In my previous blog post, I wrote about winding up our extended visit to our family in Southern California, and what would turn into a pandemic. I continue below with our arrival back in France in February 2020.
Preparing for our arrival back to France in February, Steve and I had arranged to stay overnight at the Sheraton Hotel at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris. It is so conveniently located, actually inside the terminal that we land at. After collecting our luggage and going through passport control, we walked to our hotel. This gives us an opportunity to transition from our overnight 11 hour night flight – two days of travel – and relax and enjoy the day at this beautiful hotel, meals included.
After a wonderful night’s sleep, we woke up the next morning rested and ready for the amazing breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Up to this point everything seemed pretty normal. We had not heard anything on the television or read in the newspaper about this mysterious virus.
After a delicious full French breakfast, we left the hotel and walked downstairs to board our Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) train to Beziers. TGVs have a cruising speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) and form a network of long-haul fast trains all across France.
Our friend Tricia would be waiting to greet us and take us to our French home.
Being away for three months takes some time to get back into the swing of things and get used to not having our kids and precious grandsons Isaac & Oliver around. It was so quiet in the house. Dealing with the jetlag – the nine hours difference between Southern California and Southern France, the emotions of leaving our family and now needing to get back on our schedule here in France – we entered the transition period.
Since our healthcare is taken care of by the French medical system, our routine medical exams had been scheduled for the first couple of weeks upon our return to France. In addition, haircut appointments, my manicure & pedicure, and, oh yes, food shopping filled in any remaining gaps in our schedule. That took us through most of February. This did not leave us much time to socialize with our two coffee groups and our dinner group of friends. Fortunately. You will soon see why.
With all of our appointments out of the way, our life was back to normal. Thursday, February 27th, Steve & I attended the monthly Cancer Support France (CSF) Drop-In Day. We are both volunteers for this wonderful organization and we look forward to this once a month day with our friends, lunch, interesting conversation and even some pampering of massage, reflexology and reiki sessions that are available. It wasn’t until then that we really heard about the Coronavirus. The stories from Italy were beginning to hit the news. There were scattered reports from around Europe, but nothing was within a few hundred miles from us.
When we arrived at Drop-In, we were told of a change in policy to not hug or kiss anyone that day. It was very understandable considering that in any group of people touched by cancer, there would be some vulnerable people there. It made us think – it was a precautionary measure. However it did raise our awareness that something was going on. It was a very eerie feeling and then we realized that indeed something was going on that we would hear about it very soon.
A week and a half later on Tuesday, March 10th we received a call from our friend Cat from CSF. She started the call with “Hi Maxine, I am calling to let you know that both Pam and Stephen have got the Corona virus and they are in the hospital”. All of us that had been at the Thursday CSF Drop-in Day had been exposed to Pam, who was also there. At that point it was known that the virus had up to 14 days to appear after exposure, and self-isolation became the automatic way forward.
We began self-isolation immediately and made a note of where two weeks from February 27th was. By the time Pam was diagnosed and the word got out, we were almost there and we were able to not let anxiety get the best of us. March 12th came and we breathed a sigh of relief, wishing the best to Pam and Stephen. Cat told us that they had to send our names and phone numbers, along with all of the people that were at the Drop-in, to the doctors in Montpellier for them to be able to get in contact with us if needed.
Finding out about Pam changed everything for us and our friends. What was a distant viral emergency became part of our daily lives. Steve and I decided to continue to stay at home and only leave the house for our daily walk. Steve did all of the food shopping.
The French government decided that aggressive measures were required. The official lockdown in France began on March 17th. This was the beginning of it all – Coronavirus, later to be identified as COVID-19 – a global pandemic was here. It would become a surreal experience that we had to learn about and learn to live with.
Everyone in France had to use Attestations to leave the house. At first they had to be printed, completed and carried whenever venturing out. There were several categories – necessary shopping, medical appointments, walks for exercise with and without pets, etc. After several weeks an app was developed for smart phones that could be completed and shown to any police that asked for it. In our neck of the woods, we did not meet any authorities, however several of our friends did. On the rare occasions that they left home without their forms, the police reminded them to not forget the next time.
Pam was home after a week in the hospital but unfortunately Stephen never came home. After three weeks in the hospital he passed away. He had an underlying health condition so we knew it was more serious for him. It was a shock to all of us. That made it real for all of us living here in South of France. The day the world stopped.
To Be Continued…