IInstalled in Tunis since November with his wife and three children, Sergeant Gregory Tabone, 36, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 2, the day after the first symptoms appeared, consisting of fatigue, body aches and fever. As required by protocol, the Canadian Embassy in Tunisia and the chain of command were immediately notified, tells us his wife, Stéphanie Tabone.
Seeing that her husband’s condition was deteriorating rapidly, Mr.me Tabone took him to the Cartagena hospital on April 3. The couple paid the 1,500 Tunisian dinars (Canadian $ 710 at the time) requested on arrival, but to admit the 30-something, the establishment demanded another 10,000 dinars, reports Mr.me Tabone
“Obviously, getting that money out in an ATM at 2 am was impossible. […] So we went to the military hospital, where they took his blood pressure and temperature before sending him home. They said these were normal symptoms of COVID.
“We went back the next day [le 4 avril] because the Canadian doctor who looked after him in Ottawa told us to go back, that it didn’t make sense. She spoke with the doctor at the military hospital in Tunis and persisted with her because the hospital still refused to take care of my husband, ”continues Stéphanie Tabone.
Information as to when the family’s air medical evacuation was requested differs. Mme Tabone was first told that steps in this direction would have been taken on April 4, but that the request would have been refused, only to then learn that the first request would date back to April 8.
“During this time, my husband’s condition continued to deteriorate. On April 7, we managed, with a Tunisian doctor linked to the embassy, to find a place in a polyclinic for my husband who was desaturating ”, tells the mother of the family, according to whom the administration of the embassy did not do so far. there “nothing for [les] help”.
It seems, according to what was reported to him, that the superior of Gregory Tabone in Tunis must have insisted that the consul send the private polyclinic a letter confirming that the soldier was indeed attached to the embassy. of Canada in Tunisia and that his medical expenses were fully covered by the Canadian government.
A Canadian army nurse was finally dispatched on April 9 to Tunis to assess Gregory Tabone’s condition and support Medevac’s request. The soldier and his family will be repatriated to Quebec on the night of April 12 to 13.
A difficult journey
Meanwhile, on the 11th, Gregory Tabone had been put in an artificial coma and intubated. That day, his wife, who had also contracted the virus, also had to be hospitalized in Tunis.
“I had it much less serious than my husband, but I still had to spend four or five days in the hospital [un à Tunis et les autres à l’Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus à Québec] to receive medication and oxygen ”, specifies Mme Tabone.
The repatriation flight, lasting more than nine hours, was taxing for the family, she says. “We didn’t know if he was going to survive. My three children went through it all, their father in a coma, intubated, inflated like a helium balloon… They really found it difficult. And it was my 13-year-old daughter who had to pack our bags in Tunis because I was in the hospital too. Let’s say she learned to become an adult quickly. “
Gregory Tabone was discharged from the Infant Jesus Hospital on April 27, just four days after being released from intensive care, where he remained intubated until the 22nd. “I really wanted to get out,” explains the doctor. military, who will however return to the hospital on April 30 to receive treatment for a pulmonary embolism.
The 30-something, who gets around using a walker or in a wheelchair when he has to walk more than 200 meters, is currently in rehabilitation at home, under the good care of an army occupational therapist … and of his spouse.
“My husband has medical follow-up in Valcartier, but I am the one who takes care of him, washes him, treats his bed sores, and cooks him food …” indicates Mr.me Tabone, who fears COVID has left her husband with permanent damage.
“His heart, his liver, his lungs are sick. […] He had a punctured lung, and in the hospital [de l’Enfant-Jésus], they must have given him three pneumothoraxes, ”she explains.
Besides a high blood pressure problem for which he was taking medication, Gregory Tabone was in good health before contracting the virus. Today, he knows he is lucky to still be alive.
“I am coming back from far. I have memory problems, I feel that I have shortness of breath … The doctors do not dare to advance on the time that it will take before I find my capacities to 100% ”, says the soldier. , who hopes his difficult experience will give skeptics who still deny the disease pause.
A marked family
If, as a soldier, Gregory Tabone receives help from the Valcartier health center to get back on his feet, his wife and children are not eligible for this support.
