National Post (Latest Edition)

My doc­tors told me that it would take a week for ev­ery day I was in hos­pi­tal for com­plete re­cov­ery. That’s 45 weeks, so I have about five months to go. But I’ve fought like never be­fore in my life to get back.

— Renowned Mon­treal cel­list De­nis Brott,

- Bill Brown­stein

‘Don’t be afraid of COVID.” Renowned Mon­treal cel­list De­nis Brott shud­dered when he heard these words ut­tered by U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, a few days af­ter the lat­ter tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus.

“There’s still so much the med­i­cal world doesn’t know about this dis­ease. There can be so many long- term reper­cus­sions,” Brott said in a Zoom in­ter­view.

Brott, who turns 70 in De­cem­ber, knows first- hand the hor­rors of COVID- 19. Upon re­turn­ing from a se­ries of Euro­pean con­certs in mid- March, he got hit with the coro­n­avirus and had the fight of his life while spend­ing 32 days in an in­duced coma on a ven­ti­la­tor at the Cen­tre hos­pi­tal­ier de l’univer­sité de Mon­tréal ( CHUM). His prog­no­sis was grim.

Brott, also the founder/ artistic di­rec­tor of the Mon­treal Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and pro­fes­sor at the Con­ser­va­toire de musique du Québec à Mon­tréal, doesn’t mince words de­scrib­ing his or­deal:

“My kid­neys were fail­ing. My liver was fail­ing. I de­vel­oped a bac­te­ria. I suf­fered vi­ral and bronchial in­fec­tions. My lungs turned white. I couldn’t breathe on my own. I lost 25 pounds. I lost such mus­cle mass I was un­able to walk.”

And that was just the phys­i­cal side. Brott also suf­fered from ter­ri­fy­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions due to heavy doses of steroids and mind- al­ter­ing meds like Hal­dol, Sero­quel, Di­lau­did and Propo­fol.

Af­ter 45 days in the hos­pi­tal, Brott re­turned to his St- Sau­veur re­treat May 4, al­though he could barely stand, much less walk. His bat­tle was still far from over. He had to deal with post- trau­matic stress and night­mares. He de­vel­oped se­vere neu­ropa­thy. The pain was ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

Try as Trump has urged, Brott couldn’t help but have COVID “dom­i­nate” his life.

“I was among the first peo­ple to be treated for COVID at CHUM — where my care was world- class,” Brott re­called. “But there’s still a big, black hole in my life dur­ing that pe­riod in an in­duced coma. It’s just by look­ing at the hos­pi­tal records that I know what hap­pened to me and about the in­sanely pow­er­ful cock­tails of drugs I re­ceived, which re­sulted in ab­so­lutely hor­rific hal­lu­ci­na­tions. While con­scious later in ICU, I re­mem­ber they had to turn me re­peat­edly like a ro­tis­serie chicken.”

While he ap­pears to look fine and sounds most lu­cid now, Brott con­tin­ues to un­dergo physio and other treat­ment.

“My doc­tors told me that it would take a week for ev­ery day I was in hos­pi­tal for com­plete re­cov­ery. That’s 45 weeks, so I have about five months to go. But I’ve fought like never be­fore in my life to get back. I couldn’t imag­ine what my life would be like with­out play­ing.”

Re­gard­less of the pain, three weeks af­ter leav­ing the hos­pi­tal, Brott at­tempted to play his cello. He had next to no strength. His trem­bling hands could hardly hold his bow. The strings un­der his left hand felt like “ra­zor wire.” The sounds his cello made were barely audi­ble.

“For a mu­si­cian, your in­stru­ment is your voice. I felt like some­one who had a stroke and lost the abil­ity to speak.”

But Brott per­se­vered. On Sept. 27, he gave his first recital — recorded and car­ried on­line — since early March in per­form­ing, along with or­gan­ist Jean-willy Kunz, Kol Nidre for the Yom Kip­pur ser­vice from Tem­ple EmanuEl in West­mount.

“It was just mirac­u­lous,” Brott mar­velled. “I wasn’t gong to miss this per­for­mance. I had for­got­ten my mother played the same piece at the tem­ple when I was a kid. And when she stopped do­ing that years later, I took over. It be­came my tra­di­tion.”

Brott, win­ner of two Juno Awards, comes from one of the city’s, and the coun­try’s, most dis­tin­guished fam­i­lies of clas­si­cal mu­si­cians. In ad­di­tion to be­ing the younger brother of mae­stro Boris, De­nis is the son of late vi­o­lin­ist, com­poser, con­duc­tor Alexan­der and late vir­tu­oso cel­list Lotte.

“I fig­ure I’m back play­ing at be­tween 80 and 85 per cent of where I was. But my de­mands on my­self are great.”

Brott is back to teach­ing, both vir­tu­ally and, briefly, live when it was per­mit­ted. He’s also reimag­in­ing his Mon­treal Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val on a dig­i­tal level now and, hope­fully, on a live level next sum­mer. He has even landed ac­claimed vi­o­lin­ist Pin­chas Zuk­er­man to ap­pear for the event.

Plus, among other projects, he has been busy­ing him­self as­sem­bling two video se­ries: A Day in the Life, fea­tur­ing 10 young win­ners from the Mu­si­cal In­stru­ment Bank Com­pe­ti­tion, and Home from Away, show­cas­ing an ar­ray of star, ex- pat Cana­dian clas­si­cal artists.

“Re­gard­less of what I’ve been through, I feel very lucky to still be able to work and think. What COVID has done for me is make me so grate­ful for the gift of life.”

 ?? Pierre Obendrauf / Post­media News ?? From his lake­front home in St Sau­veur, cel­list De­nis Brott plays Bach while re­mem­ber­ing his fight with and con­va­les­cence from COVID-19.
Pierre Obendrauf / Post­media News From his lake­front home in St Sau­veur, cel­list De­nis Brott plays Bach while re­mem­ber­ing his fight with and con­va­les­cence from COVID-19.

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