A hard hit during pandemic

I belong to one of the many families in the world that the covid-19 virus hit dramatically. My parents got the virus at the end of October 2020. Both were hospitalised. Although my father had underlying heart problems, he thankfully managed to recover from the disease. Unfortunately my mother’s system could not cope with the virus, so she passed away on 12th November, 2020. In addition to the grief of the bereavement, travelling internationally was a big challenge for us during a pandemic because I live in Dublin with my husband, whereas my younger sister lives in Barcelona, Spain with her family and my parents live in İstanbul, Turkey.

When I got the news in March 2021 that the aneurysm in my father’s aorta required urgent surgery, I was terrified about the possibility of losing my father, while still grieving for my mother. On the other hand, I wanted him to get the surgery as soon as possible to decrease the probability of his aorta bursting. That’s why I arranged a sudden trip to Turkey to care for my father during his surgery and recovery process.

When I left Ireland, Turkey was not on the list for mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland. However, covid cases increased enormously during my stay in Turkey, so Turkey was added to the list. Fortunately, my father’s surgery went very well and he started to recover quicker than expected. Although it was tough to spend many days in the hospital in the midst of a pandemic, my father’s improving health condition made me relieved, content and grateful. The home care of my father went well too, so I was ready to go back to Dublin.

I am a person who likes spending time alone with reading, writing and day-dreaming. I also like intense retreats where I could focus on a project. The idea of a mandatory hotel quarantine for 12 days seemed like a good opportunity to me where I could write my second children’s book. However, the reality was very difficult, particularly in the early days. Therefore, I would like to inform you about what can be expected from a mandatory hotel quarantine and to share some advice for a more pleasant stay.

For the ones who do not have any clue about a mandatory hotel quarantine, here are some details: This system has been applied in Australia and New Zealand and some other parts of the world since the beginning of the pandemic. Recently Ireland also started to apply this system. There is a list of countries which have high covid cases, so the risk of bringing the virus into Ireland from those countries is higher. Therefore the state decided that people who would travel from those countries into Ireland should stay in a hotel quarantine for 12 days at their own expense. There are some exemptions of this system including that people who are fully vaccinated and have spent 14 days after their second jab are exempted.

Following the rules, I did my booking and paid €1,875 in advance to be kept in a hotel room for 12 nights. I still wonder how everyone could afford such a high price for travelling, especially for going back home. Anyway, at Istanbul airport, I was asked twice for my hotel booking. People who do not have a booking were banned from getting on the plane. After we landed and had been checked at passport control in Dublin Airport, officers led us to assemble in a place where social distancing was not possible. As a group of ten people, we were directed to the luggage area to get our stuff and waited there for a long while where again keeping social distance was difficult. I felt as if we were being herded like sheep. At the customs, airport officers handed us over to the military forces so soldiers led us out of the airport and into the bus, which made me feel as if I was a criminal. We were transferred to the hotel accompanied by military forces without having any clue that soldiers will be an essential part of this 12-day adventure.

The hotel I stayed in was the Radisson Blu Hotel in Golden Lane, Dublin. The room was nice and cosy and it had a seating area which made my stay more comfortable. The windows could not be opened fully, but at least I could get some fresh air, which was really important for me. I experienced some technical problems related to the room facilities. Since nobody is allowed to enter my room during my entire stay, it was difficult to fix these problems. After many phone calls, I managed to get a new room. My advice would be if you find that your room is small, or dark, or your windows could not be open or your heating system, your TV or any other facility is not working, ask for room change and for better conditions because you will be there for 12 days in isolation and at least the conditions should be as comfortable as possible.

For my system, the degree of isolation and measures of protection were overwhelming. Three meals were served at designated hours. The food was left in front of the room door. When you heard the knocking, you needed to wait for the person who delivered the food to go away, and then you were allowed to open your door and take the food which was served in a paper bag and plastic packaging. Rubbish had to be wrapped twice with second bin bags. Towels and fresh bed sheets were left in front of your door on Day 4. Deliveries from outside were allowed, brought by the hotel staff to your door. Again a knock on the door. The whole system was designed as if everything I touch induces danger and risk, so I had to be put in total isolation.

