Recovering COVID-19 patient describes what it was like to have the virus

David Anzarouth knew it could happen to anyone but never thought it would happen to him.

The fit 25-year-old living in Toronto didn't worry about taking his vacation to South Beach in Miami, Fla., in early March.

But 10 days later, he found himself sitting in an isolated emergency room at Toronto General Hospital, wearing a mask and feeling "the most incredible pain that I've ever experienced" as he was tested for COVID-19.

A day later, the former McMaster University student learned he was infected with the virus that has led to massive disruptions in Canada and around the world as governments scramble to limit its impact.

"I can't put into words how different this feels than anything I've ever experienced before," Anzarouth told CBC News.

Partying with thousands and sharing accommodation

He arrived in Miami on March 5 with his friend to take part in the Winter Party festival. It wasn't his first time there. Anzarouth knew what to expect — a week full of lasers, lights, music and dancing.

At the time, COVID-19 cases in Canada had just started appearing.

"It was definitely on everybody's mind but … at the time, we thought, 'Let's not lose all this money,' I myself have been needing a vacation, so I said 'Let's go,'" Anzarouth said.

After a week of nightlife among thousands of people, travelling with a group of about 20 and sharing a hotel room with three others, including a friend from Toronto, Anzarouth flew back on March 11. 

That's when things started to change. He said he felt "drugged" as if he was "completely out of it" during his Air Canada flight, AC1977, directly to Toronto Pearson Airport.

"At that point, [airport staff] were only asking if I went to China within the last 14 days or Italy," Anzarouth said.

"They weren't doing any sort of medical checks. They weren't doing anything further."

Anzarouth went straight to his apartment on Yonge Street, where he lives alone.

Then, one of his friends sent a message in their group chat saying he was ill. It prompted Anzarouth to email his boss at Toronto's TD Bank North Tower and ask to work from home. He says his supervisor obliged.

'The most incredible pain I've ever experienced'

The next evening on March 12, the virus hit him full force.

"The minute I woke up, I was drenched in a pool of sweat. I was shaking. I was so cold. My head was pounding. It was something like I've never experienced before," Anzarouth said. 

"It was the most incredible pain I've ever experienced ... My body felt like I had been flattened."

He didn't know what was wrong, but whatever it was had left Anzarouth debilitated and bedridden until Saturday evening, two days later.

Still, he couldn't stomach a slice of toast or hold himself up in the shower.

"There were points where I thought I might need to call 911 and to get picked up and to go to a hospital," Anzarouth said.

Submitted by David Anzarouth

That night, his mouth and throat began to feel parched, and he struggled to breathe as he lay in bed, sleeping for no longer than 30 minutes at a time.

The next morning, Sunday, March 15, Anzarouth started to get answers. An email viewed by CBC News shows the organizers from the Winter Party festival discovered multiple attendees had tested positive for COVID-19 and alerted other guests. The organizers verified the email.

"At that point I thought, 'I need to do something now,'" he said.

Quickly isolated in hospital

That night, he put on a mask he picked up from the airport and called an Uber to take him to Toronto General Hospital.

He said he was out of the waiting area within 25 minutes and placed in a holding room while staff cleaned a different empty room for him to stay in. 

After that, Anzarouth said two doctors and a nurse spoke to him from behind a closed door. When they tested him for various strains of influenza and X-rayed his chest for pneumonia, each was covered in a full gown from head-to-toe.

"The final swab for COVID-19 was an incredibly painful swab they stick far up one of your nostrils," Anzarouth said.

He left the hospital that night, not touching anything and returning to his apartment.

Less than 24 hours later, the doctor called back — Anzarouth had COVID-19.

"There's no one to blame … I understand that I put myself into a place where I risked my health," he said.

A document viewed by CBC News shows the University Health Network asked Anzarouth's employer to have him work from home. TD Bank also told CBC News it is "aware of a positive COVID-19 test of a TD colleague" who "self-isolated upon return from travel and did not come to work."

'This is something that's going to take all of us to fix'

Four days after learning he is infected, Anzarouth is still recovering.

He's taken some acetaminophen to help dull the symptoms, but there is no treatment yet for COVID-19. His body has to recover on its own. His friend, meanwhile, hasn't experienced any symptoms at all.

On Thursday evening, Anzarouth shared his story on social media.

While COVID-19 can manifest differently in different people, and some have reported much milder symptoms than Anzarouth, he is hoping his story will catch the attention of those who still don't take the virus seriously and underline the importance of social distancing practices, such as avoiding unnecessary travel and staying two metres away from others.

"It could happen to anyone," he said.

"This is something that's going to affect all of us. This is something that's going to take all of us to fix."