‘It’s a horrible disease, it’s a real thing – and you don’t want it’

Widow of Mount Forest man who died of COVID-19 complications urges people to heed public health advice

MOUNT FOREST – Pat Nolan says she’s doing okay, but she’s had a rough week – and she’s in for several more.

“I’m not too bad. I’m still adjusting,” she insisted in a phone interview on April 9.

Four days earlier her husband, Larry Nolan, died from complications due to COVID-19 at Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest.

He is the first COVID-19 death in Wellington County, public health officials confirmed on April 10.

After Pat’s experience with the illness and her husband’s death, she wants the community to heed public health’s advice to take precautions against the coronavirus.

In Larry’s death notice, she specifically added these words: “the coronavirus outbreak has been devastating, globally. Please do your part in trying to eliminate any further spread of this virus. Stay safe.”

“Some people think it’s not here, but that’s not reality. It’s here,” she said.

“And I know we get tired of hearing about it over and over, but all those things they tell you to do really matter.”

Larry, 74, had a longstanding kidney condition that in mid-March started causing him pain in his legs, an indication he might need dialysis treatment.

Pat took him to a hospital in Brampton where his doctor works. Larry was seen in the emergency department; his pain medication was increased and he was sent home.

He fell a few times at home that week and Pat called 911. She has multiple sclerosis and uses a walker and cane to get around, so she had trouble helping her husband.

On March 28 she took Larry to Louise Marshall Hospital, where he was admitted, and a few days later he tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’ve been racking my brains wondering how he got it,” Pat said. “Did I get gas and bring it back with me? Did it come on the dog from the dog walker?

“I called 911 three times that week because he slipped. And then the hospitals. But everyone was so careful. I just don’t know.”

Pat said the staff at Louise Marshall Hospital was wonderful.

After the COVID-19 diagnosis, Larry was put into palliative care. Pat couldn’t be with him – she is now in 14-day isolation because she may have been exposed – but nurses helped set up a tablet near his bedside and she could visit through Skype.

She talked to him, but by the end he was unconscious.

“He was fighting for every breath,” she said. “I Skyped with him twice on Sunday (April 5). But before the third call, the nurse called to tell me he had died.

“One day I’d like to thank that nurse in person. She stood by me while I was on Skype. It meant I could sort of be there and that has been a big help to me mentally.”

Pat said Larry was a real people-person and contributed to the community when he owned a No Frills franchise in Welland, where the Nolans lived for many years and raised their family of four. They now have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The Nolans retired and moved to Mount Forest in 2012.

“He was very people-oriented, family-oriented,” Pat said of the man she was married to for 35 years. He was even nicknamed Papa Smurf by his staff, she said.

Larry’s body has been cremated and the family is waiting to hold a celebration of life service when physical distancing rules are lifted.

Pat can talk to people on the phone, she’s caught up on laundry, and she has picked up a paint brush and easel for the first time in years, an activity she finds meditative.

“It catches up to me,” she acknowledged of her isolation and the prospect of grieving alone.

She reiterated the message of public health officials: wash your hands, stay at home and observe physical distancing.

“It’s a horrible disease, it’s a real thing – and you don’t want it,” she said.