I knew life had taken a sharp turn Sunday night when I started getting chills. My husband and I were in Chartres, France, on our two-year-Covid-delayed 50th wedding anniversary celebration. We knew we were taking a chance by traveling while Covid was still active, but, being vaccinated and double-boosted, we figured we were pretty safe. We had spent a delightful week in Paris and another delightful week in Montpellier in the south of France courtesy of Airbnbs and now had a car and were heading back north to catch our return flight back to Los Angeles on Tuesday.
My body took on a life of its own. From somewhere deep in my core, every muscle started twitching. I shivered as if I'd been plunged into a polar ice bath. It continued for five minutes and I had absolutely no control to stop the shaking. My teeth gnashed together. The experience felt very Old Testament Biblical.
"Uh, oh," I said.
"Uh, oh," my husband replied.
In retrospect, I should have worn a mask while on public transportation. Many years in the past, I'd come down with a lovely case of Italian mumps, which bloomed a week after I got back home (and which explained why the teenaged boy standing near me in the Milan subway had such a swollen neck). But we were in France, celebrating our freedom from lockdown, hardly anyone else was mask-wearing and our "what the hell" attitude collided with "joie de vivre" and we went about our merry way breathing everybody's air.
Chills were soon followed by fever and a headache. This is trouble, I remember thinking. I'm not getting on an airplane like this. I took my regular Tylenol PM and melatonin that helps me sleep while I'm traveling and drifted off to oblivion, hoping the morrow would bring a different story. In the morning, we checked out of the Chartres hotel and drove to Charles de Gaulle Airport northeast of Paris. Turned in the rental car and checked into the Novotel.
Still feeling sick, I took a home Covid test. We'd brought all the tests we had for just such an emergency. After the waiting the requisite fifteen minutes, there was a dark, thick control line and a very faint line next to it. Maybe . . . . negative?
We both donned masks when we left the Novotel and found a test site at the airport. We decided we should both get tested. After the requisite fifteen minutes, the pharmacy tech came out with our official results: Hank negative, me positive.
The requirement for a negative test to re-enter the United States had been dropped a week or so earlier, but I there was no way I wanted to take the chance of infecting someone else on the flight. Besides, I did not feel well enough to be on an airplane for eleven hours. It's hard enough to be Spam-in-a-can even when you're healthy.
And we were supposed to fly home on Monday.
"I'm not going home tomorrow," I said.
Hank said, "I'm not leaving you alone in France."
"You're not sick and if you stay here, you may be."
"I'm not leaving you alone in France."
"I'll be fine. I'm a fully functioning adult and I can take care of myself."
"I'm not leaving you alone in France."
"I promise I'll be okay."
There followed fifteen minutes of silence. Then, "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to go home."
We rambled around through the various terminals, found someone who could help us. She checked Hank in for the flight on Tuesday and recommended we try to change my flight for later in the week somewhere else. We went back to the Novotel with sandwiches and rested.
Tuesday, the day of Hank's flight, he tried calling the Air France customer service line. Two hours of being on hold later, he was cut off to dead air. The Novotel couldn't accommodate me for another week, so I looked for something else close by. I could walk to the Hilton and they had space.
Hank packed for his flight. He took all the souvenirs and gifts I'd purchased and also my raincoat, which was the biggest item of clothing I'd brought. In the two years of Covid lockdown, I'd completely forgotten how to deal with a suitcase. Instead of packing everything you wanted to take and then removing half of it, which I had trained myself to do, I kept everything in. I'd also forgotten that Europe is much more humid than California. My expandable suitcase was already expanded when we left, which is no way to start a vacation. Hank took enough stuff so I could zip that extra easement back into place. The jeans and pants I thought I would wear were way too hot. I ended up wearing a knee-length knit dress pretty much every day of our vacation.
Meanwhile, at the airport, Hank had found the line for changing tickets and spent two hours getting to the front of it. The guy said, "You can do this by telephone." He was lucky Hank didn't start swearing right then. Hank managed to get my return flight set up for the following Monday. Then he had to scoot through Security, which took forty minutes, then find the correct gate, which had been changed from the original one he'd been told at check-in.. My hubby, who can't run, ran through the airport to get to the right gate. Fortunately, Air France held the plane because the Security line was unusually slow. He made the flight and texted me the details.
I insisted we contact each other by text rather than telephone because I knew at some point I would break down in tears and I didn't want either of us to feel worse. This proved to be a smart decision. We neither one of us like to be separated.
I checked out of the Novotel and set off for the Hilton. The weather was perfect, cool blue sky with little puffy clouds. I had to leave the Novotel by noon. Tthe Hilton check-in time was 2 PM. But, I was in luck and they let me check in early. The Hilton is very posh, banks of clear elevators to one side enabling you to watch people at the expansive bar while you rise up to your floor. The lunch crowd looked so happy sitting at tables, drinking French wine and eating French food.
