A life dedicated to saving Winnipeggers ended Wednesday, with a retired firefighter gasping for air after four months in hospital, where he waited for a delayed surgery and then caught COVID-19.
David Reid, 87, had a biting sense of humour and gift for telling stories, particularly of the things he’d seen as a platoon chief.
He went to Seven Oaks General Hospital on Sept. 23, 2021, for leg pain. He was sent the next day to Health Sciences Centre for diagnostic testing, in order to proceed with spinal-fusion surgery that, in the end, was delayed roughly 10 times.
Around that time, Manitoba had a backlog of 52,000 surgeries, a number that has since swollen beyond 57,800. This week, the province announced it has a plan to send willing patients to North Dakota for some spinal surgeries.
In September, Reid had his surgery delayed over the course of three weeks, with doctors constantly shuffled out to deal with COVID-19 patients on the verge of death, who are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
During that time, Reid lost the ability to get up and walk.
"To me, he was basically neglected at Health Sciences Centre," said Frank Leswick, a close friend and former city firefighter.
"He was able to walk when we got there and, at the end, I was feeding him. He couldn’t even pick up a fork or a pen."
“He (David Reid) was able to walk when we got there and, at the end, I was feeding him. He couldn’t even pick up a fork or a pen.” – Frank Leswick
The Oct. 21 surgery got their hopes up, but the recovery was rough, particularly after Reid caught COVID-19 during an outbreak on his ward.
He was then diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, meaning inflamed lungs that make it hard to breathe.
"It was a double-whammy with that and COVID," Leswick said. "It probably didn’t help that he was a firefighter for 36 years."
Reid also developed gangrene in one toe, and doctors found shooting pains were caused by poor circulation in his legs, likely due to the lack of movement.
They put him on heavy painkillers. And then oxygen.
"He had no stimulation basically, physical or mentally," said Leswick. "It was brutal."
Reid appeared on the front of the Free Press last fall, as one of thousands of Manitobans languishing in hospitals due to an overstretched health-care system, which the province kept insisting was not in crisis.
Reid appeared on the front of the Free Press last fall, as one of thousands of Manitobans languishing in hospitals due to an overstretched health–care system, which the province kept insisting was not in crisis.
In past interviews, the pair saluted the work of health-care staff, but expressed frustration at provincial management of COVID-19 — and Manitobans who refuse to get vaccinated.
Leswick wonders how things might have turned out if Reid had someone help more often with stretching and movement, if he didn’t catch COVID-19 while recovering from surgery, or if the operation hadn’t been postponed so many times.
"He’s a tough Scotsman; he didn’t give up," said Leswick, who brought in mushrooms and yogurt when Reid complained about the puréed hospital food.
Leswick is angry a dear friend spent his last 118 days of life declining in a hospital, with the prospect of dying alone in an unfamiliar place.
Reid’s doctor told him he was on the list to be transferred to a rural health centre, but was kept in Winnipeg because of his lung condition.
A roommate was sent to Hamiota, some 285 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
Reid stayed, and eventually his organs shut down.
"At the end, he (David Reid) couldn’t swallow. He was not really conscious; his eyes were half–closed.” – Frank Leswick
"It drained him, little by little. At the end, he couldn’t swallow," said Leswick. "He was not really conscious; his eyes were half-closed."
He saw Reid for an hour Wednesday, at which point he was struggling to breathe, with 50 respirations per minute, more than double the normal amount.
Reid died within two hours, from a condition that often results in a feeling of drowning.
Leswick is now scheduling Reid’s cremation and clearing out his friend’s apartment.
"It wasn’t the right way to go. He deserved better."
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"