Driving a car into a ditch is almost always an apt metaphor for something, right? When I look back on that day (over a month ago as I write this – we’re falling behind), I don’t think of that car in the ditch as the toughest thing we had to pull ourselves out of. Not even close. A bigger ditch – a chasm – was looming, and there was no way to avoid it.
You see, after our car was righted and we started our uphill hike, I noticed that Fiona had a stuffy nose and a bit of a cough. That morning I thought her voice had sounded a little weird, but that’s been par for the course on this trip – changes in place and atmosphere can wreak havoc on your internal tubes at the best of times. But this was starting to sound like an actual illness.
“Is it a cold or is it Covid?” is a question we’ve asked dozens of times over the last two years. Every time, it’s been the former (or nothing). On this trip, we’d dodged the Covid bullet several times – people we hung out with came down with it after we left, our bus from Vigo to Porto had so many coughing people on it it sounded like a mobile tuberculosis ward – but we always came out OK.
By bedtime that night, Fiona was definitely sick. We moved her into our room from the one she was sharing with Julie’s mom, trying to keep her germs somewhat contained. At breakfast the next morning, I gave her a rapid test.
Pretty definitive. After two plus years of being extremely careful, Covid got our family, halfway across the world. We all freaked out a little bit, and canceled what we had planned for that day – Fiona wasn’t feeling well at all, and despite the lack of any remaining Covid regulations in the UK, we all felt a little panicked.
My mother-in-law is in her 70s and had been extremely conservative in her approach to Covid – think Singapore as opposed to our hardcore-for-the-US San Francisco. This was her first trip abroad in over two years, which was almost immediately derailed by Covid our family had picked up somewhere, and we felt awful. Covid hits the elderly so much harder, and we were terrified of that. Plus, Shirley was heading home sooner than we were, and at the time, testing requirements in the US still existed, despite the rampant virus at home and little-to-any actual domestic mitigation measures. We agonized over sending her home immediately, or having her stay with us as planned. After all, she’d definitely been exposed – hugs and snuggles with Fiona, sharing a hotel room with all of us.
In the end, we left it up to her, and Shirley decided to stay. We did as much as we could to reduce further exposure: moving Fiona to our room, keeping the house windows open (thank goodness for the oddly amazing Scottish weather), masking in the car… we didn’t know if it would make a difference, but we had to do something. It was hard – Grandma Shirley started keeping her distance from Fiona, which made sense, but was confusing for our little one.
On top of all that, the UK situation was confounding for us – the government had basically declared Covid over. We couldn’t find rapid tests in any pharmacy and no one was masking. We had spent two years in a San Francisco mentality of “oh, sh*t someone has Covid, shut it all down.” But in a place with no infrastructure, rules, or support for that course of action and where everyone seemed to be pretty meh about it all… it was exhausting.
We ran through all of this thinking in an afternoon. It was a big afternoon.
That evening I started to run a fever. We made dinner and tried to keep things light, but I kept feeling physically worse and worse, and mentally worse than that. I’m the planner for this trip, and I felt responsible for how to deal with this for three other people. The more I thought about it, the more my brain hurt. I’d spent so long planning this trip and that was the mode I shifted into immediately – gaming out where our family would stay, what the next leg of our trip looked like, how to get Shirley home and when – it’s an exhausting exercise under the best of circumstances and now was definitely not the best of circumstances, as my feverish, fatigued body was making painfully clear.
By the next morning I felt like I had a bad flu, and Julie’s throat was starting to hurt. So… we were all getting it. What to do? We were supposed to leave Strathpeffer for Skye soon. We couldn’t stay at our little cottage, as it was booked solid after we were scheduled to leave. Moving our accommodation to anywhere else in the UK wasn’t going to be possible because of a four-day bank holiday related to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. (See? No matter what happens in Britain, you can blame the monarchy.) In fact, it didn’t appear that there was much to do but make the best of where were were, and so…
We went to Loch Ness and walked around. Loch Ness is by definition outside, so that felt OK. It’s a pretty place. We saw no monsters.
That night we talked again as a family and came up with a plan:
- Do stuff, but only outside. Luckily, the weather was cooperating.
- Go to Skye as scheduled and do the above. Again, pray for good weather.
- Hope that it all cleared up enough to get Julie’s mom back to the US.
- Watch movies, eat takeout, get better.
Not perfect, but it was the best we could do at that time, in that place. It was not fun, but like many things Covid, the potential repercussions were more difficult for our family to deal with than the illness itself.
In the end, Fi was only really sick for one day, Julie was sore throaty and a little fatigued for a few days and Shirley never really got much beyond a mild cold, probably due to her recent, perfectly timed booster shot. I was the only one that really got walloped – fever, aches, fatigue, muscle soreness – but most of that passed in a few days. We were able to get Shirley home safely. Our activities in Scotland could happen largely outside due to shockingly gorgeous weather. As these things go, our Covid experience wasn’t so terrible.
So yeah, the world drove us right into the big ditch we’d been worrying about. This time around, there wasn’t a gnomish local to make us laugh or a friendly tow truck driver to winch us out. We had to figure it out ourselves. We were very fortunate, and very happy to have been so.