Thais Freitas

Communications Strategy & Content Writing

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 needed to do more to save the planet if I wanted Eli to have a future. So I started looking for work in environmental organizations in December 2020, five months before my parental leave for my second baby ended.

I was very selective, applying to only three jobs and eventually getting hired at the one I wanted most: communications specialist at Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. Ecojustice handles 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 my new job, and of course I wanted to do my best to make a good impression on my new boss and coworkers. March 29, however, was also the day my dad was hospitalized with Covid-19 and had to be intubated the next day with a slim chance of survival.

My 66-year-old father has always been a very healthy man, so the news stunned and dismayed me. Aside from the fear of losing him, I also felt miserable because as an only child living an ocean away, there was nothing I could do to help mom while she struggled to cope with dad’s illness alone while suffering from Covid herself. When she broke the news to me over the phone on March 30, she was inconsolable. When I hung up, I broke down crying and shaking and couldn’t calm down – I had to take a sedative and couldn’t work for the rest of the day.

It was only my second day at work, but I called my new boss and, sobbing on the phone, tried to tell her what was going on. I was worried and embarrassed, but I felt comforted by the compassionate and caring way she responded: she told me to take as many paid days off as I needed until I could return to work. My coworkers also supported me by sending their best wishes and offering help where they could.

I tried to work the next day, but when my father got worse, I called my boss again and she told me to take that day and the next day off and see how I felt after the weekend. I rested, calmed down, and went back to work on Monday, thinking it would be better to keep my mind busy than to cry at home waiting for news about my father’s health.

My teammates were kind and accommodating, and the days passed while my father got a little better each day. He woke up from his coma almost two weeks later, and yesterday, April 22, he was finally released 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 doesn’t expect any side effects. He also said that it’s a miracle that my father is still alive, and I’ve a feeling that after all this, my parents will move to the country to live the quiet life they’ve long wanted – a change I support 100%.

It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my back. I feel relieved, grateful and like myself again. I can now fully focus on my work and am ready to give my best, not only because it’s a dream job for me, but especially because I felt valued, respected and supported as a new team member and as a person when I was at my worst and had yet to prove my worth to my new employer.

I wanted to share this story so that the behaviour of my boss and colleagues can inspire people in leadership positions. And to remind everyone of the importance of being kind, patient and empathetic, because we don’t know the struggles each of us is going through in these dark days of the pandemic.

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

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