Jaclyn's Story

COVID-19: A nurse’s struggle to survive


“It felt like every cell in my body was on fire.”

Jaclyn Robinson couldn’t get up. She clutched her chest, barely able to breathe as she lay in bed at her home. After a moment, she mustered enough energy to call for her husband, Kirk. He came in and looked at her, eyes filled with worry. His wife was feverish, sick, struggling to breathe—Jaclyn was fading away.

Jaclyn tried to speak, but her lungs were failing.

“My husband looked at me and said, ‘You can’t even get through a sentence you’re so short of breath,’” says Jaclyn. “He called an ambulance and I was rushed to VGH. I didn’t know if I would ever see Kirk or our three daughters again.”

Facing the unknown

In March 2020, Jaclyn, a nurse, and her husband Kirk were infected with COVID-19.

“Within hours it felt like every cell in my body was on fire,” says Jaclyn. “All my joints hurt and I couldn’t move. My fever never let up and it was only getting worse.”

After eight days of trying to manage the disease at home, Kirk made the difficult decision to call for an ambulance.

At this time, the pandemic had only just been declared in BC. There were no COVID-19 vaccines, protocols were changing daily, and treatment options were still in development.

Those on the front lines of our health care system were facing the unknown. COVID-19 was an insidious new disease that was highly transmissible, and reactions to it ranged from asymptomatic to fatal.

“A lot of us were nervous, myself included, on what to expect,” says Dr. Erik Vu, Jaclyn’s Intensive Care Physician at VGH. “When the threat is something you can’t see that raises the stakes quite a bit.”

Jaclyn was rushed into VGH’s ICU. Severely sick with COVID-19 she needed expert medical care—and quickly.

Going dark

“I just remember being pushed into this isolation room and the door shuts,” says Jaclyn. “Before I knew it, there were about 20 faces outside this window staring at me with very concerned eyes. I was starting to realize how sick I was. I was absolutely terrified.”

Staff at VGH including respiratory therapists, nurses and doctors all cared for Jaclyn. Her oxygen levels were dangerously low—an indication of her failing lungs.

Treatment started with oxygen on the face. That wasn’t enough. She was given pressurized oxygen. That wasn’t enough.

“In Jaclyn’s case it became clear she had to be put on life support,” says Dr. Vu.

Life support meant putting Jaclyn into a coma so that a ventilator could be used to take over the function of her lungs. This would give her body a chance to rest and recover, as the body no longer needs to use its respiratory muscles.

Jaclyn was shocked and uncertain. She didn’t want to be placed into a medical coma. As a nurse she knew all the complications and complex recovery that extended time on a ventilator could bring. Yet it was the only option left.

And so, despite her fears, Jaclyn agreed. The team put her under. Her world went dark.

“That was pretty much the scariest moment of my life,” says Kirk.

Finding hope

Seven days later, Jaclyn woke up. Her lungs were able to breathe on their own once more. Finally, Jaclyn was winning the fight.

“The only thing I wanted was to see my family. I needed to see something orientating,” says Jaclyn. She asked her nurse, Sheri Kember, to track down her phone. It was long dead. Sheri took the extra effort to fully change in and out of her PPE in order to find a spare charger from her locker—no small feat with the increased infection control protocols in place.

“All of a sudden I see all three of my girls and Kirk on this little screen,” says Jaclyn. “It was so powerful to see them and for them to see that I was alive.”

Jaclyn had survived. Her recovery not only meant she would live, but also offered hope to the health care staff who treated her.

“When we were able to remove Jaclyn’s ventilator, it felt hopeful that people can make it through,” says Ramie Locke, Jaclyn’s Registered Respiratory Therapist. “Especially in the beginning, we didn’t hear about anybody recovering.”

“I’ll always remember Dr. Vu came into the ICU and said, ‘I just needed to see you were alive. That’s all I needed,’” says Jaclyn.

Forever grateful

Jaclyn soon returned home to her family, yet her experience has forever changed her life.

She is now a study participant in a post-COVID recovery clinic, helping researchers further understand the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 on patients who have been hospitalized from this disease. She also recently changed positions at work and is now a Clinical Nurse Specialist working for the Post-COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Clinical Care Network, which helps achieve the best possible outcomes for people who have experienced serious cases of COVID-19.

“I think that we’re exceptionally lucky to have caring medical staff like we do at VGH,” says Kirk. “To the staff at VGH, I only have a big thank you. That is it. The biggest thank you ever.”

COVID-19 nearly took Jaclyn’s life. She is alive today thanks to the health care staff at VGH—the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and more.

“I’m sharing my story hoping that people can see this is a facility worth giving to. This is a facility that supports their staff, and cares about their patients and families,” says Jaclyn. “I want to tell every single staff member you are doing hard work. You are making a difference. And you are the reason why I’m here today.”

Donations to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation support the health care professionals who cared for Jaclyn and many more patients who use our services from across British Columbia.