Paul Mayrand has no memory of 30 days of his life last March and April.

One of the first COVID-19 patients at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Mayrand nearly didn’t make it. He spent 67 days in hospital, thirty of them in intensive care.

“I was going downhill at a serious rate,” says Mayrand. “My kidneys stopped. My lungs struggled to breathe. My heart was badly affected and my liver was not functioning properly.”

Mayrand was admitted to the ICU just weeks after the global COVID-19 pandemic was declared. ICU physician Dr. Peter Goldberg cared for Mayrand, and recalls the uncertainty he and his entire staff felt in the face of a new, little-known disease.

“Paul was amongst the first cohort of patients admitted to the ICU with COVID during the first wave,” says Dr. Goldberg. “It was a time of great general anxiety. We had been warned by colleagues in Italy and Spain that we needed to intubate early because patients were declining so fast.”

Mayrand was intubated within hours of being admitted to the hospital. As his illness progressed, his organs began to fail. The heavy sedatives required while he was on a ventilator left him deeply comatose.

“We were doing everything we could for him, but he never stirred once over the course of a week,” says Dr. Goldberg. “I worried he would never wake up.”

The ICU’s nurses were hopeful that Mayrand would wake again. They were at his bedside frequently, and witnessed fluttering eyelids and small hand movements that suggested he could recover.

Paul Mayrand

Members of the RVH-MUHC ICU care team, who were
instrumental in Paul Mayrand’s recovery from COVID-19

Encouraged by these small signs, the ICU’s nurses went the extra mile to help Mayrand recover. They pressed the phone to his ear every day so his wife, France St-Jean, could speak to him. This small kindness was one of the few comforts the nurses could offer the otherwise unresponsive Mayrand. The couple has been together for 47 years, and St-Jean would remind Mayrand who he was, where he came from, and what they still had left to accomplish in their life together.

A month passed, and Mayrand began to wake up. His eyes opened, and he was able to communicate with blinks and facial gestures. Mayrand had survived, but his recovery would be a long one.

“It was shocking to see how much I’d wasted away,” says Mayrand. “I couldn’t walk. In fact, I could hardly move or even lift a spoon. I was in bad shape, but the hospital staff were determined to see me recover, and they did everything in their power to make it happen.”

Mayrand spent long hours in physical therapy to regain his ability to walk. Previously, he had been in excellent physical shape.

“I feel so much better now, but there’s a long way to go to regain my strength and my life as I knew it before COVID-19,” says Mayrand.

Mayrand’s recovery brought hope to the MUHC’s staff. As reports of thousands dead around the world poured in, seeing Mayrand walk out of the hospital after 67 days in the ICU gave the staff immeasurable relief, and showed them that severe COVID-19 is survivable.

“Seeing a patient wake up after 30 days is so joyful, it can bring you to tears,” says Dr. Goldberg. “In the ICU, where so many cases are dire, it is a truly joyful moment.”

Mayrand is extremely grateful to the staff at the ICU, who still check in with him weekly. Though his recovery will be long, he has the support of the MUHC team as he works to regain his former strength.

“The ICU is about teamwork,” says Dr. Goldberg. “We could not do what we do without the nurses, respiratory therapists, support workers, nutritionists and other staff.”

As the second wave of COVID-19 progresses, the MUHC’s ICU team is more prepared to care for the complex cases caused by the coronavirus. In Dr. Goldberg’s words, living during a pandemic has “normalized.”

“Throughout history, people have lived in dire straights. They adapted and made it through, and so will we,” says Dr. Goldberg. “In the ICU, COVID-19 is now just a normal day’s work.”

While COVID-19 remains a threat around the world, we can take comfort that the team at the McGill University Health Centre is prepared to help those who become critically ill.

To support research and excellence in care during the COVID-19 pandemic, the MUHC Foundation created the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. To learn more and to donate, visit

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