COVID-19 Long-Hauler's Suicide Haunts Husband Who Supported Her
In May, Nick Guthe lost his wife, Heidi Ferrer, to suicide after she struggled for 13 months with debilitating post-COVID-19 symptoms.
Ferrer, a screenwriter for the popular TV drama “Dawson’s Creek,” leaves behind Guthe and their 13-year-old son.
Her symptoms began with pain in her feet — a symptom that would later become known as COVID toes. Guthe originally thought it was plantar fasciitis but their physician disagreed.
Ferrer’s condition worsened to the point where she could barely walk downstairs in their house.
Both Guthe and Ferrer had received negative COVID-19 cheek swab tests. Ferrer’s next test, a more specific method developed by Stanford researcher Dr. Bruce Patterson, came back positive when she went to get tested a while later.
She experienced a number of post-COVID-19 symptoms, Guthe says. She started having intestinal problems, diarrhea and aches all over her body. Guthe says his wife was exhausted from just walking up the stairs.
“She would ask me to carry glasses of water upstairs,” he says. “For anything slightly heavy, I would carry upstairs for her.”
Ferrer was referred to a long-hauler clinic at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but the referral arrived the day before Ferrer died by suicide.
In one entry on her blog, Girl to Mom, Ferrer shared how she felt dealing with the long-term symptoms of the virus.
“In my darkest moments, I told my husband that if I didn’t get better, I did not want to live like this,” she wrote. “I wasn’t suicidal, I just couldn’t see any quality of life long term and there was no end in sight.”
Despite that, she encouraged other long-haulers like her to hold onto hope. “I believe this in my bones. If you’re suffering from this monster, you will eventually make it out,” Ferrer wrote.
A study by researcher Dr. Leo Sher delved into post-COVID-19 syndrome and suicide risk found a high probability that symptoms of psychiatric, neurological and physical illnesses, along with inflammation damage to the brain, in individuals with post-COVID syndrome can increase suicidal thoughts.
This doesn’t surprise Guthe. He recalls his wife telling him she felt disconnected, like a fog was over her. She also felt pressure in her brain, he says.
If Guthe could say anything to doctors, it would be to assume anyone with multiple symptoms is a COVID-19 long-hauler. It’s important for their psychological health, he says, that medical professionals listen to them.
It’s also crucial to advise them on which medications to take and monitor them closely, Guthe notes, in addition to setting them up with mental health support right away.
In the last month of her life, Ferrer said something to Guthe on her condition that broke his heart.
“She said, ‘I feel like I’m a robot that’s malfunctioning,’ ” he says. “… She had burning in her lungs when she tried to sleep at night. Her heart, you know, the circulatory system was haywire. She literally felt like every single system in her body, including her brain, was just short circuiting.”
Guthe says that others who are struggling with long-hauler symptoms can reach him at her blog where he’ll refer them to people who can help. He’s already been in contact with some of his wife’s friends in support groups who have received a new medical treatment that seems promising.
It’s bittersweet that it comes just a month after he told his wife to hang on, he says. If there are breakthroughs in the next few months, Guthe says he’ll be happy for anyone who would benefit, but he’ll still be haunted by it for the rest of his life.
Guthe says he speaks with Ferrer all the time. He says he knows the pain she was in and doesn’t judge her for taking her own life, having watched her and known what it took for her to get to that point.
“I can’t live in the past,” he says, “I’m just really just trying to honor her spirit now.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
Karyn Miller-Medzon produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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