I got COVID-19 in a foreign country

On+the+first+few+days+in+Prague%2C+my+tour+group+spent+a+lot+of+time+exploring+the+city+square+and+doing+a+lot+of+tourist+shopping.

Lillie Enicke

On the first few days in Prague, my tour group spent a lot of time exploring the city square and doing a lot of tourist shopping.

Abigail Lapp, Opinion Editor

My trip to Europe began as a dream come true, until it turned into a living nightmare. Two and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and two and a half years after my original trip to Ireland was canceled due to the pandemic, I was finally able to cross the Atlantic Ocean to a continent I had always desired to visit. Not just that, but I was going on a four-country Eastern European tour with one of my childhood best friends, Lillie Enicke.

Landing in Berlin, Germany six hours ahead of NC time after an eight-hour, red-eye flight, everyone, myself included, was exhausted. I had a throbbing headache, had barely slept for the past three days, and it was freezing temperatures and sleeting in the city. Nonetheless, it was gorgeous, and I loved every moment of being in Berlin. 

For years, I had wanted to travel to Europe, so I pushed through my jet lag, stayed awake, and adjusted to the new time zone. That evening, as we checked into our hotel, my best friend and I discovered that the AC in the room didn’t work. This wasn’t too surprising, given that many European buildings didn’t have AC built-in since temperatures in the countries generally didn’t get too high. However, despite the day’s cold temperatures, the room was scorchingly warm. 

I woke up in the middle of the night, my throbbing headache having returned and drenched in sweat. I felt like I had a fever. The next morning, after cooling down, I mentioned all of this to Enicke and the other people I was on the trip with. Everyone else had experienced similar symptoms that night, so I brushed everything off as normal.

A hidden alleyway full artwork in murals off a side street in Berlin. (Abigail Lapp)

The next evening, I began to develop a cough and a runny nose. Once again, others in my group had similar symptoms. I assumed all of this was caused by the weather, jet lag, or a combination of both. I continued to brush everything off.

A few days after being in Germany, my group and I took a bus to Prague, Czech Republic. Every day of the trip I had been walking approximately 10 miles or more. I still had a stuffy nose, my ears felt like I was on an airplane, and I still had a cough, leading me to come to the conclusion that I must have finally caught a cold for the first time since before the pandemic started. 

An overview of the city of Prague. (Abigail Lapp)

However, this wasn’t the case. The final morning in Prague, Enicke, who I had been rooming with, woke up and told me that she had caught my cold. Due to an autoimmune disease, she’s immunocompromised, and generally more susceptible to illness, causing an illness that for me had just felt like a very mild cold to quickly turn severe for her.

Forcing herself out of bed that day, she struggled with our miles of walking. Her ears were stuffy, she was incredibly dizzy, and she had lost all sense of her appetite. I was worried, and she was too. Knowing that the Czech Republic is currently one of the countries in the world with one of the highest levels of COVID, and also being aware that the virus could quickly turn fatal for her due to her disease despite her vaccines and booster, Enicke decided it was important that she get a COVID-19 rapid test as soon as possible. 

Despite Lillie’s severe COVID symptoms, she continued on the tour with us, and even managed to take a few photos of me on the disposable cameras we had brought. (Lillie Enicke)

The tour leaders obliged, despite everyone, myself included, genuinely believing it was just a cold. Then, the results came back. That evening after dinner, as the group and I returned to our bus while Enicke was already back in the hotel resting, our tour director began talking.

Enicke’s results had come back positive for the COVID-19 virus. The entire bus audibly gasped. Everyone quickly put their mask back on that they had abandoned wearing days ago. We all rode in uncomfortable silence the rest of the way back to the hotel.

