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‘Say your goodbyes’: One of Quebec’s first COVID cases looks back on terrifying experience

Last Updated Mar 10, 2021 at 6:03 pm MDT

MONTREAL (CityNews) – Pablo Gray still remembers the sense of overwhelming panic after finding out he was diagnosed with a new virus that was spreading quickly across the globe.

Gray was the seventh person diagnosed with COVID-19 in Quebec, back in March 2020. Now, exactly one year later, the father of two is reflecting on those frightening and uncertain days in hospital that were nearly his last.

“You’re listening to the environment saying that this is coming, and you’re the first one having it – it was a moment of panic,” said Gray.

The Montrealer had just returned from a family vacation in the Dominican Republic at the end of February when he contracted the virus.

A handout photo of Pablo Gray and his family just says before the Montrealer was admitted to hospital with COVID-19. (Credit: Pablo Gray/HO)

“We came back on the 29th,” he recounted. “Right after, I started feeling bad.”

Symptoms like fever, fatigue and headaches sent Gray to a clinic. The situation quickly escalated from there.

“The doctor said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to try to see your oxygen,’” he said. “And I was completely out of oxygen. They called the ambulance right away.”

At Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, Gray was tested for many things, including COVID-19. There, the nurses told his family to prepare for the worst.

“‘His oxygen is going down, you guys should be ready to say your goodbyes,’” said daughter Maïté Gray St-Gelais, repeating the nurse’s warning.

“You think your dad is in it for a bad cold or something, then you get told that. It switched everything really quickly.”

The family later received a call with Gray’s official test results.

“The nurse’s voice was shaking because it was her first time telling someone it’s a positive test,” said Gray St-Gelais. “And neither of them understood what that meant at the time. It just went downhill from there.”

A handout photo of Pablo Gray while he was hospitalized for COVID-19 in March 2020. (Credit: Pablo Gray/HO)

Gray was then intubated and was in a coma for two weeks.

“From there, for me, it’s another life,” he said. “It was a hallucination, the monstrous time from there to the day the tube was out of my body – that was on Mar. 23.

“I think I was really fighting to be back with my family.”

Gray’s wife and son also tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced symptoms. His daughter was the only one who did not get the virus.

“It’s hard when you’re trying to tell each other it’s going to get better, but you can’t even hug each other,” said Gray St-Gelais.

A year later, Gray says he is still recovering from those days spent in intensive care. He has lingering nasal and oxygen issues and continues to regain the more than 40 pounds he lost while fighting the coronavirus.

He and his family are now part of a Montreal University Health Centre study looking to improve health care in situations like those, and how families can be helped as well.

Gray says the entire experience made him and his family appreciate life – and each other – even more.

“I’m so happy I’m living every minute, every day, every second,” said Gray. “Trying to wake up every morning to be happier.”