How a Miramichi woman overcame COVID-19 while helping her husband recover from hip replacement surgery

Nick and Margaret Van Velzen were cautious. They were careful. They wore gloves. They cleaned their hands frequently. They did everything they were supposed to do. They followed the government’s orders, but Margaret still contracted COVID-19.

On March 18, the day before the State of Emergency was declared by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Margaret, 72, and Nick, 79, left for Laval, Que., where Nick was having hip replacement surgery at a private clinic.

Breaking the trip up over two days, they stopped for the night at a hotel in Montmagny, Que.

“We went to the bar upstairs and had a beer and pizza, then went back to our room,” she said. “Then the next day, were back in the car and on our way to Laval.”

They arrived in Laval on March 19, the day before Nick’s surgery, and checked into the clinic – which included accommodations for Margaret.

“The whole trip, we never stopped anywhere else to eat because I had packed a cooler with snacks,” she said.

Nick’s surgery took place March 20 and Margaret didn’t leave the clinic. The surgery was a success, and they began their journey home on March 23.

“We were being very careful at this point, and during the entire trip,” Margaret said.


They stopped at a hotel for the night in Edmundston, N.B., and other than that, they only made stops for gas and to use the washroom.

“I wore gloves to fill up the car, I tapped my own card, I was never around anybody, and I even washed our money.”

They arrived back home in Miramichi on March 24. The following day, the provincial government closed N.B.’s borders.

With the declaration of the State of Emergency and having just returned home from another province, Nick and Margaret knew they’d be self-isolating for 14 days.

While they were away, Margaret’s brother house sat and cared for Milo and Teko, their two toy poodles.

“Because of the State of Emergency, I never touched my brother, I never hugged him. He was already packed and out of the house,” she said. “We did not go out from then on because we were self-isolating coming from Quebec.”


The evening of March 25 was the onset of symptoms for Margaret. It began with itchy eyes and a sore throat.

“The next day when I woke up, I had a full-blown flu,” she said. “I was sick like a truck had hit me. I had the worst flu symptoms you could possibly imagine. But they weren’t typical, it was just different.”

Margaret was exhausted, with a terrible headache, chills, no appetite, no sense of taste, a foul taste in her mouth, diarrhea, she lost her voice, and had difficulty breathing.

“My breathing was very stressed, and if I tried to talk, all I did was cough,” she said. “Through all of that, I still had to help Nick because he was recovering from his hip surgery. So I was downplaying how sick I was feeling.”

She said it felt like she couldn’t get a full breath. She had no congestion in her chest, but she had a hard time breathing, and it would make her cough.

“I wasn’t wheezing, but every time I’d try to get air into my lungs, I would cough,” she said. “It was a very dry cough.”


Through all of it, Margaret said she was never scared when she struggled to breathe. It was only when her blood pressure dropped.

“It dropped really low, really low. That scared me,” she said. “It was below 100, and I knew darn well, low blood pressure could kill me. I was terrified.”

But Margaret didn’t have time to be afraid because she was helping Nick recover from surgery.

“I was stress-breathing, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t breathe. I was doing breathing exercises and I’d put hot pads between my shoulder blades to keep the heat on my lungs.”

The headache, Margaret said was like a sinus headache, but worse. Self-reliant, she decided to try and soothe it with ice.

“For three days, I had the heating pad on my back and the ice on my head,” she said.

Not one to take medication for a headache, Margaret said one day it was so bad, she gave it a shot.

“I took a Tylenol to see if it would provide some relief, but it did absolutely nothing for me, so I didn’t bother trying that again,” she said.

After about four days, her breathing started to improve.


From March 26 onward, Margaret was not getting better, only worse and her loved ones were worried.

“My daughter in Ontario started worrying about me, my sister was worried too,” she said. “But when you’re sick, you don’t feel like going out in your car and driving.”

On April 2 she called Tele-Care 811 and the next day, April 3, they called and she went to her appointment at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre in Miramichi.

