21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 1, India: to go or not to go?

Saturday, February 29

We were all set to fly out in six days for a three-week trip to visit family in India. My husband says, maybe we should cancel the trip. Me—really??  I had been among those asking, early on, “Is this really that different from the flu?” I was beginning to realize it was more, but still–India was nowhere on CDC’s radar. He says, look into it, I’ve been reading and I’m worried this virus thing is going to blow up. I called the airline to check it out. We could change our tickets, but it would be cost-prohibitive—no advantage over abandoning our current reservation and having to pay full price for a new one later. We decided to wait it out and make a final decision as late as the night before.

Over the following days, the news reports ramped up and people were talking more about international travel restrictions, but there were no new countries added to the handful on the CDC’s no-no list. We talked about worst-case scenarios, which seemed to be a) we get stuck there and b) self-quarantine for a couple of weeks on return, if India got added to the warning list while we were gone. The former seemed highly unlikely (ha!), the latter more of a concern, but not the end of the world. We asked several trusted friends, some of them health care providers, what they would do. All agreed canceling seemed like overkill.

We decided we would go if it was still OK per CDC guidelines as of our departure time. A friend texted me, “Please send me a selfie of your expression following the 100th coronavirus joke/comment about your travel plans,” but really, no one was batting an eye. At that time, only some business travel was getting canceled—most people were carrying on with their personal trips.

Thursday, March 5

While packing at 10am, I was on the phone with a friend and my husband beeped in for the third time in 10 minutes, so I tell her I don’t know what he wants, but I better answer this. He says, “We’re not going.” WHAT??  Are you sure? Travel advisories still haven’t changed. Nothing on the CDC website or in the headlines about India.

Yes, he’s sure. He got a call from a friend who works in a public health role there who just came from a meeting with WHO and various Indian government and public health officials. There was grave concern for an impending explosion of cases and resulting overwhelm of the health care system and other infrastructure. His friend advised we cancel the trip.

I was skeptical, but ultimately trusted my husband’s strong belief we needed to heed the advice and cancel. I got on the phone with the airline and rates had plummeted, so we were subject to hefty change fees (airlines hadn’t started waiving them yet) but at least there was no fare difference.


Image description: text thread of conversation about changing airline ticket dates to August.

(“PTSD music” refers to the same five songs they had on a loop 16 months ago, when I was on hold for hours, frantically trying to change the flight dates of our last trip to India, the day my father-in-law died. Same exact torturous five songs.)

It was done. We would go in August (but will we?).

Alongside heartbreak and anger over Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the presidential primary, the next couple days were a strange reordering. It was a bit of a process, shifting gears from preparation for a 3-week trip halfway around the world to being at home and seeing what would happen next (still having no idea how radically things were about to change). Comforting disappointed kids. Giving back vacation time and getting back on the work schedule for outpatient and hospital shifts. Preparing ACNM testimony for the doula reimbursement legislation House finance committee hearing, which I would be able to do after all. Putting the boys’ rec league basketball playoff games back on the calendar—the bright spot for them. Thinking about things to do close to home during the boys’ spring break from school. When my dad found out we weren’t going, he said, “I’m going to take the boys to see Blue Man Group.” (since canceled of course, like everything else).

Friday, March 6

A few hours after were supposed to have flown out, my employer sent an email “discouraging” all personal travel, domestic or international. Later that same day, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin was canceled. Like, the whole thing. Whoa. Of all things, that was the moment I knew we were in for some kind of wild ride.

That email and that event cancelation on the day of our planned departure were the first confirmatory signs my husband made the right call canceling our trip. Many more would follow. I started looking to him and one of my friends as bellweathers for where we’re at and at any given moment, and what’s coming. Their alarm bells are a few days ahead of mine, and proven accurate.

(Weeks 2 and 3 to follow…)

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2020

4 thoughts on “21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 1, India: to go or not to go?

  1. I didn’t have a trip to cancel, but had a radical shift in my awareness/behavior right about the same time. I pulled my kid from all activities two weeks ago and we’ve distanced as much as possible since then, more radical in the last week. Keeping you and yours in our thoughts.


  2. Gaille Grissom says:

    Camille: Thnx for your blog. Here in CA we have been in shelter in place for a week. Now the parks and libraries are closed . It is eerily quiet. It makes us sleepy. Thinking of you!


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