I felt terrible. Physically, my “cold” symptoms had almost completely dissipated at this point. Mentally, however, I felt guilty. I knew that Enicke could die from COVID, and if I actually had it, when I had been telling everyone that it was just a cold, I didn’t know how I would react. Due to my “fever-like symptoms” the tour director advised that I take an unofficial at-home rapid test that had been brought from the US. I was told that it didn’t mean anything, and that I would still be able to go with the rest of the group to Vienna, Austria the next day (the next stop) no matter what the results were. So, I took the test, and I was positive.

Having already heard from Enicke’s parents that she had gotten COVID, and having heard from me a few days prior that I had a cold, my parents weren’t surprised when I called them moments later saying I had also just tested positive for the virus. 

Crying over my test in the hotel lobby, I started panicking. For me, it wasn’t that I was scared of the virus in the slightest. I had already gotten over the worst of it, and the worst of it had never even really been that bad. If anything, the side-effects I experienced from my booster were much worse. I was scared of what my positive test meant. At this point, it was Thursday, and I was meant to take an official COVID-19 test to return home to the US on Sunday. If I didn’t test negative, I’d be trapped in a hotel room in Europe for a week. 

Of course, I didn’t test negative, and that’s exactly what happened. After a change of plans, the tour leaders decided it would be best for me to stay in the Prague hotel for an extra day, get an official test, and then make new plans from there. Obviously, the official COVID-19 test returned positive as well. 

The organization I was touring with had specific COVID precautions in place, and because of this, both Enicke and I were able to have a parent flown out to our hotel for free. Knowing that I was going to be missing quite a bit more school than I had originally anticipated, I made sure that my dad (who was coming to stay with me) brought all of my school things.

Before I was quarantined in Czech Republic, I was able to visit the city of Dresden, Germany, a place known for its abundance of Italian food. (Abigail Lapp)

However, staying trapped in a small hotel room was driving me crazy. I paced around, put a mattress on the floor to do pilates, tried to read books; anything that would help me pass the time, I attempted. Enicke’s symptoms were slowly improving, and no one else in the group had caught COVID, so my guilt eased a bit in that regard.

As the rest of the group continued on with the last segment of the tour, my dad and Enicke’s mom were flown into Czech Republic to stay at the hotel with us for free. We used an app similar to Uber Eats called Dáme Jídlo to deliver food to our hotel, and I had my dad bring my school work so I could stay as caught up on assignments as possible. 

It was a challenge, but I managed to make it out of Czech Republic still (mostly) mentally sane. Every day my dad and I would go on walks outside (with masks on). When my symptoms had been completely gone for multiple days and I was able to test negative, we even went on a couple adventures to a giant mall close-by, and eventually, myself, my dad, Enicke, and her mother were able to make it to the city-center of Prague.

It was cold and rainy but gorgeous as ever. Enicke and I took our parents around the city and gave them a small tour of all of our favorite spots. We showed them the famous astronomical clock, castle,  NC State’s campus, and even made sure that they tried a chimney cake (my favorite Eastern-European treat that’s essentially sugared dough wrapped around a rod and roasted over an open flame, then filled with anything from ice cream, to nutella, and more).

The week had been incredibly stressful for everyone involved. We were all worried about Enicke’s reaction to the virus given her immunodeficiency, but luckily, after a few days of suffering, she was able to wake up a few days before we left feeling completely normal. 

Last-minute flights had to be organized, transportation to the COVID-19 testing facility and airports needed to be ordered, and worst of all, we had no control over any of it. Everything was out of our hands, and we had to rely on the tour organization to get us back home to America. But in the end, we were able to finally make it back home. 

My trip to Europe definitely went differently than I had expected it to. I missed visiting the final planned countries of Austria and Slovakia, which the rest of the group was able to travel to. I also definitely stayed in Czech Republic longer than anticipated. However, I think that the unique experience I had in the country is one that I’ll never forget and will give me plenty of stories to tell for a long time in the future. 

 

P.S. I learned about Mole, which is an adorable and famous animated Czech character. 

P.P.S. Again, chimney cakes are delicious, and if you ever come across one anywhere, you need to try them.