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‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’ ICU patient urges public to take social distancing seriously

A Winnipeg man now being treated for COVID-19 in an intensive care unit is urging others to do all they can to avoid the same fate.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2020 (1027 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg man now being treated for COVID-19 in an intensive care unit is urging others to do all they can to avoid the same fate.

Rick Sterzer, a 65-year-old retired Winnipeg firefighter, said he’s been in intensive care since April 4.

“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I don’t think I’ve been this sick in my whole life. I look after myself, I’m in shape, I have no underlying medical conditions… and it’s dragging me down,” said Sterzer.

Supplied Rick Sterzer said he’s received excellent care since being admitted to St. Boniface Hospital on April 2.

He said he hopes sharing his story will convince others to follow social-distancing and self-isolation orders.

“It’s very important to self-isolate, very important (to follow) social distancing. It’s the only way that we are going to get ahead on this,” said Sterzer. “We’ve got to minimize the contact.”

He warned his former firefighter colleagues to be especially careful.

“Take care of yourself every call. Don’t (cut) corners,” he said.

Sterzer said he’s received excellent care since being admitted to St. Boniface Hospital on April 2.

“The hospital staff has been second to none… They’ve been nursing me and keeping me going,” he said.

He was moved to the ICU two days later, when it became more difficult for him to breathe.

“I couldn’t maintain my (oxygen) levels so they decided to bring me down,” he said.

Sterzer said he’s been given some form of oxygen supplement throughout his hospital stay. He said a few other patients appear to also have COVID-19, including some on ventilators. But he said the hospital appears relatively calm overall. Sterzer said medical staff take a series of precautions each time they’re about to enter his room.

UFFW Sterzer warned his former firefighter colleagues to be especially careful. "Take care of yourself every call. Don’t (cut) corners."

“They have quite a procedure … and they have to be gowned and gloved and masked … They’re very vigilant,” he said.

Sterzer said he ensures he’s wearing a mask every time someone enters his room to reduce the risk to others.

The former firefighter’s ordeal started after he boarded the Costa Luminosa cruise ship, which set sail from Florida on March 5. That was one day before the federal government asked Canadians to think twice before taking cruises, as the risks of COVID-19 became clearer. The cruise was originally set to visit Puerto Rico, Antigua, Spain and France but wound up missing most of its stops. It did dock at some points to let sick passengers off, Sterzer said.

He said passengers were confined to their cabins by March 15. He finally got off the ship in France on March 19.

“I was sick for the whole time we were quarantined. I couldn’t raise my head, I couldn’t do anything… I had no fever, so I was just assuming that because I didn’t have a fever it was something else (and not COVID-19),” Sterzer said of his initial symptoms.

He managed to fly home March 20, landing as major restrictions on international flights began to take effect. Sterzer did decide to isolate himself at home. On March 23, he became dehydrated and went to Victoria Hospital for treatment, where he was tested for COVID-19. A week later, the test results came back negative, he said. But as his illness grew more severe, Sterzer again chose to stay home. On April 2, he went to St. Boniface Hospital.

“My temperature on (that day) spiked to 42.5 C and I thought ‘I’m not going to die at home, get me into the hospital,’” said Sterzer.

He said he was then tested a second time for COVID-19 and the results came back positive.

Meanwhile, a Winnipeg couple who fell ill following the same cruise say they’re now recovering.

Supplied Sterzer was tested a second time for COVID-19 and the results came back positive.

Martha Bradbury, a friend of Sterzer’s, said she and her husband Allan have been in isolation since March 20. She said her husband tested positive for COVID-19, while she tested negative, but both fell ill with severe flu-like symptoms after returning home. Bradbury has decided to self-isolate at home until April 14, two weeks after her symptoms showed up, then follow general stay-at-home directives that now apply to all Manitobans.

“If you know you have been somewhere where you were exposed to someone who was positive, you need to live your life like you are positive, which means you need to self-isolate and you need to physically distance,” she said.

Bradbury said she hopes her recovery offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of the pandemic.

“You can get this virus and recover and … live through it,” she said.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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