We had spent hours on cable watching French television series before our trip. Now I settle in for the duration, but there are no English subtitles here in Paris and the French words are coming too fast. Or maybe it is my foggy brain, which is insisting on taking it's sweet time making sense of pretty much everything. It's just me, four walls, a bathroom, a small refrigerator and a television set. There is absolutely not a scrap of paper, nothing other than the cardboard key holder that came with my key. I assume this is a Covid precaution. I write, "No service, Merci" on it and tear a hole so I can hang it on the outside of the door.
Fun fact: We have spent three weeks in France and have not seen a washcloth until I spy some now in the Hilton bathroom. Yay!
I know I'm in bad shape when washcloths can make me happy.
But, hey, you take your happy where you can find it.
The Hilton has CNN International and France 24 (news in English). All the news is pretty depressing. Still it's something to do. I'm glad I have my Kindle because I can make the fonts bigger. Somehow my eyes are not cooperating or maybe it's my brain that is fried. I'm self-medicating with Tylenol, Claritin and zinc supplements. Daytime is not so bad, but in the late afternoons the chills start again with body aches and headaches. I watch the clock until 9:30 PM when I can take the Tylenol PM and evening meds to go to sleep. I hear from Hank that he's home okay. That's one less worry.
The zinc suppresses my appetite. The soft baguette sandwiches can last four meals, but I have to get more food when that runs out. I get to the airport, hit the Monoprix in-and-out as fast as I can, touching nothing except what I'm buying. On the way back, some yahoo without a mask enters on the second floor. He wants to go down, he says, but he might as well ride it up with me first. I sigh and debate whether or not I should tell him I'm sick. He keeps talking. There's no break in his speech. The elevator stops at the next floor and he turns his attention to the Emirates flight attendants who are waiting to go down. He encourages them to ride with us. Six of them pile in with their huge suitcases, none wearing masks, and the door won't close. They struggle moving their suitcases around until the suitcase blocking the door fits in. Up to the seventh floor. "Pardon," I say and half of them have to exit to let me leave.
The next time I'm out of food, it is raining and I have no raincoat. I have no umbrella, either, no windbreaker no anything that's waterproof. The rain hits in great drops on the glass wall outside my window. I guess lunch will be late.
When there's a break in the rain, I run out to the walkway that leads to the airport. I hadn't realized the walkway is covered part of the way there. I get to the Monoprix and buy another sandwich, some iced tea and some tea biscuits to soothe my upset stomach.
The chills don't start until 10 PM. Then it hits full force, fever and nose running. I cough and blow my nose all night. In the morning, I realize there's no point in retesting as I still have symptoms. With all the liquid coming out of my nose, I wonder if it's worth pouring anything down my throat since I just seem to make more snot. The night seems to stretch on forever. It's hard not to feel darkness in the soul. Maybe this is the worst Covid has to offer me. Maybe this is the last hurrah for the virus.
I still have Metro tickets. If I feel better soon, I could take the fast train into Paris and walk around. Being so close and yet not being able to go into the city is like looking in a chocolate shop window and having no money to go inside and buy.
To add to the fun, the CGT (Communist union) workers are on strike during the weekend. The airport is like a ghost town, the trains into Paris aren't running. Even if I felt well, I'd have to take the one-hour bus ride into town. Fortunately, the Monoprix is still open, otherwise I'd starve. I suppose there is room service, but cooked food does not sound appealing.
Hank texts me that he is joining the Zoom call with his siblings, a routine they've followed since Covid began. It's always 11AM on Saturdays. He's sent me the numbers I'll need to participate. I get ready and sign in, but I'm the only one there. I've forgotten the time change and it's 11PM California time. I curse. Why don't we a 24-hour in the U.S. like the rest of the world?
I'm finally feeling better, although I'm still congested and fatigued. There's no fever and no chills, for which I am grateful. Little annoyances start to bother me. The neighbors banging their doors had made me startle, but I was too sick to care much. Now it makes me angry. When you live in California, any kind of structure shaking hits your body with an adrenaline rush, since earthquakes are often first feel that way. Why can't they hold the door and close it gently rather than letting it go and having it slam shut? How inconsiderate! My handwritten note has been replaced with a printed "Do Not Disturb" sign in both English and French. Surely the neighbors realize I'm sick and they need to be nice to me!
Or maybe they are just as oblivious as I sometimes am.
I check into my flight online as soon as I can. I still don't feel 100% better, but I'm not contagious. I leave my last forty euros for the maid who hasn't been able to clean my room. It isn't her fault. Besides, I got to use washcloths for a whole week. Woo hoo.
At the airport, the flight is on time and I can use the Air France lounge while I wait. I eat my last pain-au-chocolate and drink hot chocolate. It tastes pretty good. On the way to the gate, my eye catches on a grey Eiffel Tower t-shirt in one of the souvenir shops. On a whim, I buy one, thinking I can tell everybody, "I stayed an extra week in Paris and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."
Copyright July 13, 2022