'It's been a climb': renowned cellist Denis Brott recounts near-fatal brush with COVID-19

As Thanksgiving weekend passed, one of Montreal's most renowned musicians had plenty to be grateful for.

Last spring, a battle with COVID-19 almost cost cellist Denis Brott his life.

“It's been a climb like I never had in my life,” he said on a recent day while at his Laurentian home.

Brott had just returned from playing in Europe in March when he developed a high temperature.

“I don't know where I got it but within three days of arriving home, I spiked a 42-degree fever,” he remembered.

The fever persisted for days. Unable to get through on the government hotline, he went to a hospital where he collapsed.

“That was the best thing that could have happened to me, in retrospect,” he said. “Urgences Sante arrived and took my vitals and realized I was sick. They put in CHUM and the next day, I was in ICU on a ventilator.”

“When I got home on May 4, I couldn't walk up this walkway. I was with a walker and I had somebody holding me. I had been quite decimated by 32 days on a ventilator.”

In total, Brott spent 45 days in hospital, partially spent in an induced coma.

“I had the misfortune to develop not only the viral infection but a bacterial infection and then other organs were involved. I was on a ventilator, they tried to take me off, it didn't work, put me back on.”

During his hospital stay, Brott's kidneys and liver were failing. He lost 25 pounds while intubated and was given a powerful combination of steroids and other drugs to keep him sedated.

“I almost didn't make it. They didn't know what was going on. I have since had access to the hospital records and when I see the x-rays... they did try to save me. It was touch and go.”

Since returning home, Brott has kept private about his ordeal, but decided to speak out because of rhetoric from American President Donald Trump, who has told followers not to be afraid of COVID-19.

“It was that very statement that enraged me. The absence of empathy and understanding for how many people have died.

“I think one of the most important qualities we all have to have is empathy. One has to remember that as president he has access to anything and everything, which most of us don't.”

During his recovery, Brott has suffered aftereffects in neuropathy that have affected his hands.

“When I came out of the hospital, I couldn't touch my bow. It was like razor wire under the strings. I had never had that experience and it scared me. Playing an instrument, for a musician, is having your voice. Music is a conduit for emotional communication but the music is your voice. I suddenly felt robbed of my voice and it put me in a panic.”

“I certainly did fear I might never play again and that scared me profoundly.”

Now, Brott is using his actual voice to warn others about the importance of social distancing and ensuring as few people as possible suffer as he did.

“We absolutely must be disciplined. It's a question of survival. I would encourage people, as much as possible, to avoid the potential of the suffering this horrible illness brings upon us. But particularly as a victim, it's not something you want.” 

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