Start with Part I here.  Short version: Victor became terribly sick with a fever and rash on our 15-hour flight from Dubai to Newark.

There was good news and bad news.  Good news - Victor did make it back to the U.S.  Bad news – we were landing in Newark and had 1.5 hours until our flight to Chicago.  During those brief 90 minutes, we had to perform the following steps before we could board our flight home:

  1. Go through passport control
  2. Collect our luggage
  3. Go through customs
  4. Check our luggage back in
  5. Get on a train that will take us part of the way to our terminal
  6. Get on a bus that will take us all the way to our terminal
  7. Go through security
  8. Get to our gate

These steps were cheerfully explained to us by a flight attendant who just happened to be sitting across our seats in the exit row, as the plane was descending over NY.

“Is there any chance we can actually make it?” I asked him, stunned.

“Of course!” he said cheerfully, “As long as you run!”

I looked over at Victor.  I didn’t know if he could run. I didn’t even know if he could walk.

Some time ago I already dedicated an entire post to how flustered, bewildered, and irrationally irritated I can get at airports.  But this ridiculously short layover with checked-in luggage, passport control, customs, trains, and buses, further complicated by Victor’s rapidly declining state was absolutely the next level of stress and frustration.  I breathed out slowly.  I could not fall apart now, for if I fell apart, everything would fall apart.  I needed to keep it together and I needed to get us home.

Two things were working for us: our plane landed about twenty minutes early and we both had Global Entry that includes TSA Precheck.  Things working against us: the layover was still too short for everything we had to accomplish and Victor by this point looked like a moderately fresh “Walking Dead” zombie.  If he started running around the plane biting people in his state, absolutely nobody would be surprised.  I kept waiting for someone to step up and ask us what the hell he was doing flying in his condition, but not a single person seemed to even notice.

We went through passport control unexpectedly quickly, mostly thanks to TSA Precheck and the fact that the agent had clearly never seen a single horror movie. He looked at the fresh-faced picture of Victor in his passport, looked up to see the groaning living dead standing in front of him, looked back at the picture, confidently waved him in, and said, “Welcome home, sir!”

I tried to find a wheelchair or one of those electric carts that drive people around the airport, but none were available.  Our luggage came out almost immediately on the baggage carousel and I carried two 70-liter backpacks toward customs, glancing back to make sure Victor was still following me with his slow shuffling pace.  Customs took only a few minutes and so did checking the bags back in, and I was starting to feel like we could possibly make it.

We had one more escalator to take up before we could get on the train when Victor suddenly stopped in the middle of the floor.

“I am going to pass out.” He said matter-of-factly and crouched down in front of the escalator, as people stepped around us.  I grabbed the pills out of my bag and realized that I didn’t have any water on me at all.  I ran looking for a water fountain and found a small store where I bought bottled water.  Once again, I gave him all the pills without checking if it was time for the next dose.

I held him up as we mounted the escalator, got on the train, and then the bus.

“Do you want to go to the hospital now?” I asked him as we waited in the security line. “We can leave right now and go to the hospital.”

“No,” he said adamantly. “I want to go home.”

I knew it was up to me to make this decision, as he was too feverish to be rational.  Unfortunately, by this point I was crumbling under anxiety, exhaustion, and lack of sleep, and wasn’t exactly sensible either.  We went through security rather quickly and made it to our gate just in time to start boarding.

Once in the air, I closed my eyes and willed for the minutes and hours to go by faster, trying to ignore all the doubts and fears racing through my pounding head. I heard a commotion and looked up to find a flight attendant quizzically staring at Victor’s face.  Oh no, I thought, they were going to land the plane in Pittsburgh and call the CDC.

“Chocolate or pretzels?” she asked cheerfully, once she saw that I was awake.

“Pretzels?” I stammered out.

All I remember of the rest of the flight was that the pretzels were too salty, and Victor’s hoarse breath was steady, as I pressed my ear into his chest.

Over twenty years ago, I visited Israel and never forgot how Orthodox men disembarking our plane got down on their knees to kiss the ground of the Holy Land.  This is exactly how I felt when we finally landed in Chicago.  But we were not home yet and would not be for almost another week.

I took Victor to the ER, where multiple doctors, including an allergist and immunologist, poked and prodded at his rash, questioned me as to our exotic whereabouts, and generally acted like this was the most exciting thing to happen to them in a while.  A nurse popped a few of his blisters to collect the fluid and took vials and vials of his blood for lab work while the doctors argued whether this could be monkeypox or chicken pox.  All I knew of monkeypox was that it had about a 10% death rate and I could barely stop myself from panicking.

Victor was admitted and spent the next five nights in the infection unit battling a high fever and whatever infection was wreaking havoc on his body.  The labs kept coming back in – it was not Covid or RSV or the flu or hand and mouth disease, it wasn’t this and it wasn’t that, while I sat by his bed in a plastic gown, gloves, and N95 mask, waiting to see if this disease would finally get me as well.  Finally, on the third day, the labs came back with a positive result.  It was chicken pox.

Neither of us knew that he never had chicken pox as a child or that the varicella vaccine was not available during his childhood in Belarus.  We have always been so careful to get all recommended vaccines for our travels, but this particular one never came up.  This also explained why I never got sick, as I was already immune, having had chicken pox as a child.  This infection which is usually pretty mild in children can cause life-threatening complications in adults and we are lucky that Victor recovered enough to be released from the hospital after only five days.  The rash took a long time to scab over, and the chicken pox marks are still healing.

But the worst part of this whole experience was the mental anguish.  Would we ever feel confident enough to travel to another exotic destination?  Do I ever want to go through another stressful layover?  Do we have all of our vaccines and what are our chances of catching something awful again?

We had very little time to figure that out as we had a short weekend trip to Guanajuato, Mexico planned in less than a month.  I am happy to report that we went, we loved it, and very soon, we will write all about it!

One Comment

  1. Glad ti see all resolved. Looking forward to all your pists. Stay well.

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