Many years ago, early in my career, I had the opportunity to travel to Quebec City to give a presentation at a conference. I was terrifically excited. I'd never travelled to Quebec City, nor, for that matter, had I visited any parts of Canada east of Saskatchewan.
The conference was in an area of rehabilitation in which I was developing some unique expertise. I applied to my employer for funding, and they agreed to pay for the the plane ticket, hotel room, registration, and my meals during the weekend of the conference. It was a very good career opportunity. The icing on the cake was that one of my best friends had also had a paper accepted at the same conference, and was planning to attend too. Fun!
We also decided we'd both take some vacation time off and stay for a few extra days after the conference. My husband, of course, paid for his own plane ticket and expenses, and the baby flew for free. We rented a B&B for the extra days after the conference.
The morning that we were to leave to fly to Quebec, my daughter woke up with a red rash on her face. She'd never had anything similar. However, she seemed happy and her behaviour was normal, and she did not have a fever. The spots seemed to be fading a bit, so we made our way to the airport for our flight.
But I was consumed with anxiety. What if she had something contagious, like measles? Perhaps we'd be putting others on the flight at risk, crammed together in a row of seats for the hours it would take to fly from Vancouver to Quebec City.
So, after being cleared for our flight when we went through inspection, I pointed out the rash and asked whether they could change our seating assignment so we weren't seated right next to anyone else.
Well, you've never seen airline officials move so fast. They whisked us out of the inspection area and put us into a holding room while they contacted their supervisor. The verdict was that we couldn't board the flight, or any flight, until we had medical clearance to fly.
As we made our way back home, I felt like a fool. Why had I opened my big mouth? The airport personnel hadn't even noticed the rash until I'd pointed it out. The baby was clearly fine. She was gurgling happily in her car seat.
It felt like a crisis. At that point in my career, it was inconceivable to not show up to deliver a presentation that I'd promised to give, that was already printed in the program, and that I'd spent many hours preparing. My employer had paid for the conference and flight. Would they have to forfeit the money? Would I have to pay them back? Would we forfeit the cost of my husband's flight and the deposit for the B&B? My husband had cancelled his clients' appointments for the week. We would "waste" precious vacation days.
After some frantic phone calls, we were able to get in to see a physician that same day. The physician examined my daughter and declared that the rash was nothing serious, perhaps heat rash or a mild food sensitivity. She filled out a medical authorization form and the airline put us on a flight the next morning, by which time the rash had totally disappeared.
|With friend & daughter; Chateau Frontenac|
|Strolling Around Quebec City|
- Don't create problems for yourself by pointing out minor issues that the authorities otherwise wouldn't notice
- Something that seems like a huge crisis in the moment often turns out to be a minor bump in the road
- Always leave some extra time before and after a scheduled event when travelling, in case of unexpected delays.
But through our collective experiences during this worldwide epidemic that has been dragging on and on, I suddenly remembered this long-ago experience and realized that I learned something else, too.
Because what if my daughter's rash had NOT been a temporary, minor occurrence? What if it had been been measles or chickenpox or some other very contagious disease, and by going on the flight we exposed someone else -- perhaps an expectant mother or an elderly person -- to an illness that could cause disability or death? My desire to attend a conference and to tour Quebec City would have seemed like trivial reasons to have put others at such grievous risk.
There can be costs for making the responsible choice.
But sometimes the costs of making an irresponsible choice can be ever so much higher.