Thais Freitas

Communications Strategy & Storytelling

I started a new job, covid almost killed dad, and a few things I learned in between

Photo of my dad recovering from Covid-19 at the hospital with my mom wearing a mask by his side

I’ve wanted to work in sustainability and environmental protection since 2018, when my oldest son was born and I felt I had to do more to save the planet if I wanted him to have a future. That’s why in December 2020, five months to the end of my parental leave for my second baby, I started looking for work in environmental organizations.

I was very picky, only applied for three jobs and ended up hired to the one I wanted the most: communications specialist at Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. They take on public interest cases that defend the environment and help strengthen environmental laws – an honest and effective way to protect the Earth, so I was thrilled to join their team of skilled and passionate professionals.

March 29 was my first day at the new job, and of course, I wanted to be my best self to make a good impression on my new boss and coworkers. March 29, however, was also when my dad was admitted to the hospital with covid-19, and the next day he had to be intubated with a slim chance of survival. 

My 66-year-old dad has always been a very healthy man, so the news perplexed and freaked me out. Besides the fear of losing him, I also felt miserable because, as an only child living an ocean away, I couldn’t do anything to help mom while she was alone dealing with dad’s illness while sick with covid herself. When she told me the news over the phone on March 30, she was inconsolable. I broke down crying and shaking when I hung up and couldn’t calm myself down – I had to take a tranquillizer, and there was no way I could work the rest of the day.

So, it was only my second day at the job, but I called my new boss trying to tell her what was going on while sobbing on the phone. I was worried and embarrassed, but felt comforted by the compassionate and caring way she reacted, telling me to take as many paid days off as I needed until I was ready to get back to work. My coworkers were supportive too, sending their best wishes and offering help in any way they could.

I tried working the next day, but as dad got worse, I called my boss again and she told me to take that and the next day off and see how I’d feel after the weekend. I rested, calmed down, and went back to work on Monday, as I figured keeping my mind busy would be better than just crying at home waiting for updates on my dad’s health.

My teammates were gentle and accommodating, and the days went by with dad getting a little better every day. He woke up from the coma nearly two weeks later and yesterday, April 22, was finally discharged from the hospital. Although he’ll have to undergo weekly blood tests for six months, my dad is recovering well and the doctor said he expects no side effects. He also said that it’s a miracle that dad is alive, and I have the feeling that my parents will end up moving to the country after all this to live the calm life they’ve wanted for a long time, a change I support 100%.

It feels like an immense weight’s been lifted off my back. I’m relieved, thankful, and feeling like myself again. I can now fully focus and am poised to do my best work, not only because it’s a dream job to me but, more than everything, because I felt valued, respected and supported as a new team member and as a human being when I was at my worst and hadn’t yet proved my worth to my new employer. 

I wanted to share this story so that my boss’ and coworkers’ behaviour can inspire people in leadership positions. And to remind everyone how important it is to be kind, patient and empathetic, because we don’t know the battles each of us is fighting, especially during these sombre pandemic days.

And just one reminder before I go: Wash your hands, wear your mask, keep your distance, get vaccinated. The craziest thing about covid-19 is that you have no idea how your body will react to it – even if you’re healthy, young, and active. It may feel like a harmless cold or, as in my dad’s case, wreck you up or worse. This disease is very real and unpredictable, and after seeing it almost take my dad’s life, I’m now a hundred times more careful to avoid it.         

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