“We are marked, as in post-traumatic shock. But we have no follow-up, no psychological help from the army, ”deplores Mr.me Tabone, who can nevertheless count on the support of his family doctor and that of the staff of the Valcartier transition center, who takes care of wounded or sick soldiers.
In addition to taking care of her husband, the mother has to disentangle herself through the “administrative papers” of the army and look for a new home in Quebec.
“For the moment, we are in an army halfway house, while my partner is recovering. But when he is well enough, he will have to move. We will not have a military house, the army told us that it did not have any more ”, she reports, discouraged, specifying that the premiums of her spouse for his deployment in Tunisia had already been cut and that he still had to pay for the house there until August.
Visibly bitter about the lack of support from the Canadian Forces to families who are going through such an experience, Stéphanie Tabone is also angry with the embassy and the consul, who, according to her, have not acted diligently. “The protocols really need to be reviewed,” she believes.
According to what has been learned, the Canadian Forces ombudsman has opened an investigation into the events experienced by the Tabone family.
Explanations from Global Affairs Canada …
On the side of Global Affairs Canada, it is explained that when a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) or an accompanying family member assigned or deployed abroad to a Canadian diplomatic mission requires medical care, the department “Works in concert with the CAF, which manages health issues affecting their members.”
“All CAF members posted or deployed outside of Canada have access to medical care and advice if they are injured or ill. The majority of them will receive immediate medical attention through local health service providers using the same clinics as other embassy staff.
“If immediate care is not available locally, CAF members have access to 24/7 medical advice through Medavie Blue Cross and Canadian Forces Health Services Group counselors. who support them. Depending on the nature of the illness or injury, they may be medically evacuated to ensure proper examinations and treatment are carried out, ”writes Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jason Kung, in an email sent to Soleil.
… and the army
The CAF did not want to give us any details about Gregory Tabone’s medical file or the circumstances surrounding the care he received.
In a long email, spokesperson Jessica Lamirande first indicates that military personnel posted abroad and their dependents have access to medical care from the host country, and that this care is covered by the Health Care Plan. public service health. It also specifies that each member is the responsibility of a medical surgeon who takes care of his health, and that the CAF also offers advice at all times by telephone.
“Together with the medical staff in the host country, the chief medical officer continually assesses the severity of the disease and the standard of care. If the chief medical officer judges that the standard of care does not meet the expectations of the Canadian health care system, the latter will recommend to the administrative authority to repatriate the soldier to Canada, ”explains Jessica Lamirande, specifying that in the case of a member assigned to a chancellery of Canada, the head of mission must also take care of mission staff and dependents.
“With this support, CAF members do not have to rely on host nation medical systems alone. In addition, CAF medical support personnel have a direct channel of communication with local health authorities, ”said the spokesperson for the Canadian army.
Mme Lamirande adds that the decision to proceed with the medical evacuation of a member of the FAC is taken on a case-by-case basis, taking into account in particular the patient’s medical situation and local resources.
A first for the biocontainment system
Jessica Lamirande confirms that a FAC air medevac squadron took part in the medevac evacuation of a soldier and his family, and that it ensured their transport from Tunisia to Quebec between the 12th and 13th. April.
She also mentions that the “biocontainment system for medical evacuation”, which is in fact an isolation unit the size of a sea container to ensure the protection of the crew of the aircraft during long flights, was first used by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
Before the arrival of the medical evacuation aircraft in Tunis, a military nurse first went to Tunisia on April 9 “to conduct an assessment and to support the evacuation”, also confirms Mr.me Lamirande.
“Although other options for the evacuation of the member and his family were considered, including that of requesting the assistance of allies, the employment of a CC-177 aircraft of the RCAF” equipped with an isolation unit was deemed the fastest and safest way, says the CAF spokesperson.
Jessica Lamirande also noted that a Canadian Forces chaplain was present throughout the trip to provide the member and his family with “spiritual and emotional support.”
“Although we cannot give details, the Family Assistance Plan is an integral component of any medical evacuation, and such a plan has been established and implemented for this evacuation,” she adds.
The CAF spokesperson assures us that “a whole range of services are available to families of CAF members to help them access the support they need to supplement provincial or territorial health care”. In particular, she cites the 24/7 service that provides “counseling and referral services to military personnel and their families,” in addition to referring us to a list of support resources on the Ministry of National Defence.