How I became New Brunswick’s first case of COVID-19 community transmission

In early March, as COVID-19 started to take hold in Canada, most of the attention was on people who had recently travelled abroad. 

So when Kym Murphy, a 54-year-old school bus driver in Rothesay, N.B., started to feel unwell, she didn’t suspect COVID-19. After all, she was washing her hands, she was practising physical distancing and importantly, she hadn’t travelled. 

Then, she developed a strange symptom.

Here is her story, as told to CBC Radio.

On a typical day I get up very early and get myself ready. I’m a fortunate driver in that I get to keep my bus in my yard, so my commute to work is about three seconds. 

I drive every grade: little tiny children who can barely climb up the stairs of the bus to high school kids with full beards who are about to graduate.

Kym Murphy’s school bus, parked in her yard, alongside her dog, Lili Marlene. (Submitted by Kym Murphy)

About a week after March break in New Brunswick, I started getting a headache and my ears felt a little bit plugged. I really didn’t think that it could be COVID-19 until I read an article about loss of taste and smell being a symptom. That’s what prompted me to call 811.

On the day of testing, I went to the designated drive-thru area. They were really sweet people, but it was a little bit surreal because you felt like you were in some crazy futuristic movie with people in hazmat suits. Then they drove that crazy thing up into my nose and tickled the front of my brain.

I waited about a day and half for the results and was completely prepared to hear, “No, you just have the flu.” That’s not what they said.

They told me at the initial phone call that I appeared to be the first case of community transmission in New Brunswick.

As for how I got COVID-19, it’s really kind of a mystery to this day. Obviously, I think the school bus could have been one place I got it because it was right after March break. We were back in class for a full week before they closed the schools down, and some kids had travelled during the break.

I also had a girlfriend who was sick and had the exact same types of symptoms as I did. Looking back, I kind of became this sleuth for a while about it, but then I kind of gave up and thought, “You know what? Could have been anywhere.” 

For about four or five days, I felt like pure crap. I could barely even lift my head. 

Murphy quaratined at home as soon as she started experiencing symptoms. (Submitted by Kym Murphy)

Being sick was also psychologically really scary. I kept waiting for it to go into my lungs. I kept thinking, “Is it going to go into my lungs?” I’d go to sleep thinking, “Oh God, am I going to wake up feeling worse?” Then I’d wake up and feel the same and be so thankful for that.

Meanwhile, online, I would see people making comments implying that I had been careless or stupid. They did hurt me a little bit. I mean, I got over it pretty quickly, so I guess it didn’t hurt me too badly. 

I realized that it was people’s fear talking, and I understand that people want to blame somebody. That’s totally understandable, but I think it’s really important that people know that while there are some people who are careless, it’s certainly not the case for everybody who contracts this crazy thing.

If I now have superwoman antibodies, I would like to give them away– Kym Murphy

Now that my latest COVID-19 test has come back negative, I don’t really know yet how I feel about it. I’m not sure that my new found “freedom” can really be celebrated yet because we’re all still in this situation. We’re all still in this self-isolation. I certainly don’t feel brazen enough to do things that I used to do.

If I could somehow help somebody else out, if I now have superwoman antibodies, I would like to give them away. 

But I’m still optimistically cautious about the virus being dead and gone in me forever and ever.

This Happened to Me: COVID-19 is a video series from CBC Radio featuring the stories of Canadians who have battled the coronavirus.

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