Ken Roth is still too weak to stand by himself, let alone walk.
Roth, 66, is a recovering COVID-19 patient who has been receiving care, first in Calgary and now at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, for nine months — 279 days, to be exact.
His daughter, Kendra Roth, takes him outside the hospital in a wheelchair to get fresh air and a small break from his hospital room.
“I’ve been on every floor of this hospital,” he said. “I’ve had many ups and downs. It really took a toll on me. I’m 240 pounds now, and I used to be 300 pounds.”
He choked up, adding, “It’s been tough … COVID really got me.”
Roth is a water treatment plant supervisor and retired fire chief from La Loche, Sask., 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
The unvaccinated grandfather was hospitalized for COVID-19 in Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre on July 24, 2021, while on a family vacation in Alberta. He spent weeks in a coma, and was airlifted to Saskatoon in early September.
His wife, Lorraine, and daughter, Kendra, moved into a hotel near St. Paul’s Hospital where they’ve stayed since last fall.
“A few times I came in, even 3 o’clock in the morning … he was having anxiety attacks because there’s nobody around him that he knew. So, as I come in, he calms right down. So, I sit here for all hours of the day and night sometimes,” Kendra said.
I’ve had many ups and downs. It really took a toll on me. I’m 240 pounds now, and I used to be 300 pounds.– Ken Roth, recovering COVID-19 patient
When Saskatchewan’s ICUs became overwhelmed in October, Roth was among the 27 patients sent to Ontario for care. At the time, Roth told CBC News that his abrupt transport – without any notice or time to call his wife or daughter – had reminded the Métis man of being taken to residential school as a child.
Since returning to Saskatoon, Roth’s recovery has been interrupted by pneumonia, adverse reactions to medications, bladder infections and other setbacks.
Long stays in hospital
There are more than 400 COVID-19 patients in Saskatchewan hospitals, more than in any other wave of the pandemic. However, more than half were admitted for illnesses other than COVID but also tested positive for the virus. And only about 20 require intensive care as of April 27.
Some COVID-patients continue to spend long stretches in the hospital.
Dr. Alexander Wong is an infectious diseases specialist who has treated patients who have spent months at Regina General Hospital.
“Especially with Alpha and Delta [waves] — when we had so many critically ill patients who were just so sick — we had so many people die, but the ones who did not die obviously require a huge amount of time and energy and resources to recover to a point that they can leave the system,” Wong said.
More recently, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, 3,587 people with COVID-19 were admitted to Saskatchewan hospitals between October 2021 and the end of March, 2022. Of those, 98 – or 2.7 per cent – stayed in hospital more than 60 days.
“Even if it’s only a hundred people who have stayed longer than two months, the overall amount of energy and work and system resources and people and everything else required in order to keep those people alive, is astronomical,” Wong said.
Wong says while there are fewer critical-care patients in the Omicron wave who will require that level of care it is still happening.
Roth is grateful
Roth appreciates the medical staff who saved his life, and now those who are trying to get him back on his feet.
“Some of them actually run to try to help their patients,” Roth said.
The avid hunter is tired of being separated from his children and grandchildren, friends and former co-workers.
He’s also worried about paying the bills back home.
As the sole breadwinner in his family, Roth operated the water treatment plant for the northern village of La Loche for more than 40 years, first as an employee, then as a private contractor.
But in February, the village cut off his pay without even a phone call, Roth says.
La Loche’s mayor, Georgina Jolibois, refused to comment.
Robert St. Pierre, the former mayor who had overseen Roth’s work for years, says he’s surprised the village didn’t make an effort to help Roth with benefits.
“I would have found a way to work with Ken, and ease what he was going through,” St. Pierre said.
Roth appreciates the support he’s received from Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.
The formerly robust man needs to get a bit stronger so that he can move into a rehab centre and, eventually, back to La Loche.
“If he can stand on his own and take a couple of steps, I’m going to take him home,” Kendra said. “That’s my goal, is to take him home. Even if we have to use the wheelchair at home, I’ll take him home and take care of him there. That’s where we have support.”