Margaret parked her car inside the tent, in the parking lot and staff came out of the health centre wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“I didn’t get out of the car. They swabbed me while I sat in my car,” she said. “It wasn’t all that bad to get it done. It was really quick, but it was really nothing that I imagined.”


Public Health called April 5 around 8 p.m. to tell her the results were positive for COVID-19.

Because she was having difficulty breathing, they recommended she go to Horizon’s Miramichi Regional Hospital for assessment.

But she couldn’t.

Nick was just a couple weeks out from having his hip replaced and was still unable to do anything physical without her help. Plus, he could not take care of Milo and Teko at that point during his recovery.

“I’m not one to go to the hospital for anything light, anyway, I was resting and hydrating, since there wasn’t much else I could be doing,” she said. “Nick still wasn’t showing any symptoms, other than being tired out from the painkillers he was on from his hip replacement.”


After receiving her results, the Public Health team went to work right away on contact tracing, so Margaret took them through everywhere they went on their trip.

“The closest contact I had with people was going to the desk to check in and check out of the hotels,” she said. “And the waitress who delivered the pizza and beer.”

Margaret said Public Health called twice a day in the beginning, then as she started to improve, they called every day until she was cleared on April 22.

Although never symptomatic, Nick remained under isolation until May 4 because of his exposure to Margaret.

Anyone who is a confirmed case of COVID-19 or a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 is monitored daily by Public Health.

During isolation, Margaret’s sister delivered groceries and essentials, and Public Health staff were always a phone call away.

“The nurses were absolutely amazing. My hat’s off to the nurses here on the Miramichi,” she said. “We were so thankful for the support and getting those calls every day. It was amazing.”

Greg Sargent, Director of Public Health and Primary Health Care in the Miramichi Area, said while he was happy and encouraged to hear that Margaret and Nick received exceptional care from the team at Public Health, he was not surprised.

“Pandemic planning and preparedness is an ongoing, evergreen process at Public Health; we have prepared for this for years.”

Through it all, Margaret said she never felt the need to go to Horizon’s Miramichi Regional Hospital.

“If I couldn’t breathe, I would go to the hospital, but it never got to that point,” Margaret said. “I was only afraid when my blood pressure dropped.”


Margaret said it was essentially a month and a half before she went back to the grocery store, and it was a strange experience.

“I would be absolutely horrified if someone picked it up from me,” she said. “I’m still very worried about touching or exposing myself to anybody. I fully cover my face, I wear gloves.”


Margaret and Nick both agreed: with staff from Horizon and Public Health – they truly felt taken care of.

Nick said he wanted to drive home the point – that through it all – the care both he and Margaret received was second to none.

“From the Extra Mural nurse who came to the house to remove the staples from my incision, and everyone at Horizon and Public Health in Miramichi,” Nick said. “The care was exceptional. We are truly so lucky to live here in Canada, and especially in New Brunswick.”

Greg said clients really do become extended members of the Public Health team and family.

“I watched our staff laugh with clients, attempt to brighten their days as they worried waiting for test results and above all offered support and guidance in the most professional and compassionate way,” Greg said. “They are a remarkable team and I am privileged to work alongside them each day.”

Greg said he’s proud of what’s collectively been achieved in New Brunswick.

“When you combine well thought-out plans and processes with a highly skilled, dedicated team of professionals, ready to step up and do whatever necessary to overcome challenges, the results are often overwhelmingly positive,” he said.


Nick and Margaret went to Quebec, prepared and were cautious, yet she still managed to contract the virus.

“We were very aware, and very careful the whole time we were in Quebec,” Margaret said. “And as careful as we were, I still got COVID-19.”

Margaret said N.B. has really done its part to flatten the curve, but that doesn’t mean this is anywhere over.

“I think it’s because people are following the rules, New Brunswick has had fewer cases than other provinces, but we really have to continue to follow the rules set out by the government.”