Traveling during the pandemic

Today is Monday, May 4, 2020 & I am currently on a flight to Frankfurt Germany which is now home for the next 3 years. I had traveled to the U.S (Kansas City to be precise) for FNP clinicals & got stuck there due to the worldwide pandemic. I remember chatting with my husband in late January about the coronavirus situation in China & sort of feeling torn between worry in case it spread to the U.S, & logic (so we thought). The logic as healthcare professionals was that the corona virus is just like a really bad flu & that the flu kills more people each year.
We were definitely thinking very differently by mid February when other countries started seeing cases, & by early March, there was definitely cause for worry in terms of “not knowing what would happen next”.

Shelter in place
In Kansas City ( a city that spreads out between 2 states), the shelter in place order came at around March 17th. No one really went out (in parks or walking outside) even before the order because it had been cold for one but even when it got warmer, there was hardly anyone out yet. I didn’t even change my daily routine because I was barely ever around people (didn’t have time to go got out to restaurants, bars or shopping). I was too busy with school work when I was not in the clinic. The only place that I changed my behavior at was the grocery store. I shopped earlier to avoid crowds & used amazon prime when I could to avoid going out.

I had to go pick my sister up in a different state because their college shut down & closed the dorms.

Once my clinical rotation was over, I signed up with a travel agency to go work in Tacoma WA. This decision was made after Germany closed it’s borders 2 weeks before my travel date back. It was driving me crazy to stay at home doing nothing when I knew I had skills as an ICU nurse to help my fellow nurses in the frontlines. My old travel agency was ecstatic when I responded to their job emails & we signed a contract in a weeks time. I prepared myself by completing assigned paperwork, shots, education modules etc, that were required by the hospital. My sister & I packed our bags & started the journey from Kansas City MO to Tacoma WA.

I chose the northern route through South Dakota, Montana & Idaho (which had very few coronavirus cases) & we took all precautions necessary to stay safe. The drive was beautiful, we felt safe since we hardly came into contact with anyone, & arrived safe & sound in WA after 3 days of driving. A week before my start date at the hospital (I was supposed to be ICU float pool, covering 2 hospitals 30 minutes apart), the hospital reported that they had been having very low census & cancelled my contract. Their argument was that they were not seeing very many patients now & had to cancel all travel nurses. This was such a bummer because I had traveled all the way here, but they were kind enough to compensate me for airbnb, travel & food expenses.
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Positive out of all this…
I had driven my sister to my mom’s apartment, where she was supposed to spend the summer (would have flown instead) & got to see my mom as well. I know you’re wondering why the hell we are meeting up with my mom in a pandemic with orders to stay home, but she took all precautions necessary as well before we met up. Her job checks her temperature every day, she had had no symptoms of a respiratory illness, & was barely around anyone else apart from her co-workers. It was sought of a gamble, but financially we couldn’t afford to live apart for the time being (with me not knowing if I would get another job or go back to Germany).
I spent a good 3 weeks with my mom & sister, then got documents to be able to go back to Germany.

Today my mom dropped me at Seatac airport, where armed with my mask & sanitizer, I boarded a flight back home. It is sort of bittersweet, knowing I will be seeing my husband in a few hours, & sort of sad leaving my mom & sister.

Seatac airport is almost empty today but the flight attendant checking me in ecstatically thanks me for traveling today & says excitedly to his co-worker,”it’s almost coming back to normal!”. I look around and wonder what she is talking about because the airport only has a few people traveling. I can’t begin to imagine how deserted it probably has been in the last few weeks. Today is the day the federal shelter in place order expires; so more people are feeling somewhat safer to be out & about. I am sure some are just tired of being cooped up (probably in hotels, relatives homes or hotels). Everyone is wearing a mask (most flights have made it a requirement) & I am happy that people are because it decreases the chance of spreading the virus. At my layover in Denver, even more people are traveling (not as empty as Seatac), but most dinning places are closed. My flight from Denver to Newark is full & I hear someone comment about how “safe” this is, & he politely demands to be moved seats where he is not seated next to someone. On the international flight, there is barely enough people to fill the large aircraft. Germany still has its borders closed to non-residents or citizens, so not many people are traveling to Frankfurt today.

Fingers crossed that I do not encounter any trouble getting into Germany on arrival. I miss my husband terribly & can’t wait to see his face when I arrive. I hope that researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 soon, but I don’t see life resuming back to the old normal. I will still be a little paranoid every now & then when someone coughs near me, & traveling in crowded spaces will take some getting used to.

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