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Take disease seriously, says Covid-19 survivor who lost wife

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Freida and Sheridan Nusum (Photograph supplied)
Freida and Sheridan Nusum (Photograph supplied)

Freida Nusum died from Covid-19.

Her husband Sheridan survived but thinks the coronavirus is responsible for his heart problems, which appeared suddenly last year.

His advice to everyone: take the disease seriously.

“You have no clue how this demon will affect your life,” the 64-year-old said. “Please pay attention and be safe; if not for yourself, for your loved ones.”

The Nusums caught Covid-19 in Panama. Both Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’d moved to the country’s capital in 2016 to spread the word of God.

In March 2020 health officials were only just beginning to understand the disease and how it affected people.

Although asthmatic, Mrs Nusum rarely had to use her pump. Concerned when she suddenly fell ill, Mr Nusum took her to the nearest clinic for treatment.

“Somehow in between that and my going to the grocery store, or to pick up a prescription, or even going to the clinic, we both ended up with the virus.”

Panama declared a state of emergency on March 13 and by March 25 the country was reporting 115 new cases per day.

It soon became obvious that Mrs Nusum, 66, was seriously ill.

The clinic sent her to Hospital San Fernando where both she and her husband tested positive for Covid-19. The ward the private facility had set up for those infected with the disease was full.

“People didn’t think Covid-19 would be that bad, until it got bad,” Mr Nusum said. “She was already struggling to breathe.

“They just weren’t prepared for the outbreak. They moved us to Hospital San Miguel Arcangel, a government-run hospital. At least in the government hospital, the care was free. The government takes care of everything.”

It was the last time Mr Nusum saw his wife.

He was put on oxygen for “three or four days” until he was able to breathe on his own and then moved to a hotel specifically for people recovering from Covid-19.

Occasionally, he would see other people opening their doors to collect meals.

“Everyone seemed healthy,” said Mr Nusum, whose inability to speak Spanish made conversation impossible. “They were able to come to the door. Most of the people around me seemed to be younger than me.”

In order to be released he had to receive two negative Covid tests. The first came back without incident and then for a long while, there was nothing.

“I was just waiting there,” he said. “It was disturbing.”

Worse was the phone call from the hospital at 9am on April 7, telling him that his wife had died.

“I wasn’t able to be with her,” he said. “That was the hardest thing.

“They said they went to check on her and she was fine. The next time they went to check on her she had passed.”

A month after he was admitted into the hotel, he was allowed to go home where he “started to feel breathless”.

He went to a clinic and was given a pulse oximeter which showed that his blood oxygen saturation ranged from 87 to 94 per cent when it should have been 95 per cent or higher.

Coughing by the time he reached the hospital, he was put on a ward with Covid-19 patients until his negative test results arrived.

A cardiologist discovered that his heart was pumping at half its normal capacity and insisted he must have been ill prior to catching the virus.

“I had never had a heart problem before,” said Mr Nusum, who believes he will likely be on blood thinners for the rest of his life and that his problems were brought on by Covid-19. “I was an athlete for years.

“I used to get regular check-ups and no problem was detected.”

At the urging of his sons Sheridan and Sean, he returned to Bermuda for good on July 30 and is now back in his old home in Hamilton Parish. He has kept the sitting room almost exactly as his wife decorated it years ago.

“This room is all her,” he said. “There are reminders of her everywhere. I only changed the drapes because they were a bit dark and I wanted more light in the room.”

The couple had been married for 34 years.

They “didn’t really like each other at first” when they met at Spinning Wheel nightclub.

“My wife told me years later that I had to grow on her. I said, ‘What am I, a moth?’”

It had been his idea to travel as a missionary once he reached retirement age. Mrs Nusum initially resisted, explaining she was happy at home.

“But one day in 2015 she said, ‘I’m ready to go.’”

Mr Nusum left it to his wife to decide where they were headed. She chose Panama based on an episode she’d seen of House Hunters International.

“We visited Panama in April of 2015 and loved it,” he said. “Then we went back again in March of 2016, just before I retired. That was it. We decided we were going there. We liked the people.”

Surviving Covid-19 has changed Mr Nusum’s outlook on life.

“Every time I wake up, I am grateful for it,” he said.

To date, there have been 359,830 cases of Covid-19 in Panama and 6,183 deaths.

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Published April 20, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 21, 2021 at 8:40 am)

Take disease seriously, says Covid-19 survivor who lost wife

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