It happened so quickly and it’s all still a blur, but Bob Nunn and Linda Young have emerged from a COVID-19 fog with some simple, straight-forward advice.
“Every precaution we can take, we should take,” said Nunn, Elgin County’s first-ever reported COVID-19 patient. “If it’s a mask, it’s a simple thing to do.”
The lives of Nunn, 76 and Young, 71, of St. Thomas, are back to normal now. They report only one side effect: they’ve lost the ability to migrate south for the winter.
Until now, they routinely spent three months a year – January, February and March – at a Snowbird vacation community near Orlando, Florida, soaking up the sun and sand in a group of 16 Ontario friends.
Earlier this year, just as the heat started to work its therapeutic magic on them, the vacationers started to hear news reports about COVID-19. It wasn’t really resonating with them at first, not until Young’s health insurance supplier advised she would lose coverage on March 23, 2020 if she didn’t return home.
“We weren’t long packing up,” she mused in a recent interview during which all precautions were taken. “I said, ‘we’ve got to get out of here.’ We’ve worked too hard to lose everything we had.” That was on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
In a flash, they collected their belongings and embarked on a 21-hour drive back to Ontario, making four pitstops on the way home.
“We got home not knowing we had it,” said Young. “We’ve gone over it so many times, we think we got it on our way home.” By Sunday, Nunn started coughing. On Monday, she called their family doctor and Nunn was prescribed a puffer. “He kept getting worse.”
The Southwestern Public Health unit started calling every day to monitor Nunn’s progress – “we were still in our 14 days of self-quarantine,” he recalls – and by Thursday, “something had changed,” his normal sleeping pattern was altered.
By Friday, even though Nunn resisted, Young sent him to the hospital in an ambulance.
“Linda wasn’t allowed to come,” Nunn recalls. “I was the first at the hospital with COVID-19. They didn’t seem to know what to do with me.”
Nunn had a “slight temperature” when he arrived at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH). Doctors gave him Tylenol and oxygen to help him sleep. “They stuck me on the fifth floor, in isolation. That was the designated floor. They were putting the tent up as I went in.” STEGH set up temporary tented areas outside its emergency department in late March to prepare for a battle against COVID-19.
By Monday, Nunn got his COVID-19 test results back. It was positive. “There’s nothing they can do for me there,” Nunn recalls. “They said, you might as well go home, you’ll be more comfortable.” He submitted to “stricter isolation,” holed up in the basement of his home, venturing upstairs only for meals.
Of course, Young started to get sick on the Thursday. Her symptoms were “full blown” by Sunday. “I had the chills.” She wore slippers to bed.
“It was nasty. You cough, you cough and you cough,” said Nunn. They were the only members of their Snowbird group to be infected by COVID-19. “Your chest and stomach muscles start to ache. You just couldn’t stop. You get so weak.”
Added Young, “We looked after each other. I made sure he got enough to eat, he made sure I got enough to eat.”
They failed miserably when self-testing, attempting to hold their breath for 10 seconds. “We just couldn’t,” said Young. “If the telephone rang, I couldn’t speak by the time I got to the phone. I was desperately sick and I wanted it to be over, (but) we never thought it would kill us. We were hoping for an antidote.”
The couple watched lots of TV news shows and movies, and delved deeply into their digital devices. Their motto was: “Stay in, stay apart, disinfect everything.” Neighbours and friends were very supportive, offering food and drink, and waving encouragement through the windows.
“I was scared for her and she was scared for me,” said Nunn. “I was praying for everyone.”
After a week of “confinement,” Young said “we started feeling better and I said we’ve got to get moving. Our taste buds came back, our smell came back. Easter Monday we were allowed to get out of jail. We got some wine and a couple of steaks and Bob barbequed. That’s how we celebrated. That wine and steaks were like we died and went to Heaven.
“Do we look at life differently? We sure do,” said Young. “You’re thankful for what you have. We are thankful for our health, (but) I’m not going to stay home and die. We stay within our bubble of friends and family.”