St. John’s man who fell ill with COVID-19 pleads with public to shelter in place!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/heath-o-neill.jpg

As the province relearns to live with the coronavirus in its midst, a growing number of residents are discovering what it’s like to grapple with the bug in their own homes and bodies.

Heath O’Neill, a father of two in St. John’s, said it’s something that he wouldn’t wish on anyone.

“In my right lung now it’s like there’s a knife turning in it, and it’s a really, really sharp pain,” he said.

O’Neill was among those diagnosed with the B117 variant last week. It came as a surprise, he said, considering he and his family had taken all the right precautions.

“We were maskers before they asked us to wear masks,” said O’Neill. “We were doing all the right things and I still got it. If it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

O’Neill, who’s had asthma since he was a child, is dealing with typical symptoms of the virus, including low energy, a persistent cough, and pain in his back and lungs.

O’Neill came into contact with it last Sunday while watching football with a close friend and his family. While the two families shared a bubble and tried to maintain the appropriate distance, one of the family’s sons was a student at Mount Pearl Senior High.

A week later, “I got a phone call from my buddy on Wednesday morning,” he said. “His son just tested positive.”

Once he knew he was at risk, O’Neill hastily left his office and went home. Within a few hours he was contacted by a nurse who scheduled him for testing. After testing positive, he isolated.

“Immediately I went down to the basement, and that’s where I’ve been ever since,” he said.

Living with the virus

Though he’s done his best to distance himself, O’Neill’s wife has since tested positive. 

Throughout his diagnosis O’Neill’s main concern has been for his family, and said there’s a lot to worry about when it comes to COVID.

“It’s the physical side — I feel horrible right now — but no one wants to see their kids sick, and the thought that you might’ve passed it on to them is hard to deal with,” he said. “It’s [the] emotional side as well.”

O’Neill said he hopes to regain control by tackling the virus head on, and wants to do his part to prevent the spread by following the guidelines laid out for him.

“It can only move with people, and if I’m down here at least I know what it is,” he said. “The fact that I can do something about this to stop it in its tracks, in this house anyway, is a good thing.”

O’Neill is convalescing in his basement, waiting for his symptoms to improve and hoping they don’t worsen. (CBC)

Despite hearing about the pandemic for nearly a year, O’Neill said that actually contracting the illness has offered a new perspective.

“I took the precautions, and the fact that something that started so far away ended up right here inside of me and my house in St. John’s — it’s mind blowing.”

While what he’s feeling could be compared to an exceptionally bad cold or flu, O’Neill said it’s different for everyone, especially those with pre-existing conditions like his. He expressed fear at what lies ahead on the road to recovery with a notoriously unpredictable disease.

“What we don’t know is the long-lasting effects it can have on lungs and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m an asthmatic, I’ve had it since I was 10, so when all this started maybe that’s why we took the precautions, because I didn’t want to have to deal with it, to find out how bad it was going to get.”

O’Neill said that as someone currently experiencing the virus, he wants people to heed his advice and to take it seriously, urging the public to download the federal government’s COVID-19 tracker app.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or, where you live or whatever group you’re in: it’s out there,” said O’Neill.

“I just wish us all the best, to be honest with you, and I certainly would not want anyone to go through this unless they had to.”