the right side; I’ve had a little less lung capacity but nothing to make me run off to the hospital.”

Feeling especially wretched by March 20th, he says he wasted two days trying to get advice from Telehealth Ontario — “waiting on voicemail” — before learning about the option to call his local health unit instead. The health unit got back to him “in a reasonable amount of time,” he said, sending him to his family doctor, who in turn advised him to go to the Brewer Park testing site in Ottawa on March 23.

“Yesterday and today I feel good, but I felt that way a week ago, it comes and goes, and then you slowly feel like you’re dragging a concrete block around,” he said.

This winter, the Swale family travelled to see his extended family Down Under for the first time in eight years.

On March 12, they boarded the first leg of the flight home to Canada, including layover of several hours at busy Vancouver International Airport, where Swale surmises he was exposed to the virus. “We were in the Air Canada lounge there,” he said, reporting how certain things, in retrospect, seem like warning signs now. “They were disinfecting the seats constantly, and there was a tap to fill your own beer,” he says.

“My wife said when she was in the washroom, some lady was hacking and coughing up a storm, so you just never know,” he added, also recalling how he touched a vending machine to buy a treat for his daughter.

“We had hand sanitizer, we washed our hands,” adds Swane, describing the journey home as a time of flux, between the pre-pandemic and pandemic reality.

And it was during the final flight, March 12-13, from Vancouver to Ottawa that he began to feel unwell.

“On the way to Ottawa, I felt bad, I had to cough a couple of times, and there was a guy sitting beside me that I didn’t know, and I felt really awkward being beside that poor fellow — the guy on the aisle seat. There was a lady sitting right behind us on the aisle seat, and … she had a mask on,” he recounts of the flight that arrived in Ottawa on March 13.

Officials at the Brewer Park testing site weren’t interested in this information when he reported there 10 days later, he said.

“I’m feeling really good, I’m out and about on the farm. But then I felt like this a week ago, and then I had another week of being in bed. I still have congestion in my nose, still having a cough, but not like two days ago when I was coughing quite a lot,” he had said of his condition on April 1st.

He lauded the local agricultural community for their eagerness to help, “but I’ve said stay away, I’ve touched every tractor key, every door handle, there’s no point.”

The family home-schools their children and both parents work at home, so self-quarantine wasn’t the “culture shock” it might be for other families, he said.

Clean bill of health

Still, he looks forward to being able to leave the farm now that he has a clean bill of health. There are animals to be taken to the veterinarian for starters.

“Self-isolate and take care of your neighbours,” he also urges the community. “Take care of your friends of family, because you know what, while I’ve been locked up, my friends and family around me have been taking care of me, getting me groceries, everything; it’s really neat to see how much of a community we have. People are prepared to help.”

And even though he may be immune to the virus now, Swale says he will continue to respect physical distancing and hand-washing etiquette lest he accidentally transfer living virus from a contaminated surface to another place.




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