I don’t like being alone. Freud could probably spin up a weird explanation for it, but for me it’s kind of like the tree falling in the woods with nobody there to hear it – without somebody to reminisce with, the experience isn’t nearly as sweet. However, a solo trip every once in a while offers the opportunity to ignore the noise of life and can be really refreshing. So while I was looking forward to seeing Singapore and their approach to healthcare, being immersed in the jungles and wildlife of Sumatra was where my heart lay.. lie? layed? Who cares. I was jazzed. Was…
My first of *four* itinerary changes came a few weeks prior to departure. I was originally supposed to connect through Seoul, but when South Korea hit a level 2 global health advisory an audible was in order. My choices were a 16 hour United flight through San Fran or 3 legger on Delta through Amsterdam that only left me 12 hours between hitting the ground and the start of my first 12 hour support shift. Feeling antsy just thinking about 16 continuous flight hours and being Delta loyalist, I chose the latter. In retrospect, that choice was the domino that fell into many of my subsequent woes.
I was greeted by my second flight hiccup the morning of departure when I got an email stating that my return from Singapore to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport was cancelled for ‘operational reasons.’ Despite having no clue how I would get home, I headed to the airport in the afternoon anyway. You could say that 3.5 years of constant travel have me pretty calloused so it also didn’t register that my itinerary included a 9 hour layover in Amsterdam until I was en route.
Those two things in mind, I was not in the best mood when I boarded, but a friendly neighbor asked where I was going. I’m glad I set aside my angst and usual airport-mutism as Sandor (pronounced Shawn-door) turned out to be an interesting, intelligent dude. Having grown up around the world, including Hungary where his family was going back to visit, he had a lot of perspective and stories to break up the solitude of a 36+ hour trip!
Besides the small percentage of folks sporting facemasks (or trying to), there were no real impacts on the front side; I’d heard more concerns/forewarnings from family, co-workers than any official body.
I applauded the pragmatism of the island: having my temperature logged upon arrival to the Oasia Novena, as well as a few other public places throughout the week, and knowing that the Ministry of Health put a few team members on self-quarantine after visiting the same climbing gym as a confirmed COVID-19 case. Other than that, it was business as usual with a few extra pumps of hand sanitizer, and I was full steam ahead for Indonesia. That was, until the announcement of the European travel restrictions on Wednesday.
In the few hours of waking overlap with the US, I was hit with an onslaught of questions, information to consider and actions to hussle taking. It boiled down to this: My connection was back through Europe, I could keep my plans and gamble having to spend thousands of dollars on a one-way through SF, risk a full-on border closure in the wake of the hysteria, or get on the next flight out. At the time I thought I was being overcautious choosing the latter, but unfortunately turned out I wasn’t far off. So I dejectedly cut my losses and finagled a third itinerary change through complications resulting from the second one. If that didn’t sound exhausting enough, it was a red eye leaving at 1:30am.
And then I thought of my plane buddy Sandor – would his whole family get stuck in Hungary?
My question was answered when I was sleepily boarding my return flight from Amsterdam and heard someone call my name from behind. I turned around, very confused, to see an equally-shocked Sandor!
“I thought I recognized that Reptar hat!”
“Holy sh*t! No way!! What are the ODDS?!!”
We weren’t row-mates on the way back, but it was quite a serendipitous highlight to run into someone I was sure I’d only have one memory of. We got to share the unfortunate experience of the CDC’s first run at inbound passenger fever screening. As an expert in hospital patient throughput, I was dying inside experiencing the heavily bottlenecked process. To their credit, the lead boarder patrol officer recognized the inefficiency and grabbed a quorum to brainstorm changes, but that didn’t help me in the immediate as I watched the minutes to my flight departure tick down.
I wasn’t ready to give up hope getting out of customs’ security screening with 15 minutes left until takeoff. This was the one and only time I’ve ever run in an airport and only time in ~400 flights I’ve ever missed one.. I can’t tell you how big of a blow it is after 30 hours of travel to jump around waving your arms in a weirdly empty airport, trying to get the crew to stop pulling the jet bridge back from the plane or closing the heavy door.
I hunkered down in the Delta lounge for the additional four hours between me and home after making the *fourth* flight change of my trip. But at least I made new friends as I excised 30 stroopwaffles that I’d purchased in Amsterdam while trying to find my charging block in my backpack.
“Are those stroopwaffles?!”
“Yeah! Do you want some?”
“You must have come from Schipol! 3 boxes for 10 euro, right?!”
The group of 3 guys had just been turned around by their company, mid-trip to Japan..
“You’re not going to believe it when you get home.. There’s like no toilet paper anywhere. Stores are empty. It’s crazy.”
“Well I guess it’s a good thing I stocked up on stroopwaffles then, huh? And probably have some old socks I need to throw away anyhow..”
But eventually I got home.
And got to sleep (15 hours on Sunday)
And maybe the most important part – I’m lucky enough to live in a community where I had the option to toilet paper.
My socks, though quarantined, will live to see another day, and so will I.