‘He needs me there’: Winnipeg woman fights to see husband battling COVID-19 in intensive care unit

By | April 21, 2020

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman is pleading to see her husband who is battling COVID-19 in the intensive care unit.

“It’s a really scary place for him and an unfamiliar place, that’s why I feel he needs me there,” said Genevieve Funk-Unrau.

Her 66-year-old husband, Neil Funk-Unrau, is in a coma at Saint Boniface Hospital.

Under the current rules, she can’t be at his bedside because visitors aren’t allowed in the ICU during the pandemic, unless a patient is dying. 

“I believe he needs my encouragement because it’s a voice he knows and trusts,” said 59-year-old Genevieve.

The couple has been married for 34 years, but has been kept apart for weeks because of COVID-19. Genevieve is a social worker and Neil is a professor of conflict resolution at Menno Simons College. They both tested positive for the virus after returning from a trip to Cuba in March. She recovered, but Neil’s condition worsened. 

Genevieve said Neil was rushed to the ICU when his fever spiked and oxygen levels plummeted. He was placed in a medically induced coma, so he could be put on a ventilator. 

“It’s been at least a week since he was taking off his sedation drugs and he’s still not waking up,” she said. 

Genevieve praised workers at Saint Boniface Hospital for how they have cared for her husband. She said they regularly set up Zoom calls so she and her adult daughters can talk to Neil, but Genevieve said it’s no substitute for being next to him. 

“It’s just not enough. It’s still not like a touch and having somebody right there,” she said. 

“I NEEDED TO FIGHT”

Genevieve has written a letter to Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin asking the hospital to make an exception. 

“I just felt I needed to fight. I needed to try as much as I could to go see him because if he died or something and I didn’t do that. I wouldn’t have done what I could have done,” said Genevieve. 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority wouldn’t comment on the case, citing privacy reasons.

‘WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE RECOVER’

Genevieve said she understands why public health officials are being cautious about who they allow into in hospitals. However, she said as more people recover the rules should be revisited. 

“Theoretically I have anti-bodies so I won’t catch it again. It’s not just about me. The system needs to create new policies, or additional policies that say what happens when people recover. Can they help their loved ones who haven’t recovered yet,” she said.

On Saturday, Roussin said there isn’t enough research on COVID-19 immunity to allow recovered patients into hospitals. 

“We couldn’t put much weight on that because we still don’t have the data,” he said. “We have strict visiting rules for the protection of everyone, but there are certain (exceptions) for compassionate reasons.” 

Manitoba chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said decisions are made on a “case-by-case basis.”

Genevieve said one of the saddest parts of the pandemic is that patients suffer alone. She said she doesn’t want that to happen to her husband. 

“I should really be with him,” she said.

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