The worst part was that during the first three days I was not allowed to leave the room at all. On the day of my arrival, the receptionist told me that today is Day 0. Tomorrow will be Day 1 where I will get a covid test by a nurse. The results will come on Day 2. Thankfully on Day 2, I got a negative test result, so I was allowed to book fresh air breaks three times a day for 15 minutes each. I was told that on the Day 10 I will get another covid test and will be released on Day 11. Miraculously, my covid test was done on Day9 and I was released on Day10. I am telling this because the information you get from the authorities might not be consistent. That is why, I would recommend that you confirm the information more than twice and request a Day 9 test.

This kind of isolation might cause mental and physiological problems, especially when you are alone and have carried emotional baggage like me because of the incidents that happened in the past 6 months. Communicating with my family and my friends helped me a lot to stay sane in those 11 days. I not only talked to my dear ones, also created playful rituals with them which provided great vitality in that energy draining atmosphere. For example, a dear friend of mine sent me each morning a photo of a flower that she encountered in her morning walk. Each morning at my first fresh air break which was happening in a moderate size courtyard under the accompaniment of officers, I tried to find a new flower and sent the photo of it to my friend as a reply. It was a challenging game for me because there were not so many flowers in the courtyard. After a couple of days, I started to pay much more attention to the details of the plants and yet another flower was waiting to be discovered among the green bushes. At the end, I could find 8 different flowers in the courtyard which seemed impossible in the beginning.

Another ritual of mine was drinking coffee after lunch. A friend of mine who is a delivery guy was working in the area where the hotel was located, so he delivered coffee to me each day since no hot drinks were served in the hotel. Instant coffee option was available in the room using the kettle but I am not fond of that. I wanted to create a special moment where I could savor a nice coffee. Some days, I was lucky and could enjoy another coffee delivered by my husband who would drink his coffee on the street where I could see him from the window. He would call our interaction ‘’a hot date in covid times’’. These little interactions brought freshness and fondness to my isolated being. If you feel lonely during quarantine, which you would probably feel at some point, I would encourage you to connect with your dear ones through phone, internet etc. and also create some playful activities with them which could lift up your mood.

Apart from connecting with dear ones, I also tried to keep a daily routine. First thing in the morning, I was booking my 3 fresh air breaks. I realised that the earlier I got them, the chance of getting 3 fresh air breaks was higher because the hotel was full and other people could fill the booking slots. Each day, I danced with energising music or did body work-outs which would make me sweat because I felt the lack of movement severely in a confined space. Almost each day, I listened to relaxing music while having a soothing bath for at least 20 minutes. Fresh air, movement and the cleansing energy of water nourished my soul. I strongly suggest doing activities during quarantine which nourish your soul.

In the first days, I did not care about tidying the room but after a while it felt depressing. Keeping the room tidy and bringing colour into the room helped me to lift up my mood. First I decorated the room with my colourful shawls. Then a great friend of mine sent me flowers. Flowers brought colour and joy to the room. When a dear one of yours is in quarantine, send them flowers or something colourful. I am sure you will make their day.

I also re-watched videos that made me laugh, I journaled and meditated. Laughter, journalling, meditation and chats with my husband enabled me to shift my mindset. In the beginning, I was very angry at the hotel staff as if they were the ones who inhibited my freedom. I felt trapped. Then I realised that they were doing their best in difficult working conditions, while carrying the risk of getting covid all the time. I started to send love and strength to the hotel staff in my meditations. In the first days, I was annoyed at being accompanied by the staff during the fresh air breaks. I felt like a prisoner. At the end, I was walking through the hotel hallways like a popstar with my ”bodyguards’’.

At last I would like to say that during my fresh air breaks I met other people who also lost their dear ones because of covid-19. Unfortunately, suffering and loss still continues throughout the world, whereas the restrictions and protections are getting either loosened or tougher depending on where in the world you are located. In Ireland, the mandatory hotel quarantine system seems to continue at least till mid-July of this year but nothing is certain. I wish nobody experiences this type of isolation. If you have to go through this, I hope my experience and suggestions might offer an insight into a more pleasant stay for you.

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