Ross Lunn was in a coma and on a ventilator for 41 days over planting season. By harvest, he was back in the tractor.
by Jackie Clark
Though big cities have been the major hotbeds for COVID-19 infections and outbreaks, the virus has touched the lives of those in the rural, agricultural community as well.
A farmer from Elgin County missed the 2020 planting season because he was in intensive care and breathing with the assistance of a ventilator. However, his family and community supported his miraculous recovery in time to help with the harvest.
June and Ross Lunn live near St. Thomas, west of London, Ont. and are now retired after 38 years of farming. Every year, however, Ross helps a nearby producer with field work and travels to Alberta to help farmers with harvest.
2020 had other plans.
The couple returned home from a trip to Florida at the end of February and were mostly unfamiliar with the virus.
“We heard about it, but we can’t honestly say we thought about it because it wasn’t here. It was in other countries and we had no fear of it,” June tells Better Farming.
“We realized that precautions were starting, and by the next week, we had it.”
In mid-March, the couple started to feel like they had bad colds.
“We didn’t really have the common symptoms of COVID-19,” June explains.
At this early stage in the pandemic, it was not widely understood that the COVID-19 virus could present very differently in different patients.
“We weren’t prepared at all, including at our hospitals, because we were the first” in the area to contract the virus, she adds. “It was so early on … and we were the first cases in our county.”
On March 24 “I really felt Ross’s breathing was laboured. And we were weak,” June says.
“We decided to call the doctor and he suggested we go to the hospital.”
Within hours, both were admitted. Unknown to the couple at the time, Ross’s mother, Jessie Lunn, was ad- mitted to the same hospital with COVID-19 on the same day, within 30 minutes of June and Ross.
“Five hours later, hospital staff came in and told me that Ross probably wouldn’t make the night,” June says.
“All three of us were in hospital.”
Symptoms and severity of the COVID-19 cases varied widely between the family members. June was able to return home after being hospitalized for three days. Tragically, Jessie passed away on March 30 of COVID-19. She was 89 years old and had additional health challenges.
On ventilator for 41 days
“Ross was in the intensive care unit critically for 50 days, and he was on the ventilator for 41 of those days,” June explains.
He was kept in a coma during this time and has no memory of those days.
“We had no idea how serious this was. Ross was saying when he came to, ‘What do you mean the malls are closed? What do you mean the kids aren’t at school?’”
“In the very early days, they were working on new procedures that they learned from other places as to how to handle the virus,” June explains. “The doctors that looked after Ross were excellent and they never gave up.”
Some 27 nurses and six doctors cared for Ross, he tells Better Farming.
“Quite a few of them I’ve never met because I was unconscious,” he says.
“I got excellent care, couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
After 71 days in hospital, Ross was able to return home on June 3, his 71st birthday.
“Best birthday present I could have asked for,” Ross says.
However, the road to recovery wasn’t over.
“When he came home, he was on oxygen to sleep and during the day, he was very, very weak. He lost 40 pounds (18 kilograms),” June explains. “The process at home was slow. It started where he could hardly get out of a chair and get to his room.”
Medical staff “told us that there was a large possibility that he would be on oxygen for life if the damage was significant,” she adds.
The couple are still waiting to find out the extent of Ross’s permanent lung damage.
As soon as he could, Ross “had to get out on his John Deere tractor to cut grass – that was what he kept telling them at the hospital. That was one of the first things he wanted to do. And he did it on the 25th of June,” June explains.
When Better Farming first connected with Ross in November, he was in the field working on the harvest.
“I help a neighbor in this little town of Wallacetown,” Ross explains.
Once Ross had recovered in early fall, he started back to driving a grain cart for four to five hours at a time.
“Now I’m working 10 hours a day,” he adds. “I’m feeling really good. I walk three kilometres (1.9 miles) a day, and don’t use my oxygen anymore.”
The couple are grateful to the medical staff who went above and beyond during Ross’s recovery.
Hospital nurses played his favourite country music
June and Ross have three married daughters and six grandchildren, but of course “we couldn’t go and visit Ross in hospital,” June says. Nurses used WhatsApp to send photos and updates, and June sent pictures of the family for Ross to see when he woke up. She also sent along two hours of his favourite country music for the nurses to play in his room.
“We kept saying over and over again ‘What would this be like without technology?’” June recalls.
“Family strong” was their motto, she adds.
“Those nurses were going through as much as I was,” says Ross. “They weren’t able to see their kids or friends or grandparents. They were working 12-hour shifts. I have to commend them for what they’ve done.”
Throughout the ordeal, the agricultural communities in Ontario and Alberta supported the Lunns.
“We live in a farm area and we farmed for 38 years. Everybody here knows Ross went to Alberta for harvest every year for over 30 years,” June explains.
“Daily, I would send out a report of how he was doing because there were so many who were so concerned, as we all were, in those early weeks.”
Ross “keeps in touch with every farmer in the area, and his second family in Red Deer, Alberta,” she adds. “Once he got better, he could call all his buddies and ask them what they’re growing.”
For June, “being home and isolated, I think that’s where the rural community really does step up,” she says. “They’re supportive and really close to one another, neighbour to neighbour and farmer to farmer.”
Three days after Ross returned home from the hospital, the family organized a parade, and the farming community attended and waved from the side of the road. One local farmer wrote “Welcome home, Ross” on his sprayer.
“That’s community,” June says. “The rural community was certainly there for us.”
The COVID-19 virus “really did hit our small area very hard and the biggest question is, Where did we get it? We have no idea,” she explains. “That’s a question we’ll never know.”
Story of a community and hope
From the experience, the couple hope “people understand that this is serious, this can happen,” she adds. “We mourn the loss of Ross’s mom due to the virus. It is out there and we need to be safe.”
From doctors initially thinking he wouldn’t survive the night, to an incredible recovery in time for harvest season, Ross’s story is one of community and hope.
“His kids and his family are so proud,” June says.
“We’re blessed every day. Especially on a day like today when we’re sitting out here in a great big field in the tractor and the sun’s shining.”BF