NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Isaiah Whalum, 46, said there are some parts of his hospitalization that he remembers and some he doesn't as he fought COVID-19 for 53 days.
However, he said he'd never forget the care he received from his medical team at Williamson Medical Center near Nashville, Tennessee, during those days.
"One nurse would come into my room hold my hand and play music for me," Whalum said. "They took care of me like I was their family.
"I didn't realize how sick I was."
He said he was a little hazy about how long he had been in the hospital until he saw it written on a sign in the long procession line, congratulating him on his release from the hospital on Tuesday.
Dozens of nurses and doctors lined the walkway at the main entrance of the hospital cheering, clapping and cheering as Whalum finally joined his family.
"When I brought him in, I thought it would only be a few days before he was released, and I could see him," his wife, India Scruggs, said.
However, Scruggs and the couple's children — Isabella, 5, and Justin, 11 — wouldn't see Whalum for another 43 days due to hospital visitation and health restrictions when he was in the COVID-19 unit.
"It's like Christmas," Whalum said when he finally saw the light of day outside the hospital, surrounded by his family, friends and medical team.
They were cheering him on with each step he took to the family's car.
Last COVID-19 patient at Williamson Medical Center
Whalum is the last confirmed COVID-19 patient, now recovered, to be released out of 36 who were hospitalized at Williamson Medical Center during the coronavirus pandemic.
James Chappell, a registered nurse who served on the team caring for Whalum, called him "a fighter."
"You are family now," Chappell said as he hugged Whalum.
Katherine Mincey, also an RN, agreed and attributed Whalum's recovery to his "determination and stubbornness to push through" and the strong support of his family.
"He has a wonderful support system. We talked to his family every day, and we feel like they are our family, too," Mincey said.
Pulmonologist Dr. Tufik Assad said seeing Whalum leave the hospital was "an amazing feeling" because, as far as COVID-19 cases go, he was "the worst of the worst."
"It's hard to describe," Assad said.
"Isaiah was part of the first wave of cases in this pandemic. It's impacted so many, and you get invested in people's lives emotionally and there's nothing that can take away from that connection."
Scruggs, who also contracted COVID-19 but had relatively mild symptoms, hugged each nurse and doctor before she pulled off to finally take Whalum home.
"It's so exciting. It's been a long road traveled with a lot of tears. I'm thankful," she said. "The nurses and doctors are so amazing. They called me every day to check on my symptoms and to give me updates. They took care of us."
Whalum said the experience has been a journey.
"My family and friends and God got me through," he said. "I can't wait to get back to my life."
He also offered advice to the public: "Do what people tell you to do. It's serious."
Follow reporter Kerri Bartlett on Twitter: @keb1414
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