On the morning of March 25, Matthew Greenshields, a few months short of 20 years old, was rushed to the hospital after his fever spiked, tonsils swelled and he started puking-up blood.

Greenshields remembers seeing the blood come out of his mouth and hit the bottom of his trash can. He sat there exhausted and didn’t have the energy to comprehend the situation. When he lay back down his mind started racing.

“What is wrong with me?” Greenshields asked.  

In the same moment, his father walked in and immediately took him to the South Health Campus in Calgary. Greenshields then tested positive for both COVID-19 and mono. 

While recovering from two illnesses, Greenshields posted his life-changing story and became the face of a public service announcement for the Canadian government. Although the responses were not all pleasant, he continues to raise awareness for COVID-19.

What first seemed to be common cold symptoms turned into a scary moment for Greenshields. When he arrived at the hospital he was guided to the ambulance garage where the nurses were all in hazmat suits. 

Greenshields was then quickly moved through several tests before being placed in isolation because of his positive COVID-19 results. Something about the lonely hospital hallways and rooms made it feel imaginary. 

“It was eerie when I was in the hospital. The best way to describe it was like they were preparing for the wave to happen and I was patient zero because it was weirdly empty,” said Greenshields. 

Matthew Greenshields lays hooked up to oxygen in a hospital bed at the South Health Campus in Calgary. Greenshields tested positive for both COVID-19 and mono. PHOTO: MATTHEW GREENSHIELDS

Road to recovery

After the long week in the hospital, Greenshields’ body slowly started to recover, and he was released to go home on bed rest. During that time, he was completely isolated from his family. 

While sitting in his room, he wrote about his experience with COVID-19: having mild cold symptoms; coughing up blood multiple times; and not eating, breathing, or swallowing without a tube.

“I saw a bunch of stories of people having a huge party. The caption was, ‘COVID-19 got nothing on us.’ I thought I should probably say something because it was pretty bad what I had to go through. So, I wrote my whole story, every detail that I could,” said Greenshields.

To date, Greenshields says he has been interviewed about 30 times and was featured in at least 76 Canadian news sources.

“I initially thought this is my 15 minutes of fame,” said Greenshields.

Online haters

At first, Greenshields received positive comments on social media. But then came the backlash.

“I got quite a few death threats from it. People are saying I was a crisis actor and was sparking fear,” said Greenshields.

According to Greenshields, one man directly messaged him and said he was an “effin liar,” he “did not deserve to survive,” and lastly to “get the so called virus again but you don’t survive”.

The man went on and on, and Greenshields remembers reading it and thinking it was funny due to the absurd number of grammatical mistakes.

“My response was, ‘I just corrected their ‘your’ to ‘you’re,’ and they responded by blowing-up again. I didn’t even read their second response. I just blocked him,” said Greenshields.

This hate continued after he was featured in a public service announcement for the Government of Canada. 

The advertising agency for the Government of Canada reached out by Facebook messenger to seek permission to produce an advertisement. After Greenshields agreed to be in the ad, he was sent audio equipment and asked to send pictures around his home to find the perfect spot to shoot it. 

Government ad

“They chose that infamous couch, and I had to set everything up. The process itself took probably three hours of them asking a question, and I’m answering it again and again. No stutters or anything and then I had to repeat the whole interview at a different angle,” said Greenshields.

After the ad, which was aimed at 13- to 24-year-olds, was posted, some of the comments were hostile and similar to the ones Greenshields had received before.

He was tired of seeing the comments and ended-up removing a few of his social media accounts.

“I deleted Facebook and Twitter because of the comments. I didn’t care about the hate, but I don’t want to see that side of the advertisement. At least on Snapchat and stuff, you still see the ad, but there are no comments,” said Greenshields.

He eventually made a parody on his Tik Tok account to make fun of the advertisement. It started off the same but finished by apologizing for his face being posted everywhere a million times.

The parody currently has over 852,000 views, and he has had over 1 million views from other COVID-19 related videos. The comment sections were filled with negative and positive comments.

Greenshields ignored most of the comments but would occasionally respond to a few who wrote they wanted a response from ‘COVID boy.’

“Thirteen and 14-year olds would dm (direct message) me and say ‘I know someone who tested positive, am I going to die?’ It’s kind of nice that I can give them some reassurance because I actually went through it, and it just feels really good to be able to help people,” said Greenshields.

Wasn’t worth it

He explains COVID-19 was the worst he had ever felt and, even though Greenshields has acquired a substantial fan base, he would still prefer not to have gotten the virus.

“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to turn into what it did. I would definitely not want to get COVID again if I had to go back and relive this experience. Would I get COVID again to get the media attention? I would say no, I wouldn’t get it again. Just because it’s that bad.”

That said, Greenshields believes he has dealt with media fame well for the age he is.

“I thought it was kind of fun. Obviously, there was a lot of negativity and stuff, but I was able to deal with that. At the same time, being able to spread my message in such a huge way was great,” said Greenshields.

Overall the experience has impacted Greenshields in a positive manner. He explains it has helped with public speaking and his confidence because of the amount of times he’s had to talk to people he didn’t know. 

“It’s matured me in a way, and I’ve gained a lot of good skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this experience.”

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