A second pandemic trip to see Mom

I spent an amazing month with my mom in Virginia in the US, but learned some hard lessons on the trip.

Surprised to leave Australia

While you had to prove a true need to leave the country, my mom’s health would serve as a legitimate reason, though there was no guarantee that my application would be accepted. In July the government announced another 50% reduction in the number of inbound passengers, and stricter examination of requests to leave the country, preferring that if citizens left, they planned to stay away for at least three months.

Shortly thereafter, American Airlines notified me that my flights were canceled — American had decided to shut down all routes to and from Australia, citing a lack of economic viability. I found a replacement flight on United, but expected that my application with Australia would be rejected given the new harsh reality of quotas.

It was accepted. In shock, I made plans to leave. A month later, I walked into Mom’s apartment in Virginia.


After nine months, Mom had settled. Her short term memory is spotty, but she has a routine, she has dinner in the dining room every night, and she interacts with other residents. The care takers are wonderful to her, and all of them enjoy how sweet she is. (Side note: Even though 50% of my genes are from mom, I expect I am going to be a royal pain in the ass if I ever get anywhere close to 90 years old.)

Hanging out with Mom during my first week in Virginia.

Mom had declined physically quite a bit, and could no longer move without the use of a walker, and her short term memory (and memory of any names of people she had met in the last two years) was worse . Yet overall her situation was stable. My brother and sister had done a great job getting her back into her apartment and helping things return to normal.


My specialised back was in great shape! After six weeks of not walking, I was not! This kit fit a little but differently about two months ago…

After not being able to run or ride for six weeks, the first time I began to climb out of the saddle on my bike, something was jiggling — and it was me!

The most expensive (and comfortable) fold out king-sized mattress I have ever spent intimate, quality time with.

I stayed twice at my sister’s to take care of their animals while they were away, and two different airbnb’s, one amazing and the other not so amazing.

The mini-SUV that became a full sized SUV that became a Chevy Spark, which was actually fun to drive. (I should have know better than to from Dollar).

As a creature of routine, I quickly fell into mine: up later than usual, out for either a run or a bike ride, back for breakfast, then off to spend the rest of the morning and the early afternoon with Mom, then returning to whichever home base to make some dinner and start work, overlapping with Australia for 3–5 hours before I called Leigh and collapsed in a dream-laden slumber.

Will I get back?

I waited each day to find out if my return flight had been canceled, the way it had during last year’s trip.

Letting my guard down and getting jabbed

I was still on guard, or so I thought. I considered my family my “bubble” and I wasn’t going to see friends in the area or put myself or Mom at risk. Unfortunately, my family in Virginia, other than Mom, have chosen not be vaccinated. Half way through my time with a family member, I discovered they had been exposed to someone in the week before. Being immune-suppressed, and spending time with my mom, I couldn’t believe how dumb I had been. The next day my family member tested positive, and I had to spend four days away from my mom, to make sure I hadn’t contacted COVID.

Given my mistake, Leigh and I decided that we would add two simple rules until COVID is no longer an issue: 1) we will not be in a home with unvaccinated people 2) we will not have unvaccinated people in our home.


The US is offering booster shots for organ transplant recipients, and my nephrologist had advised that I get one while I was in the US. It turns out to be very complex to have 2 shots of AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria and then try and get a booster in the US: most vaccines are administered by pharmacies who hear AstraZeneca, Australia, and booster and quickly duck behind the counter. I found a GP who gave me a dose of Moderna mRNA-1273. I had a delayed-by-a-day onset of side effects which abated in another 24 hours. Third dose done!

The tragedy of the US

Can the U.S. government make you do something you don’t want to do in order to protect others? To protect our country? Since the revolutionary war, the US drafted young men into military service, and asked them to put their lives at risk, and often die, for their country. Yet today the idea of protecting others is shouted down and vulgarised in the name of “freedom”. The same people who would and have attacked “draft dodgers” as traitors and unpatriotic are not willing to protect others — we are being called to serve and protect others, and all it takes is a vaccine.

My heart aches for my country of origin. We’ve never been perfect by any notion, but we are more and more flawed.

Last day with Mom

I took Mom to the doctor — and was gripped with a feeling of purpose, in taking care of a parent, that made me want to cancel my flight and spend my all my days for years to come with Mom.


I called my brother and shared some thoughts and some good laughs. I felt so connected across the distance despite not having seen each other for a few years.

Mom, in Mississippi in the 1950s. I had all of my dad’s slides digitised, and every one is amazing, like a time capsule into the life of my family.

We ate dinner outside at my sister’s, and then drove Mom home. Remembering what a good time we had singing Christmas carols on my last visit, Spotify made it way through the hits of John Denver as I drove the back roads with her. Mom knew more lyrics than I did, and remembered that Mr. Denver had actually played a concert in Katmai National Park (next to King Salmon, Alaska, my home from 0–9). Knowing that I’d have to say goodbye to Mom within the next couple of hours, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” left streaks from the tears as I tried to sing through the emotion.

We watched Jeopardy together, which we’d done since I was in high school. And finally, with a long hug, I said goodbye.

Will I make it home?

Days? Could you please clarify if you’re talking about days on Earth or days on Uranus?

My exposure had been the evening of September 4th, US time. When I landed in Australia it would be almost exactly 14 days since the exposure, but at that moment it had only been 10 days. I had already tested negative twice since the exposure.

By default, I am a firm believer in “the truth will set you free” but in this case, perhaps the truth would trap me in the United States. But I have a policy of truth regardless of temptation (bringing a new bike into Australian customs is the biggest temptation I have faced), and answered truthfully.

Within a minute, an email had arrived in my inbox from the Australian government:

Hmm. This is not encouraging. Generally I prefer the 🙈 emoji to the ❌

At first the giant red box and scary red X made my heart rate skyrocket — had Australia just barred my return? I called United Airlines, and the COVID information call centre worker looked up the information and explained that I had done all the right things (isolate, get tested twice, etc) so I could board my flight. Whew.

Enough carbon for life

In some countries the single flight back to Australia is more CO2 that a family might emit in their lifetime. It’s the equivalent of driving around the world 6 times with a diesel car. The 2050 target 2.1 tonnes per person — so I had exhausted 20 years of carbon budget with one trip.

Of course, I will offset those flights — but offsets are just asking for forgiveness instead of doing the right thing in the first place. We should offset our emissions, but our priority is to reduce our footprint. I failed to do that.

14 hours later, I boarded a bus at the Sydney International Airport, wondering which hotel would serve as my home for the next two weeks… (hint: this might be the topic of the next blog)



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